« Back to Full Story

AOPA Observations

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

One of the first emails I got from a reader while I was at AOPA Summit was a breathless account of how few people had flown into Palm Springs for the show. Well, so what?

There's no question that attendance is down across the board for shows like Summit. Compared to the era of artificial prosperity of five years ago, I would venture to say that attendance is down at a lot of things except food banks and to expect anything else would be dreaming in technicolor.

For instance, there were a lot fewer aviation media folks at this show because they knew that there would be few "new" things to cover and that what did come out could be picked up from those of us who did attend. You're welcome.

On the exhibitor side, I didn't do a count but the "sold out" exhibit hall wouldn't have occupied half of the booth space required for this show a few years ago. It's an honest reflection of tough times and a looming election where neither side of the political spectrum is confident of the outcome or what that outcome might mean.

One notable absence on the floor and in the static display was Cessna corporate. There was a Mustang, Caravan and a few pistons on the boulevard outside the convention center but they were from a dealer. There was not a Cessna honcho to be seen. See above for my best guess as to why they skipped the show

The other thing that was missing was any sign of a palace revolt. Recent media attention critical of AOPA leadership may reflect the opinion of some members but if they were in Palm Springs they were on their best behavior. I get the idea that the leadership is sensitive to those concerns and there was a lot of first-person dialogue from visible members of the executive suite about their recent flying adventures, suggesting a subtle shift to pay more attention to the grass roots.

A good example is the flying club initiative, which, if it's carried out with the attitudes it says it's trying to invoke in the flying club community, should help AOPA regain its footing a little bit with the average pilot. There was clear enthusiasm and optimism about the plan and given the backdrop in which this convention was held, that's something to build on.

Comments (70)

You're right - memberships in all sorts of organizations across the country have been declining. I think the real question is, "how important is it if there are fewer pilots in the U.S.?" We waste a lot of time and energy bemoaning the declining population, without clearly articulating just what we fear the effects will be. Is it really as grim as certain organizations make it out to be? I dug into GAMA's own data and found a few interesting implications: http://wp.me/puHhv-cu

Posted by: Jason Burke | October 15, 2012 2:42 AM    Report this comment

The preparations and investments made by the SOCAL Tracon and local ATC, FBOs, airport management, facilities and personnel, aircraft parking, car rentals, hotels, services and flight training organizations in the area were based anticipating a much larger number of operations before, during and after the event. At PSP less than 350 aircraft flew in, at least 750 were expected. TRM planned to have about one thousand aircraft, but less than fifty (50) showed up. More than 60 percent of the air traffic expected did not materialize. AOPA publicized the event well but the GA response appears to have been weak from the start. Could it be the economy, fuel prices, pilot population decline, or just plain lack of interest? If the AOPA SUMMIT is to repeat in 2014 this year's weak turn out needs to be addressed and to have everyone's return on their investments justified.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | October 15, 2012 6:12 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps the next show should be in the middle of America instead of along the edge. I really wanted to go but it would have meant a week long trip.

Posted by: Peter Kuhns | October 15, 2012 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Lycoming wasn't there, nor a host of other vendors I'd seen in previous shows (e.g. Nulites,Vantage Plane Plastics--the list goes on)

Having gone through the ramp parking mess in previous years I just drove in, but I arrived at 8 AM, way before the exhibitor hall opened up. With lots of time to kill I went to the keynote address but as soon as Craig Fuller introduced his panel and started to take the conversation to the "international" aspect of AOPA I walked out (Why would I care about AOPA in another country?)

I did buy a cabin cover and two cases of Camguard ($600 worth) so it's not like there are no customers out there. Is AOPA charging too much to rent a booth or are vendors really afraid they won't recoup their expenses?

Posted by: David Rosing | October 15, 2012 8:44 AM    Report this comment

The summit was fun. I flew in. No drama. Had a great time with the vendors, spent some money at Dynon. Also got there early and sat down to listen to the forum. Now, if everything else is closed... why get up and leave just because you aren't from an "international" destination. What a waste of time! Pilots are pretty grumpy these days. Blame it on the economy I suppose. What ever happened to learning something new and just having a good time. Summit was a great event from my aerial view. Cheers guys.

Posted by: Nick Cain | October 15, 2012 8:54 AM    Report this comment

Oh, and I forgot to mention, the event organizers somehow cleverly (NOT!) managed to put the booth for the gay pilots directly next to the booth for "Pilots for Christ". This was outside the actual exhibit hall, mind you, and the doors to the hall were located such that these two booths were the only two available. I just looked at that and thought "Oy Vey." I think the guys in the booths were fine with the setup, but it just seemed like someone was asleep at the switch when they set that up . . . . .

Posted by: David Rosing | October 15, 2012 8:56 AM    Report this comment

Before they called them "summits", I attended one AOPA convention in New Orleans. Even that was hard to justify, except that I was in the middle of a marital separation and needed to get away. Since then, each of the "summits" has been either on the east coast or the west coast, so the cost of attending, whether flying commercial or flying my own airplane, is just too prohibitive, not to mention the time involved. To take 2 days/12 flight hours (east coast) or 1 day/6 flight hours in my airplane, or to pay $300 or so and a day (taking into account driving to DEN, TSA delays, etc.) just to get there to look at vendor offerings and listen to the pontifications of various aviation "authorities" makes no sense, especially since I had that opportunity at OSH just 2 1/2 months earlier and had a lot more fun doing it.

The bottom line for most of us not in the aviation business is that it just costs too much. Economics aside, the question has to be, "What's in it for me?" If I could tie it to a planned vacation, maybe, but doing it as a single destination is illogical.

Posted by: Cary Alburn | October 15, 2012 9:03 AM    Report this comment

I really tried to go to the summit this year, primarily because ABS was concurrently holding their convention within the convention. Unfortunately, when I added up all the costs of getting there, staying there and getting back, I decided that there were better places to spend my flying dollars. Time wasn't a factor in the decision, but fuel cost (if I took my own plane ) was. About 420 gallons round trip, at todays prices, would be close to $2,500. I could do alot of flying around the east coast for that amount. Additionally, there wasn't that much to see at the show that was new or different. I had been to Sun N Fun this past April and filled my aviation cup for the year at that show, which by the way was way down in attendence.

It seems that AOPA is doing everything it can to provide more services for its members, as long as they pay extra fees for the privilage. Oh am I mistaken, or were these services already offered as part of the membership fee. The air safety foundation is a great resource and I gladly contributed to it and took advantange of It's great programs, but it is now merged into a money sucking mechine called the AOPA Foundation.

Posted by: Alan Leiwant | October 15, 2012 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Continued.. When will they start to address the real reason that flying has less participation -- COST. Not just initial cost, but the everyday nuts and bolts cost. Fuel, fuel, fuel, and maintenance. Flying clubs may get a few people back, but they won't change the hourly expenses. Lobbying congress for no user fees won't get the VFR flyer any lower operating or maint. costs. In the end, there may be nothing that they can do, but they don't even talk about the problem.

I've been flying for over 50 years, and will continue to do so till the end. I might even sell my house before I sell my airplane, but AOPA has to get back to its basics. They have to serve the lower levels of the organization, not just the JetA crowd.

Posted by: Alan Leiwant | October 15, 2012 9:05 AM    Report this comment

I hear this same refrain from many pilots. AOPA needs to get back to basics. This comment usually follows a rant about the cost of gas and such. Now really guys, what is AOPA going to do about this? Reality is what it is. Defining getting back to basics is vague too. I read FLYING magazine when I started, in 1971. It had plenty of articles about things I could not afford. And some of the letters to the editor pointed out their failings. Nothing new there. You live in the United States. You have more opportunity than anywhere else. Especially the freedom to fly. Don't blame AOPA for the economy!

Posted by: Nick Cain | October 15, 2012 9:09 AM    Report this comment

I too don't like that ASF has been swallowed up by the AOPA Foundation. With ASF, it was about safety through education and training. With the Foundation, the focus is on getting the money.

Perhaps this is just another microcosm of rising costs and "growth" -- on the unfortunately familiar path to killing the proverbial goose.

Blue skies!

Posted by: BRADLEY SPATZ | October 15, 2012 9:52 AM    Report this comment

Econ 101 is Econ 101, whether you're talking about widgets or airplanes. If you're wondering why the pilot population is getting smaller, it's the cost. Regulations a close second which in the end, affect cost. Do any hangar flying and I bet you a buffalo nickel that somewhere, somehow cost comes up. I rent at my local flight school and I rarely see the Arrow out of its parking spot. The 172s a close second holding tight to the tarmac. The 150s/152s? It's as if at least one is always in the pattern. Given just the information above, could an Econ 101 student make some sort of guesstament in cost differences?

I posit; that if the rental cost for all these airplanes were one tier down, you'd see some of the same idle time differences, but more hamburger runs with a non-pilot friend or two (with luggage) in the Arrow and 172, introducing more non-pilots to the idea of flight. And new students pilots begging for a time slot in the 150s. Call me crazy.

The flight school owner above, cannot affordably upgrade his fleet. Why is that? Is the AOPA working with the industry/legislation so that he can lower his cost when installing simple GPS units in his fleet? ADSB?

""This comment usually follows a rant about the cost of gas and such. Now really guys, what is AOPA going to do about this?" Answer: Everything they possibly can.

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 15, 2012 11:47 AM    Report this comment

Yes, the AOPA can lobby towards a cheaper GPS or ADSB for the flight school owner. But, Econ 101 says the price of gas, insurance and maint. for the fleet will not go down. Portable units can be used by renters avoiding the high certification costs of panel mount units. Easy to quote Econ 101. Give me something specific that would make you happy about AOPA efforts. They basically can lobby. That's about it I am afraid.

Posted by: Nick Cain | October 15, 2012 11:52 AM    Report this comment

I think one of the challenges for AOPA (I am a member of AOPA UK) is that they are trying to address a very broad church these days because 'GA' covers such a wide variety of flying. When it comes to spending time and/or money at events, most people want to know they are going to get a good dose of the specific stuff they are interested in. News and information is readily available on the web these days and so the incentive to go to an event is probably a lot more about the whole experience (e.g. Oshkosh etc.)rather than catching up on what's happening.

Posted by: Ian Walton | October 15, 2012 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Why in southern California, again? Aren't there other qualified airports in the central part of the U.S.?

Posted by: Guy Edwards | October 15, 2012 12:42 PM    Report this comment

I flew down to the AOPA summit as part of the ABS and had a great time. The best part was taking my 13 year old son on Saturday. AOPA had a youth track program. AOPA staff and Vendors treated my son like like royalty. He was able to sit in the Cirrus, the TMB, the mustang, the elcipse, the pipers. He flew the redbird simulator and talked with the TV Alaska pilots. On the way home he said, Dad I want to learn to fly!

Posted by: BRAD BROWN | October 15, 2012 12:45 PM    Report this comment

Nick, for the money that is being pumped to AOPA they should be lobbying their proverbial ***es off if they are a lobby group for all pilots and owners. The comments so far have been that just like other organizations in the aircraft industry, and any other non-aviation industry for that matter, it appears AOPA is all about "following the money" or at least catering to the parts of the industry that have the money flowing. The problems with AOPA, aviation and even the economy as a whole is that at one time in this country the average blue collar working stiff could justify spending his hard earned money on activities such as flying while still being able to pay the bills. That same blue collar working stiff cannot do that anymore. There has been such a fundamental shift on who and how things are payed for in today's economy that he has basically been locked out of the game completely. Look at the ratio of the purchase cost of a new 1966 Chevrolet 4 door sedan to the 1966 average salary of a blue color working stiff to that of the purchase cost of a 2012 Chevrolet 4 door sedan to the 2012 average salary and you can see this is happening in every aspect of our world. That is the fundamental problem with the ECON 101 discussion that finds itself bleeding into a conversation about aviation, its costs, and what the industry and lobbyists such as AOPA are doing or not doing about them! --CONTINUED--

Posted by: Steve Ingraham | October 15, 2012 1:00 PM    Report this comment

--CONTINUED-- I personally would like to see solutions to why an airplane purchase, maintenance, etc. costs are 200-300-400% higher ratio-wise, or whatever percent it happens to be, more than that same plane's costs ratio-wise from say 1962, 1972, 1982. And yes, although a smaller proportional price but still one to consider, that includes increased fuel costs too.

Posted by: Steve Ingraham | October 15, 2012 1:01 PM    Report this comment

I personally would like to see solutions to why an airplane purchase, maintenance, etc. costs are 200-300-400% higher ratio-wise, or whatever percent it happens to be, more than that same plane's costs ratio-wise from say 1962, 1972, 1982. And yes, although a smaller proportional price but still one to consider, that includes increased fuel costs too.

Posted by: Steve Ingraham | October 15, 2012 1:02 PM    Report this comment

AOPA members pay $45 and expect them to lower the cost of aviation. They pay thousands more to the IRS and I dare say they are not holding their breath for lower cost fuel as a result. Or maintenance or avionics. Reality hurts. I know pilots are frustrated, but it is not the fault of AOPA or AARP.

Posted by: Nick Cain | October 15, 2012 1:05 PM    Report this comment

I have no problem with an increase in dues to keep up with the times. $45 for dues is not a problem. If you need an increase, institute one, don't try to hide an increase by becoming an supermarket. How much of the dues are sucked up by the infrastructure of a top heavy organization reaching in all directions to justify its distance.

Posted by: Alan Leiwant | October 15, 2012 2:17 PM    Report this comment

Sorry - meant aviation supermarket, and last word existence

Posted by: Alan Leiwant | October 15, 2012 2:21 PM    Report this comment

"Portable units can be used by renters avoiding the high certification costs of panel mount units. Easy to quote Econ 101. Give me something specific that would make you happy about AOPA efforts."

You don't see the answer to your own question? The catch 22, the red tape, the Non sequitur that helps bring higher cost?

High certification cost of a panel mount unit? Why is it high? Why is a Garmin aera in a panel dock that's not a "panel mount" unit but can't be installed by the flight school because it's not a certified unit but can be sitting in a student pilots lap or yoke mount purchased by the student who is already renting a $120/hr+ airplane that has little or no upgrades since it rolled off the assembly line 40 years ago due to high cost of installation and purchase of panel mount units that could be solved with a panel dock that can't be installed but instead is installed a very old GPS "certified" unit that is marked "VFR use only" because the unit is so old that the manufacture is out of business due to the cost of certifying the unit and the FBO can't get any more map updates because the manufacture is out of business due to high cost of certified units, not be installed in rental aircraft to reduce cost?

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 15, 2012 2:21 PM    Report this comment

"AOPA members pay $45 and expect them to lower the cost of aviation."

I expect them to lobby for its members. In those efforts, one of which is to help cut through the red tape, the Non sequitur, which in turn as an added benefit, helps reduce cost.

But you're on to something. If the $45 dollars is for folks to gather 'round and hangar fly, I can do that less the $45. Return on investment an all...

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 15, 2012 2:27 PM    Report this comment

"The problems with AOPA, aviation and even the economy as a whole is that at one time in this country the average blue collar working stiff could justify spending his hard earned money on activities such as flying while still being able to pay the bills."

Hear, hear. When a new aircraft coming off the assembly line cost as much as a house....alarm bells should go off at AOPA (well before that, actually). Do I deserve a new aircraft? NO. Do I want to purchase new? Heck no. But if cost drives me out...I'm prepared to tuck tail and go fishing instead. Prepared, heck, I'll have to. There's no "entitlement" mentality on this end. But IN THIS CASE, AOPA/the article above, is asking the question. Why such a low turn out? Why so few pilots? I believe that at this point, that's a rhetorical question from the organization. The whom you've been asking that to has answered. If you don't like the answer, and/or the "blue collar" working stiff is not your clientele..so be it. Let me know which direction you're taking the organization....

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 15, 2012 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I've been an AOPA member for 37 years. I'm not in the habit of bashing the organization--I don't care if AOPA gets involved in commercial operations--I just won't buy any. It's strange to see people bashing the organization for commercial ventures on this internet site--when we are bombarded with internet advertising on the internet.

I believe the problem of lack of attendance is NOT the cost of fuel--it's the "product" being "sold." Where OSH is unabashedly "fun flying"--AOPA has always had somewhat of an elitist mentality--the "Summit" used to be called the "Plantation Party"--and it too was ignored by the majority of the members. Oshkosh offers summer fun, it is scheduled during vacation time, and it is about fun flying. The Summit is more like a business convention/FAA safety seminar--informative, but hardly fun. As to the location--I agree--take a tip from the air freight carriers--they are located close to the center of population in the U.S.--Memphis and Louisville--perfect weather for this time of year.

AOPA remains one of the most effective voices in aviation advocacy--well worth my membership dues--REGARDLESS where (or whether) they have a party.

If people aren't buying your product, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT--don't be like the Administration and the Chevy Volt--MAKE them take it.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 15, 2012 5:53 PM    Report this comment

2013 will be in Fort Worth, TX. Fairly 'middle' East/West if a bit South.

Posted by: Steve W | October 15, 2012 10:42 PM    Report this comment

Eddie... English 101 might be a good addition to ECON 101.

Posted by: Nick Cain | October 15, 2012 11:02 PM    Report this comment

Why, thanks Nick. I take it my diatribe didn't make too much sense. It wasn't supposed to. It's was simply an example of how your previous question can be answered in the most round about way as possible which is indicative of some current regulations...which increase cost.

But speaking of English skills that you've pointed out, shall we now exchange pound cake recipes to address the lack of pilot participation? That would probably add more to the discussion than you've done thus far....

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 15, 2012 11:29 PM    Report this comment


We had our own "summit" over the weekend, when KBAF played host to a regional aerobatics competition. As always, I hosted a hangar party (a modest one for this relatively small event). One consensus: 2020 is a looming A-bomb for GA. Most who spoke agreed that fully 50% of the existing GA fleet - and some associated percentage of GA pilots - will become "retired" in 2020 when the ADSB rules kick in, unless....

Unless one or more of the avionics manufacturers comes up with an affordable (read: <$6k, installed) one-box solution for meeting the requirements. And unless the FAA allows the industry to do it (STC, 337s, etc.). The "one-box" would have to include a glass 6-pack replacement (with all supporting sensors), a WAAS GPS, ADS-B in and out, blind encoder, and ELT.


Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 16, 2012 7:25 AM    Report this comment


Sadly, there was a second consensus: that while it’s technologically possible to do that without breaking much of a sweat, the existing paradigm of $100k glass panels is so appealing to the manufacturers, that they won’t buy into the “cut the cost; increase the volume” paradigm – because once the pipe is filled with even a couple of hundred thousand $6k boxes, it would be very difficult to ever return to the pricey paradigm that they see as the key to their longevity.

My full-IFR lovely hangar queen is worth $25k - $26k in today’s depressed used-aircraft market. I’m going to find it awfully hard to justify spending the better part of 20 grand on new avionics for my otherwise-rather-nice but low-retail-value airplane. I’ve already witnessed Mr. Obama obsolete my perfectly good Loran navigator. I’ve witnessed the Agency all-but-obsolete my perfectly good ELT. My rather nice digital ADF is good for listening to the ball game or to Rush Limbaugh on a cross-country flight. My gyros likely will need another overhaul by 2020, too. My third engine will be less than half-way to TBO, so it’s not all bad news.


Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 16, 2012 7:26 AM    Report this comment


Like me, many of my party-companions are approaching their 7th decade on this planet. It doesn’t take a psychic to read these tea leaves…..

I’d like to see AOPA, the FAA, and one or more manufacturers address my concerns. I’d also like to win the next Powerball lottery.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 16, 2012 7:27 AM    Report this comment

This was my 6th Summit, and I think overall it was the best one yet. Many people here are complaining that it has turned into a "rich people's only" event, but I saw a number of changes this year where they really did try to make it more inclusive. Yes, they still had the expensive (for me) "Night for Flight" event, but they also had less expensive events too (some of them were even free).

As for the fuel issue, I really don't see much that AOPA can do. The market itself seems to be doing more about it, with more JetA-burning diesel engines coming to market. Cost is still a factor, but the market itself is likely to do more about that than any lobbying can do.

I make Summit my yearly excuse for travel and go there a day or two early to add additional vacationing, so the expense of travel isn't a great for me. I look forward to 2013 in Texas, and hope the market will be improved by then.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 16, 2012 10:31 AM    Report this comment

Why do so few people go to the summit? It doesn't have that much to offer. Much is always made of the "parade of planes" taxiing down the street--but who cares? They highlight "celebrities" like Harrison Ford--but who cares what a Hollywood actor has to say? They have "forums"--but unlike OSH, they are more like FAA seminars than how to actually DO something. The event is more akin to NBAA than to Oshkosh.

Finally, there is the event itself--part of the Oshkosh attraction is that it is so BIG--there is something for everybody there--you can walk among warbirds, antiques, contemporary aircraft, experimentals, developmental aircraft, rotorcraft, LSAs. You can talk to builders, vendors, or anyone in the aviation industry. In short, like a nuclear reaction, it has achieved "critical mass"--large enough that it continues to sustain itself and grow. Summit, by comparison, is closer to being a trade show than an aviation gathering. If it is to grow and prosper, it has to include the above-listed aspects of Oshkosh.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 16, 2012 11:06 AM    Report this comment


Well, let’s reminisce from my 7th decade. My first plane had no electronics or radio.

The next one had low frequency for comm. and ADF and NDB.

Later, upgraded to a Narco with HF omni tuning and 4 crystals for transmitting. Station identification was important then.

Later I upgraded to another Narco that had 90 channels.

I passed on Loran as VOR provided all I needed, although I did buy a Bonanza with a Loran in the panel. Never learned how to use it.

Somewhere along the way, a transponder was added to the mix, and ELTs.

I found DME to be useful and also upgraded to King ‘preselect’ frequencies.

Now I have Garmin WAAS GPS, terrain clearance, XM Wx and FM entertainment, Stormscope for immediate lightning, etc. on a MFD. Not a $100K panel.

ADS-B in-out will just be another step in a long continuing process. None of the previous steps resulted in grounding ½ of the fleet.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | October 16, 2012 4:41 PM    Report this comment

I'm highly in favor of the 'Parade of Planes'. It is not meant for pilots, but for the local, general public. I wasn't there this year, but the last event in PSP did have a huge turn-out of locals.

Perhaps some people were excited enough to consider learning how to fly.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | October 16, 2012 4:57 PM    Report this comment

What do you mean by "So what?" Russ Niles. The aviation industry in the US peaked in 1980 then lowered its nose establishing a decline and a 32 year history without a measure to stop the trend. Aircraft deliveries and the active pilot population has shrunk about 40 percent, a reduction of over 200,000 active pilots. The same is proportionally true about aircraft flight services. The demand is less therefore costs have sky rocketed making aircraft ownership and flight training unaffordable creating a disincentive.

In 1980 we had over 4000 flight schools, now there are less than 1800 and diminishing. The Recreational and LSA programs have not solved the dilemma. The decline of flight training in the 21st. century continues and remains without a viable solution.

The AOPA and EAA organizations will not fix or slow down the trend as their agenda focuses on their survival. Should I remain optimistic and bury my head in the sand while waiting for a fix here? How long will this decline last? How can I make a difference? Am I disappointed to learn about the low AOPA SUMMIT attendance at PSP? Damn right I am.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | October 16, 2012 10:24 PM    Report this comment

The way to lower the cost is actually to increase demand. That sounds ackwards, but it's the parts that are truly expensive so the plane and it's insurance are expensive as well.

Think of aviation as a department store. The store has many departments to meet all your aviation needs. You can walk in to become a pilot and you are sent to the worst part of the store. The employees there obviously aren't glad to be there and are actually hoping to transfer to the airline department. The boss is too busy with paperwork and worrying about his budget to be marketing his business, and all the competition has the same planes your granddad had.

Walking around you see the new/old planes cost a quarter million and wonder if the whole idea isn't silly. The only things looking new start at 350k. At least in the new plane department there is a professional to talk to you, but, oops, he learns you aren't a pilot and moves along looking for a real prospect.

Most everyone seems nice, but you have second thoughts already.

Posted by: Eric Warren | October 17, 2012 3:12 AM    Report this comment


With the exception of ELT (lower-cost 121.5 MHz ones) and mode A/C transponder, none of your along-the-way equipment/capability upgrades was required by the Agency.

Since my Loran navigator was unceremoniously obsoleted by some non-pilot who thinks that we're all fat cats who don't pay our fair share, I've fallen back on relying upon the rapidly-vanishing VOR/LOC/GS and NDB infrastructure (and good old pilotage & DR) to get me from place to place. The addition of ADS-B out wouldn’t be so burdensome if it wasn’t accompanied by a requirement to install a companion GPS navigator. So, for somewhere between $10 k and $20 k installed, I can get back to having the same capabilities and regulatory compliance that I already had before Obama. Good thing I’m a fat cat.

The guys at our “summit” doubted that they ever could recover any of the required upgrade costs for their airplanes when the time came to sell, so they’re in the same boat as I am – facing a decision about whether to invest upwards of $20 k in in a vehicle that they can expect to fly for not much more than an additional 250 hours – if that.

My high-compression engine can’t burn an auto-gas equivalent, either, so the impending demise of 100LL isn’t inspiring confidence. A diesel upgrade would cost me another $35 k, which is more than the airplane is worth.

It’s all about the value proposition.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 17, 2012 6:59 AM    Report this comment

"The AOPA and EAA organizations will not fix or slow down the trend as their agenda focuses on their survival."

I wonder how many people here commenting actually went to this year's Summit. And of those who did, how many tried to dig deeper than what is just on the surface.

AOPA is starting a new "flying club initiative" to determine what they can do to encourage and support the growth of flying clubs. I believe the traditional flying school may be "going the way of the dodo", and that flying clubs are the future of how to build the pilot population. Sure, they aren't for everyone, but it has the best and most immediate chance of lowering the overall cost of flying.

AOPA's "flight training initiative", while not perfect, also attempts to reverse the trend of the declining population and 60-80% drop-out rate by supporting the flight training process.

Stopping and reversing the downward trend will take time, but I have seem some recent developments that actually do have a chance.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 17, 2012 8:16 AM    Report this comment

Gary, I have mixed feelings about the clubs. I know that clubs can be great, and are successful around the world. However, I don't believe a not for profit club will grow the industry nearly as much as fixing the profitability and focus of flight schools.

I suspect the club initiative is attractive to AOPA because it should stabilize the losses and add more dues payers while creating grass roots support for GA. Unfortunately, AOPA has been incestuous for a long time and has earned an AARP like reputation. So, skeptics are asking questions about everything they do. Is the club plan more about preserving the status quo? Is it about AOPA salaries and boondoggles? Are we really trying to increase the 5 to 10 hour per year pilots while the 25 to 50 hour a year pilots go away? Are we doing this to make the kerosene crowd happy?

Posted by: Eric Warren | October 17, 2012 11:09 AM    Report this comment

@"I'm highly in favor of the 'Parade of Planes'. It is not meant for pilots, but for the local, general public."

We're talking about why PILOTS aren't attending here. AOPA constantly promotes the "parade of planes"--and has done so for the 50 years I've been flying. Obviously, pilots are NOT impressed--though AOPA lists the "parade" as one of the 10 reasons to come.

Since it has been doing this "parade" for half a century--you would think that if it REALLY inspired locals, the flight schools would be swamped.

Do you really think that Palm Springs flight schools will now be innundated with student pilots after watching airplanes taxi down the street?

Posted by: jim hanson | October 17, 2012 11:33 AM    Report this comment

Regarding the AOPA flying club initiative--shared ownership may be a way to retain existing pilots--and that is a good thing.

On the negative side, flying clubs are not the best when it comes to promoting aviation safety--unlike an FBO rental, it is a rare "club" that has one person delegated to keeping track of aircraft maintenance, medicals, and pilot qualifications. There is a REASON that flying clubs pay higher insurance rates. For that reason, I would hope that AOPA would differentiate between a partnership and a flying club--insurance companies recognize the difference.

Finally--AOPA should be careful what it hopes for--the "Flying Club" is popular in Europe--and consequently, FBOS are scarce. Do we really want to emulate the European model of aviation?

Posted by: jim hanson | October 17, 2012 11:41 AM    Report this comment

I started my aviation "career" through the typical flight school to get my private pilot. I quickly realized during training that I would never afford to actually use my rating for more than just "boring holes in the sky" for a couple hours, and started looking for alternatives. There are three alternatives to renting: buying your own plane, entering into a partnership, or joining a club. Of those three, buying a plane was way outside what I could afford, and entering into a partnership wasn't realistic.

So, after doing a little research, I joined a flying club about 3 months after earning my private pilot. It took me nearly 2 years to earn my private (work, weather, and scheduling all conspired against me), but only a year to earn my instrument rating through the club. It also cost a whole lot less to do this in the club environment.

I had to go back to renting to get the retract time I needed for the commercial rating, but I still did most of my training in club planes, and saved a lot of money (again). All this, while still taking a few weekend and day trips with the club planes.


Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 17, 2012 11:46 AM    Report this comment


Recently, the "perfect storm" led to me and a couple club members to purchase our own plane as part of a partnership. However, I still choose to be a club member because of the social aspect, as well as having access to club planes for the times when my own is in the shop (annual, upgrades, etc). Additionally, the club experience gave me valuable information on what is involved with owning a plane. If it wasn't for the club, my current flying would be very much different, and I'm convinced it would be for the worse.

AOPA already has resources to help those forming or entering into a partnership, and my partners found those resources to be a huge help. If the new Flying Club initiative works out just as well, I can see it having a big impact in a positive way.

As for the FBOs, I've become a bit un-enamored with them, based on my experiences during flight training. I found it the rare FBO that actually cared about student completion rate, with many of them more focused on fuel sales than anything else.

The main thing I got out of AOPA's goal with this is that flying clubs can serve as a gateway to ownership. If we can increase the number of active pilots through promoting flying clubs, it will have an added benefit of increasing demand for aircraft ownership. Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but I think that's what we need if we're to get out of this steady decline, and denigration of "general aviation" as a rich person's pass-time.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 17, 2012 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I'm not against flying clubs--just that this doesn't add new pilots to the mix--only lets pilots fly a few more hours a year. The social aspect of flying you mention is also important--something we've lost over the years as the number of FBOS has diminished from 10,000 to less than 2000.

As for saving money in a flying club--for most people, the reality is that it isn't going to happen. It IS true that the fixed cost of owning an airplane--hangar and insurance--is spread over more members. The operational cost (fuel, maintenance, engine reserve, etc.) remains the same whether the airplane is owned by an individual, an FBO, or a flying club. Flying clubs do a disservice to their members when they advertise unreasonably low rates--then have to come up with "special assessments" to cover the expenses that members have been avoiding. (continued)

Posted by: jim hanson | October 17, 2012 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Gary, I have had this conversation before, just pertaining to other interests. Clubs can be good, and occasionally great. They often lead to better experiences for members than customers. They can also, though rarely, lead to experiences worse than anything a school can manage. If you want the growth to come back, you need FOR PROFIT organizations. They need to be able to make a profit commensurate with the value they provide, and they need to add more value than they currently do. Clubs get limited because the few people with energy, passion, and CAPABILITY to add and retain customers eventually run out of juice when not being paid - just like the folks at the schools who run out of juice for not being paid enough.

Posted by: Eric Warren | October 17, 2012 12:25 PM    Report this comment

The rule of thumb is that if you don't fly at least 50 hours a year, you are better off renting--just like so many other low-useage activities. From about 50-150 hours a year, flying clubs can be great--you are taking advantage of the inactivity of others. Above that figure, owning is an option.

If you think that flying clubs can operate an aircraft cheaper than an FBO--think again. The FBO typically puts at least 600 hours a year on an aircraft--something that very few clubs do. FBOs don't make much money renting aircraft--if they did, there would be a whole lot more aircraft for rent--and a lot more people in the FBO business.

Finally--the statements about flying clubs are true--they do NOT have as good a safety record as an FBO. If the FAA regulated clubs like commercial operators (something most of us would abhor) perhaps they would have an equal safety record. As for FBOs not caring about student completion rates--recognize that the majority of students are still trained by FBOs--there's a reason for this.

The AOPA flying club initiative--something to be applauded--WITH the caveat that people should put a pencil to club membership before signing.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 17, 2012 12:31 PM    Report this comment

@We're talking about why PILOTS aren't attending here. AOPA constantly promotes the "parade of planes"--and has done so for the 50 years I've been flying. Obviously, pilots are NOT impressed--though AOPA lists the "parade" as one of the 10 reasons to come.

Jim, I don’t understand why this is troubling for you. I believe the Parade of Planes has only happened twice, and both times at Palm Springs, after the Convention Center was built a few years ago.

As far as pilots attending, there are fewer of us, and we are the choir. New blood needs to be brought in. If the AOPA can put on a ‘show’ for the general public with the co-operation of the city, Highway Patrol, etc. why is this a bad thing?

If only two local people inquired about learning to fly, it’s a plus in my mind.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | October 17, 2012 1:23 PM    Report this comment

Thomas, my avionics upgrade stepladder is not historically correct, only suggesting we’ve been through this many times before. I will add we had to trash a lot of 90 channel equipment when 360 requirements were effected. Also, I believe the phase out of Loran began well before President Obama was elected.

I don’t understand how anyone can expect to recover 100% of an avionics investment on re-sale. Where/when has this ever happened?

I’m fortunate to live at a privately owned airpark. Populated by like-minded people, we are, in effect, a large, informal flying club. We have our ‘summits’ twice a week, flying out for breakfast once a week, and getting together for Mexican food on Sunday evenings. We have everything from a J-3 to a Cessna Mustang. I’m thinking you have a pessimistic group compared to ours.

I’m also dependent on a 100LL drop-in replacement for my IO520s. I expect it will happen over the 11 year period the working group has posited. Will it be less expensive? Absolutely not. We’re at ~$5.00 /gallon for mogas in SoCal and avgas about $6.50. Seems about the same ratio I’ve seen over a lot of years.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | October 17, 2012 2:05 PM    Report this comment

Another AOPA related post. And after dreading through all the comments, we come to yet the same conclusion:

AOPA is out of touch with its membership.

No surprises there. Yeah, a flying club network...sounds great on paper. What AOPA doesn't know is that most flying clubs have internal issues that prevent growth and stability. And they are just as challenged as the rest of us on the COST of flying. But...AOPA doesn't think so...why? Well, they're out of touch.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | October 17, 2012 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The study that AOPA did on flying clubs hinted that they are actually aware of the "internal issues" some clubs have. Part of the initiative is to figure out what can be done to help existing clubs, and another part is to figure out what can be done to help new clubs get started and avoid many of the issues.

One of the biggest part of the flying club network they want to build is facilitating communication between clubs. Some clubs are better managed than others, but up to this point, for the most part they've all been closed loops. But if the ones with issues can learn from the ones that are well run (many of which themselves went through painful learning experiences), the flying club community can grow.

I don't really see what the downside of this could be.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 17, 2012 4:07 PM    Report this comment

I was a member of a flying club and leased them my airplane -- until they crashed it. The pilot who ran my plane through the fence had an expired BFR, so I asked for compensation because the club's rules were clearly not enforced. The club gave me the big middle finger and replied they felt they could crash my plane any time they wanted. I left.

Posted by: David Rosing | October 17, 2012 4:54 PM    Report this comment

@" I believe the Parade of Planes has only happened twice, and both times at Palm Springs, after the Convention Center was built a few years ago." That's not true--the "parade of planes" has been a fixture since the earliest conventions (then called "plantation parties) 50 years ago. I don't have an issue with taxiing airplanes down the street--but don't claim that it will "inspire people to become pilots." The entire thread has been about "Is AOPA out of touch?"--and I believe that with this issue it IS--it obviously does not attract pilots--there is no evidence that it inspires new pilots--and it can hardly be listed as a best use of scarce resources. This is the kind of "thinking" that caused the Chevy Volt to be produced.

I'm a long-time member of AOPA--I believe they are perhaps the leading advocacy group in the aviation world--but if their mission is to put on a convention, they need to give the members what they want. Don't send me offers in the mail--don't give us "celebrities" telling what we should do--give us a good magazine (already accomplished) with topical articles, and give us a voice to oppose ill-considered government restrictions.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 17, 2012 6:18 PM    Report this comment

@"Some clubs are better managed than others, but up to this point, for the most part they've all been closed loops. But if the ones with issues can learn from the ones that are well run (many of which themselves went through painful learning experiences), the flying club community can grow. "

Well put. AOPA can best be of service by explaining the benefits and pitfalls of flying clubs and partnerships--and exploring the options. In reality, AOPA has been offering this for years--but a formalized program would be beneficial. The flip side of the Flying Club association is to put out the REAL cost of owning an airplane--whether in a club, partnership, or solo. Far too many clubs operate on unrealistic "hopes"--and we all know that "hope is not a strategy." There are times when club ownership is NOT your best choice--but they can at least explore the options.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 17, 2012 6:23 PM    Report this comment

I am a student pilto. Could someone please tell me the difference between an FBO renting and a Club? I can go to the local FBO and rent a 1980 172 for $138hr or I can join the local flying club for $400 a year, pay monthly dues of $55, and only $95hr for a 172. Seems like they are almost the same and I still have to buy insurance.

I will tell as a student and realizing that aviation is never going to get any cheaper than it is, is disheartening.

Posted by: Samuel Walsh | October 18, 2012 12:27 AM    Report this comment

Samuel, The rental price is likely meaningless. Let's say you are going to fly 10 hours a month for 5 months to get your certificate. Let's say the cost at one place is 500 more for that whole experience. Do you really think there isn't difference in the quality of the experience worth the difference from one to another? Pick the nicer plane (don't assume a 172 is best for you). Pick the nicer FBO (facility). Check reputations. Interview instructors. Is one a pilot mill for commuters? Is that what you want? Avoid large upfront payments and don't borrow to do it.

Posted by: Eric Warren | October 18, 2012 12:56 AM    Report this comment


The inability to recover 100% of my investment in equipment doesn’t bother me. The inability to recover ANY of my investment does. I’m looking at $10k to $20k to keep my airplane legal – no increase in capability will occur as a consequence of replacing my Loran with GPS and of augmenting my Mode-C transponder with ADSB-out. None. And the increase in the market price of my old bird? Likely zero.

BTW, before Obama, the Agency planned to reduce the emphasis on Loran, but to have it in place as a reliable backup to GPS (very prudent in my worthless opinion). The Obama administration decided to simply put a bullet in Loran.

Glen Pew has a short piece on the AvWeb site today, titled NASA Floats Drone Challenge Concept. Apparently, NASA is concerned about how unmanned vehicles will operate safely “when GPS is unavailable.” How are the rest of us supposed to operate safely? And what will our NEXGEN ATC system do when their ADS-B traffic displays go blank as a consequence of the unavailability of GPS?

You’re right… I am more pessimistic! ;-)

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 18, 2012 6:16 AM    Report this comment

Well, the convention has spurred many good conversations, as we can all see. Dialog is good. I did attend... and I still say the small fee we spend on AOPA membership is well worth it. All of the rest of the complaints are just typical these days. Blame Obama for your obsolete LORAN. Pretty absurd, even in an election season. When I started in 1971, flying was expensive. Always has been, always will be. If you have a passion for it though... you will find a way. The complainers either lack the passion or it is fading, which is natural. They just can't go away quietly. The club idea has some merit. Alternative fuels will come along. The same guys that cried foul when transponders came out will be in rocking chairs. ADSB will get figured out and be cheaper in time. Now, I better draft a complain to AARP, AA about that drinking, AAA about that stupid lizard trying to sell me insurance... and no one here ever mentioned a lawyer. Well, don't get me started. Cheers guys.

Posted by: Nick Cain | October 18, 2012 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Flying clubs are not a cost cure-all may not increase the active pilot count. California has 24 and Texas 15 and so on. After reviewing them i found that hourly rates for aircraft and CFIs are equal or higher than that of the FBO market. No surprise here as we are is the same cost environment. Some experience flight club CFIs charge $90/hr and others charge $40/hr. Aircraft rates calculate the same or higher and one is still subject to the deposit and monthly fees FBOs or independents don't have. Some clubs are better organized than others facilitating scheduling and personal record keeping to confirm medical and currency matters, however, some don't. So, if the club rents to non-compliant users and damage happens... At the end, it is all about cost. So what is the advantage of flying clubs? Social issues? A sense of belonging? Before one gets all excited about joining a flying club I would look at their fleets and talk to instructors and students. Check on the initiation and monthly fees. Most clubs charge a monthly fee even if you don't fly. Some offer discounts if you fly more than minimum hours. Check aircraft rates, are they dry or wet rates? If not satisfied then give your FBO or independent flight instructor you feel comfortable with a call. What is important is to start and keep flying.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | October 18, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

For well-managed clubs, the hourly rate will work out to be cheaper than a for-profit FBO, provided you fly a certain minimum number of hours a year to off-set the monthly membership fee. But more than a possible savings in cost, I found it prohibitively expensive to book a plane from the local FBO for a day or weekend getaway--provided I could even schedule a plane for that long of a time. It's also nice knowing that some of the expenses will go toward improving the aircraft in the flying club, versus just adding to the FBO's income.

However, what Rafael says about talking to the clubs and FBOs is absolutely true. Even if a club is for you, not all clubs are equal, and they all do things a little differently.

Which, by the way, is part of AOPA's flying club initiative: to see if it's possible to create a network of flying clubs such that membership in one could provide benefits in another club, and to normalize (to the extent that is possible) the operation of them.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 18, 2012 10:19 AM    Report this comment

Rafael got one thing terribly wrong, and it's part of what has been killing GA. It's not all about the cost, it's all about value. Repeat that three times in every conversation with prospective pilots. Value over cost will help save GA.

Why? If you are going to fly for pleasure, then spend the extra money to make it worth it, or don't even start. It's like spending a thousand dollars on a ticket to Paris and then skimping on every hotel, meal, and activity. Have a great meal, see the museums, stay in a place that doesn't ruin your memories. The difference will likely be ten or twenty percent more total cost for double the pleasure or more!

Rent only a plane with doors that work well, seats that are comfortable, radios that work, and controls that aren't slushy. If necessary, get one with AC. Choose the clean school that is conducive to learning, that is organized, that seems like a good place. If you wouldn't eat there or leave your kids there, Don't Fly There.

You aren't paying to get a certificate, you are paying to enjoy an activity. Choose value and quality and enjoy learning to learning to fly.

Posted by: Eric Warren | October 18, 2012 11:45 AM    Report this comment

Lastly, the AOPA palace revolt. Years ago Phil Boyer returned my emails and even call me on a Sunday morning about a PSP safety issue. I was really impressed by his actions. On a recent California flight instruction legislative issue where the CFI and flight school community was about to be terribly affected, I emailed Craig Fuller and he promptly had two AOPA lawyers contact me. They called, one trying to impressed me and I responded accordingly. They were wrong on the issue that affected some 9631 California CFIs. One of the lawyers attitude was high handed and I was upset as there was an AOPA misinterpretation that if left unchecked it would have done away with flight training in California. Ultimately, other organizations participated and AOPA helped.

Now, AOPA is a credible entity in the legislative quarters, they are needed to lobby for our protection and progress and should continue championing our cause. Craig Fuller needs to understand this rather than showboating and allowing unrelated programs to interfere AOPA's core values and objectives. See you in 2014 at the PSP AOPA SUMMIT.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | October 18, 2012 12:26 PM    Report this comment

I reiterate what others have already said. It really ticked me off when Fuller changed the ASF to the AOPA Foundation. I want my annual ASF donation to fo to safety seminars and safety efforts. Then it ticks me off when Fuller tries to outdo the NRA in raising money by saying "the sky is falling". Apparently, from what I read, even Sporty's has a falling out with AOPA. Things were great with Phil Boyer in charge. Not so good with Fuller. Maybe time for a new leader at AOPA.

Posted by: Rich Bond | October 18, 2012 3:17 PM    Report this comment

I posted on another Forum--one that displays contact information. Craig Fuller DID follow up with an E-mail--and not a form letter.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 18, 2012 3:27 PM    Report this comment

It is absolutely certain that private pilot numbers and flying hours will continue to decline for the foreseeable future: 1. The large WWII/postwar GI bill wave of pilots is dying out, and will not be replaced. 2. The expense of a/c ownership & flying will continue to increase, and there is almost nothing AOPA, EAA, or XXXX can do about it. GA plane mfr is a cottage industry w/ high fixed costs, fuel tight, etc. 3. Public attitudes about light a/c flying, airports, and airplane noise are negative and resistant. We have few friends. 4. Flying clubs are the core of pvt flying in Europe; clubs and airport residential communities offer some hope to keep private flying alive.

We need to face reality and not keep bitching about things not being like in the old days!

Posted by: Hunter Heath | October 18, 2012 3:50 PM    Report this comment

I've flown extensively in Europe--frankly, if we adopt the European model, we will have the same results THEY do--even few aircraft and airmen. If you think flying is hard and expensive HERE--wait until you experience Europe!

The Euro model is built on flying clubs, VERY few aircraft, even fewer flying hours, limited cross-country flights, extensive use of weight-shift LSAs to avoid ruinous fees, glider flying,high regulations, and lack of a ground infrastructure (FBOS) to make GA useful. If we follow the Euro model, we will have the same result!

We got into this mess through the stroke of the (over)regulatory pen--and the cure for getting out of this is to reverse the mistakes. The FARs are too broad--too controlling--hopelessly outdated, and are killing aviation.

NOTHING LESS THAN A TOP-TO-BOTTOM OVERHAUL WILL CURE THE PROBLEM! Fortunately, even the FAA is recognizing the need.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 18, 2012 5:01 PM    Report this comment

I've flown extensively in Europe--frankly, if we adopt the European model, we will have the same results THEY do--even few aircraft and airmen. If you think flying is hard and expensive HERE--wait until you experience Europe!

The Euro model is built on flying clubs, VERY few aircraft, even fewer flying hours, limited cross-country flights, extensive use of weight-shift LSAs to avoid ruinous fees, glider flying,high regulations, and lack of a ground infrastructure (FBOS) to make GA useful. If we follow the Euro model, we will have the same result!

We got into this mess through the stroke of the (over)regulatory pen--and the cure for getting out of this is to reverse the mistakes. The FARs are too broad--too controlling--hopelessly outdated, and are killing aviation.

NOTHING LESS THAN A TOP-TO-BOTTOM OVERHAUL WILL CURE THE PROBLEM! Fortunately, even the FAA is recognizing the need.

Posted by: jim hanson | October 18, 2012 5:01 PM    Report this comment

"All of the rest of the complaints are just typical these days."

Yeah, just typical complaints, move along folks, nothing to see here:

--"GRUNDY, Va. — Officials from two Southwestern Virginia counties say a project vital to the area’s economic development has been held up for years because of a dispute with federal regulators over what is an airport and what is a coal mine....

...“We were attempting to permit this project as an airport project, not a coal-mining project,” said state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, a Democrat from Lebanon who has been involved for three years with the effort to lengthen the runway from 2,200 feet to more than 5,000 feet — the length needed to comply with insurance standards for corporate jets. The holdup: Federal regulators have refused to allow the runway project to go forward without a mining permit because of the coal deposits below the land that will be dug up during construction.

“That’s where the permitting process got caught up — in determining whether it was an airport project or a mining project, by the Office of Surface Mining in Washington,” Mr. Puckett said. “We’ve tried to resolve that with them for the last couple of years. We’ve had very little success.”"--

Nothing like adding an additional government agency to help reduce cost....

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 18, 2012 8:46 PM    Report this comment

One method for pulling in a swarm at shows like AOPA Summit is to have a shrewd contraption, and Anthony Chan unquestionably has one in his remotely controlled flying machine tug. Chan was putting the tug through its paces on the show floor in Fort Worth this week and drawing a lot of investment. Not at all like most tugs, which utilize elastic tired wheels for footing, the AC Air Technology tug has a smaller than usual tank tread framework determined by a couple of effective electric engines fueled by a lithium-particle battery equipped for different tows. personal statement for phd

Posted by: Tiffany E. Hirth | November 2, 2014 1:58 PM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?


Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration

« Back to Full Story