What's EAA Up To?
How many aviation organizations should you belong to? As a member in good standing of the aviation community, must you pony up dues for both AOPA and EAA? And what other service organizations should you support in order the keep GA alive, much less vital.
EAA is in the process of testing that question. As you may have noticed—or maybe not—EAA is slowly repositioning itself to be a broader GA service, promotional and advocacy organization that also happens to champion the cause of homebuilding and experimental aviation, where its roots lie. This is going to be a tricky dance to watch because as EAA does this base broadening, doesn't it necessarily evolve itself into being more like AOPA? Won't it be going after AOPA's core constituency?
At the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring last month, EAA's new prez Rod Hightower seemed to suggest that this isn't the case at all and that all of the alphabets are working together in a spirit of cooperation, agreeing ahead of time which one is best positioned to advocate with the government on various issues. Maybe so, but the reality is that all of us live in the Village of the Damned. Interest in GA and the ability to participate in it are eroding and the universe of likely participants isn't growing fast enough to replace attrition. Student starts and completions are in the tank, although the FAA seems to think this will bottom out and resume some growth before 2020. I hope so. But I'm also a realist.
Hightower said EAA wants to grow its ranks and is actually succeeding at that, with a membership of about 171,000. AOPA has about 400,000, but it's down from a couple of years ago. I don't know what the overlap between the two organizations is, but I suspect it's substantial. If it becomes less quirky homebuilder oriented and more of all-purpose joy-of-flight organization, EAA can likely sway quite a few of those 230,000-plus AOPA members to join. That's a good thing, because EAA—thanks to its grass roots ethos—is doing a credible job of pilot recruitment. In fact, it's about the only organization making a dent in the problem in a way that reaches the local airport. (I've personally participated in Young Eagles and plan to again.)
But as the two organizations become more alike, they risk losing their identity, especially EAA. When the new, redesigned and re-positioned SportAviation arrived this month, it struck me as a well-executed amalgam of AOPA Pilot, Air&Space and Flight Journal, with some hands-on technical meat thrown in. Nice, especially the tasty 9 by 11 format. But I already get those other magazines, for a reason. Why do I want another that may be different only by degree? I'm not sure I can answer that yet. Nor can I say if I'll remain a member of both organizations, as I have been for professional reasons for more than 20 years.
Like everyone else, I feel a certain duty to support these organizations, for I believe they perform important functions. But if they end up looking more or less the same, it's harder to justify supporting both.