AVwebFlash - Volume 16, Number 50a

December 13, 2010

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Special Report back to top 

An Inside Look at AOPA: Expenses and Salaries

As aviation's leading member organization, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has become the unchallenged defender and guardian of everything to do with general aviation. But it's also a multi-faceted $60 million business run, in part, as a non-profit organization owned by its members. Thus its tax filings are in the public record. This allows members to access at least some financial data to try to answer this question: Do we get our money's worth? Does the association spend the money wisely? And has it trimmed its balance sheet and expenses to reflect the severe contraction in the industry it advocates? To illuminate this, AVweb obtained and analyzed the association's public IRS tax filings and compared its salary expenditures to the association universe in general. We also posed a series of detailed questions to AOPA senior management, which association president Craig Fuller answered for us in writing and in an extensive interview. He also reacted with sharp postings on his own blog criticizing AVweb's original story on executive salaries, which appeared in early November.

Big Picture

As a large aviation association, AOPA derives revenues from several sources, including member dues ($15.539 million) and its publication division ($11.136 million). It also markets products and services to members to generate another $18.137 million and its in-house insurance business pulls in $7.242 million in revenue, according to AOPA internal documents.

Like most businesses during 2008 and 2009, AOPA experienced a decline in revenue, mostly due to aviation businesses cutting back on advertising. According to its IRS filings and confirmed by its CFO Roger Myers, its expenditures exceeded its revenues by about $5.152 million in 2009. We wondered how AOPA responded to this and asked whether it adjusted top management salaries, reduced staff or cut expenses, as many businesses have done. AOPA told us that it made some changes in total employment for the association and its affiliates: 216 employees in 2008; 214 in 2009 and 210 in 2010 at the time of our reporting. AOPA President Craig Fuller said the association also reorganized its senior staff, consolidating six vice president positions into three, and making changes in its legislative affairs division.

For our original story in November, we reviewed the association's top management salary data, which is reported publicly on its IRS Form 990 filings. This data indicated that AOPA executive salary expenditures went from $2.793 million in 2008 to $4.22 million in 2009. (Lower staff salaries aren't reported.)

Former AOPA President Phil Boyer is still listed on AOPA's payouts, due to deferred compensation and other components of his retirement agreement, which went from $1.54 million in 2008 to $1.89 million in 2009. However, AOPA management stated that the raises weren't that large, and that we misinterpreted the bottom line totals. In fact, 2009 includes salaries that were not included in 2008 because of changes in IRS reporting rules, which accounts for the apparent increase.

Back in November, AOPA's Fuller challenged our findings, claiming that our initial report was "flat out wrong" because the Form 990 we accessed doesn't give an accurate picture of any association's finances."In 30 years, I've never heard anyone analyze the effectiveness of an organization by examining Form 990s," Fuller told us in an interview last week. "The association community as a whole has been given fits over this. It's hard, in fact, it's impossible, to decipher," Fuller added. (In a related story, Fuller announced over the weekend that the association would improve its governance to make financial data more transparent.

However, associations and media organizations do use Form 990s for a basic glimpse into association finances, supplemented by questions to the organizations. We did the same prior to our first story, but AOPA responded only to a portion of our questions and did not follow through with our request for an interview with Fuller. Fuller later conceded he didn't give our request enough attention. "I get a lot of requests for Form 990s," he said.

Salary Levels

To clarify salaries for top management at AOPA, the organization provided this chart, which lists base salaries. When we noted that these figures don't agree with what AOPA reported to the IRS, Fuller and CFO Roger Myers explained that base salaries don't include benefits, deferred compensation and other items. Fuller's base salary, for example, is $500,000, but the schedule J IRS data lists his total in 2009 as $582,484. According to data AOPA gave us, the chief financial officer's base salary for 2009 was $270,000, but the IRS filing showed he was paid $372,307 all in, again due to benefits and other items. Myers was also paid more in 2009 than in 2008 due to additional duties.

Myers stressed that the total 2009 salary expenditures showing an apparent increase were distorted because of IRS reporting rule changes that added salaries that didn't appear the year previously. These, he said, were not additions to the staff, nor did they represent raises. Total salary expenditures, he said, were actually nearly flat or in the one- to three-percent range. Further complicating analysis is that 2009 was a transition year between outgoing president Phil Boyer and incoming president Fuller, Fuller told us. This involved deferred compensation that precluded an apples to apples comparison. Speaking of deferred compensation, the IRS data showed that Phil Boyer received $1.77 million in 2009, up from $1.35 million in 2008. Although it's listed as a salary expenditure, it's actually deferred compensation as part of his retirement package, we were told. When we asked if Boyer is due additional sums for 2010, Fuller declined to provide details, saying they were considered confidential. These details await AOPA's 2010 IRS filings, likely due in October of 2011. Exact salaries aside, the larger question is how AOPA's expenses compare to other associations.

In Context

Fuller acknowledged that AOPA's top management salaries are, by any measure, substantial. But he explains that they're consistent with other member organizations and that it's not reasonable to compare them to salaries in other industries, including aviation, where salaries are flat or in decline.

Fuller, who was previously CEO of the National Association of Chain Drugstores, says that boards frequently look askance at the high salaries association CEOs command—salaries that are often higher than the boards the CEOs answer to. "And it strikes people as odd that this would be the case. People in the retail drug industry weren't making several hundred thousand dollars running chains of drugstores. It's true across the board [for associations]" Fuller said. "The pool of talent is unique, in some ways, it comes with a set of skills where they know how to work with government or they know how to communicate or they know how to run magazines. We are setting our compensation levels in a range where we can really retain the people we need to work on behalf of our members," Fuller said. Moreover, he says AOPA competes against larger and more moneyed associations for the same skilled people. "Think of it as more like you're investing in a big-league baseball team. Your ticket price is $45 and you get to come to all the games, but you sure don't want to put on the field a mediocre team. Our 400,000 members don't want a mediocre team."

We reviewed data from both the National Journal and American Society of Association Executives, both of which maintain association salary data. Association pay varies widely by type of association—trades tend to pay more—and by size and industry. National Journal reports that average pay for CEOs in associations greater than $10 million is $501,000, with those in the $100 million range averaging $796,550. (At $60 million, AOPA splits the difference.) The American Society of Association Executives shows similar salary data. Geography has some impact on this, with Washington-based CEOs getting the highest salaries and those in other parts of the country the lowest. ASAE also says that total revenues are a strong driver of salaries. Its study ranks any association greater than $25 million into a single category so it's not possible to determine where the upper salary tier ends.

According to its tax data, AOPA also pays its senior level staff at or near the top rates. For example, the median salaries for CFOs in associations larger than $25 million was $187,200, with the top salaries reported as more than $217,701 in 2010. AOPA's CFO was paid a base of $270,000 in 2009, according to the association's data. Deputy chief executives or operating officers in member associations have a median salary of $263,850. AOPA's COO—a job not reported in 2009 but planned for 2010, according to AOPA data—is paid $270,000, the association said.

Cutting Back?

Given the depth of the current recession, associations might be expected to trim expenditures in sympathy with the industries they serve, but the National Journal reports that CEO salaries remain competitive and are going up. ASAE says raises have been curtailed in some associations, as has been hiring, but in general, associations march to the tune of a different economic drummer. Fuller confirmed this. "I've been in Washington for 30 years, other than the eight I spent in government…associations operate on a different cycle than other businesses. We can't say when an administration comes along with a $9.8 billion user fee proposal, gee, wouldn't it be nice to cut back," Fuller said. "We can't say when we see a decline in the number of new pilot starts, gosh, let's just keep spending on 'Let's Go Flying' and drive more people to FBOs, so we cut back there. Be we can't walk away from the fact that the pilot population is declining…and so we spend money in these areas whether we're in a positive economic cycle or a negative economic cycle.

"Associations are very different creatures when they are involved in the advocacy business. We're not existing to produce widgets for people. We're existing to make sure we protect people's freedom to fly. We're here to resist fees and regulations and other kinds of policies that would impinge on that freedom to fly," he added. Still, salaries and expenditures aside, Fuller told us the association has realized some economies by reorganizing and cutting back in some areas. "We're projecting that we will spend less money in the AOPA consolidated budget in 2010 than we did in 2009 and less money than we spent in 2008," he said.

AOPA spends between $6 and $7 million a year on lobbying, but CFO Roger Myers said it could actually be more. Under a reporting category called "other" we asked for details on a $7.8 million expenditure, but Fuller declined to provide these, saying this category was for outside consultants and other professional services. He said the association wouldn't break out information it's not required to report to the IRS.

Large Reserves

According to its tax filing, AOPA has large cash reserves, totaling $79.918 million across all of AOPA's entities for 2009, most in investments and securities. How is AOPA using that large stash of cash and is it really necessary? The association took a major hit on its investments in 2008, dropping from $83.88 million in 2007 to $64 million in 2008. (These figures apply to AOPA, the AOPA Safety Foundation and the AOPA Foundation.) Again, the answer lies in how associations do business. Fuller told us its "customary and normal" for an association to have between 1 and 1.5 times its revenues in cash reserves. Although this strikes us as high compared to other businesses, especially the small ones in aviation, Fuller says it's necessary.

"I believe it's a very sound policy. It has been in place for some period of time. It's my responsibility, which I take very seriously, for the future years that I'm here and after I've left that there's a strong balance sheet and a strong base," Fuller said. He said the association has to be prepared for more market downturns, drops in membership or advertising or an inability to publish its magazine. The fund is managed by a professional manager (Deutsche Bank) overseen by an AOPA board. The types of instruments the fund is invested in aren't visible to members, although Fuller says it's provided when members ask at meetings. He declined to provide this data to us, but notes that overall investment performance data is provided in AOPA's annual report. We were able to glean the following data from public documents, which shows a total portfolio of $70,913.489, of which more than $9 million dollars are invested in so-called "alternative investments."

For more information regarding AVweb's look at AOPA finances, visit our blog post — and be sure to leave a comment.

AOPA To Create Governance Section On Web Site

AOPA President Craig Fuller says members need easier access to information about the organization's governance and finances and has pledged to make that possible. In direct response to AVweb's enquiries about AOPA finances over the past month and member reaction to his blogs on the subject, Fuller has promised to establish a governance section on the AOPA Web site. "Until now, I thought most people who were interested in AOPA's finances had no trouble finding the information they sought," Fuller wrote. "However,.. a good case has been made for having a "governance section" on our Web site where such information can be easily accessed. We will set that up."

Fuller said the group has always published information on its finances in its print magazines and online. He also noted that there are other publications that keep tabs on the affairs of associations like AOPA and information is available there.

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Safety and Security back to top 

Rights Panel Slams U.S. Security Vetting

A Canadian human rights panel has ruled that Bombardier violated the rights of a man who was denied flight training because he was on a U.S. list of suspected security threats. According to the Globe and Mail, one member of the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal said Bombardier should have ignored warnings from the U.S. about Javed Latif, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, and conducted its own assessment of whether Latif posed a threat. Bombardier was ordered to pay Latif $319,000 CAD in compensation. Latif applied in 2004 to train on Challenger 604 business jets at Bombardier's Montreal facility under his U.S. pilot certificate and was rejected after background checks revealed his status as a suspected security threat. He then applied under his Canadian pilot's licence and was rejected again because of the U.S. designation. That's when the rights violation occurred, according to the tribunal. "Those rules do not apply here in Canada, were not adopted here in Canada by Canadian law," said Athanassia Bitzakadis, the lawyer who represented the Quebec Human Rights Commission, which brought the case before the tribunal, the Globe and Mail said. "So Bombardier cannot simply refer to those rules to justify a discriminatory decision to refuse to someone a service, a service that they offer to everyone here in Quebec." Latif was taken off the security list in 2008 and has since trained at Bombardier three times.

Much of the tribunal's decision rested on its opinion that the U.S. system for designating security threats is prejudicial, racist and secretive. University of Windsor Prof. Reem Bandhi, whom the tribunal considers an expert on U.S. security apparatus, told the tribunal that unless there are specific reasons cited for a person's inclusion on a U.S. security list, it must be considered discriminatory because discrimination is at the heart of the U.S. system for assessing security threats. She cited the National Security Entry and Exit Regulation System, which requires people from certain countries to register upon entering and exiting the U.S. All of those countries are Muslim, she said. Meanwhile Latif, who's been a pilot for 30 years, was unaware of the proceedings. He flies for a Middle Eastern airline and was not at the hearings.

FAA Registration Push Catches Public Eye

The FAA's mandated re-registration of the civil aviation fleet has caught the attention of the mainstream media, who are reporting it as a response to a security threat. As we reported Oct. 19, all aircraft owners have to re-register. In its notice, the FAA characterized the move as an administrative housekeeping chore because it has lost accurate track of about 100,000 registrations. The FAA now seems to be going along with the security theme offered by the mainstream media.

"We have identified some potential risk areas, but I think we're trying to eliminate as much risk as possible through the re-registration process," said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. Various stories cite the use of bogus N-numbers to "disguise" aircraft used for drug trafficking or other illicit activity. Just how re-registration will prevent the illicit adoption of N-numbers isn't clear, however, as Washington State Cheyenne owner Steve Lathrop told The Associated Press. Someone likely found his airplane on the FAA registry and put his registration on the plane they were using to smuggle drugs in South America. A reporter called him to ask if he knew that his airplane was in the jungle and a quick check confirmed it was safely in the hangar. "Anybody with a roll of duct tape can put any number they want on an airplane," Lathrop said.

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Cessna Delays back to top 

Composite Issue Stops Corvalis Deliveries

Cessna has suspended deliveries of the Corvalis line of high-performance singles after the composite structure of the wing of a newly built aircraft unbonded during the plane's shakedown flight. "During a production flight of a new Corvalis 400, a wing fuel leak was detected," Cessna spokesman Doug Oliver told AVweb. "Working closely with the FAA, we took immediate steps to understand the root cause. We now fully understand the cause and a solution." The FAA issued the emergency airworthiness directive Friday and said seven feet of skin disbonded from the upper forward wing spar.

Cessna didn't say what the fix was but the effect is limited to eight airplanes, none of which is in service yet. It could, however, delay deliveries. "We offer our profound apologies to our customers for any delay or inconvenience," Oliver said.

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Meanwhile, in China ... back to top 

Cirrus Expands Footprint In China

A Chinese company has opened an FBO that will focus on Cirrus aircraft but offer traditional services to transient and based aircraft at Zhuhai Airport. The Zhuhai Cirrus FBO is aimed at promoting general aviation activities as China's rules regarding private aviation relax. Zhuhai Tianyi Aviation Trading Co. also bought three SR22s to use at the FBO. The deal, which was a year in the making, will become the focus of Cirrus's activities in that area of China, be a Cirrus Sales Center and offer flying club and Cirrus service, training and import services. "We expect the Zhuhai region to become the center of Cirrus activity in Guangdong Province and the surrounding area," said Scott Jiang, Cirrus's China Director.

The Zhuhai facility is 30,200 square feet, is based in the aviation industrial park and has a base of 50 aircraft to serve. Cirrus doesn't expect gangbusters business to start. "While general aviation traffic is still fairly low in China, limiting the potential for traditional FBO services, the aviation community aspects, particularly the flying club and training services, will allow people in the Zhuhai area to become more and more familiar with general aviation and its many benefits, and Cirrus aircraft in particular."

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News Briefs back to top 

Teenager Fell From 737 Wheel Well

Boston authorities said Friday that at a teenager whose body was found in a Boston suburb last month appeared to have stowed away inside the wheel well of a 737 arriving from Charlotte, N.C. The remains of Delvonte Tisdale, 16, were found in Milton, Mass., below the approach path to Boston's Logan Airport, according to a report in The New York Times. Tisdale was believed to have gotten on the flight in Charlotte, although authorities -- including the TSA -- had no idea how he breached airside security to get to the aircraft.

Norfolk County Massachusetts district attorney William R. Keating told the Times that authorities searched two airplanes that left Charlotte for Boston on Nov. 15 and found handprints in the left wheel well of the a 737 that departed Charlotte on 7 p.m. on that day. "As they looked at the grease, they saw what I describe as lateral impressions that showed there was someone in there. There was a handprint in an area where it ordinarily wouldn't be," Keating said. "I don't pretend to tell you how he did it," he added. Boston area police originally thought Tisdale had been murdered. He was last seen in Charlotte around 1 a.m. on Nov. 15 and found less than 24 hours later in Milton. A resident in the area reported hearing a loud thump just prior to the aircraft's landing at Logan.

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Opinion & Commentary back to top 

AVweb Insider Blog: AOPA — We're Just Asking

AVweb recently undertook a review of AOPA salaries and expenses. We're curious how the numbers parse out, but as Paul Bertorelli explains in the latest installment of our AVweb Insider blog, that doesn't mean we're at odds with the associatoin. In fact, we think critical reviews make for a stronger association, and that's something we can all benefit from in the current climate.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: Eclipse Rising

If ever the stars were aligned for success, Eclipse Aerospace is an example. The investors bought the bankrupt wreckage of the previous company for four cents (or less) on the dollar, they're well on their way to sorting out the EA500's shortcomings, and aerospace giant Sikorsky has bought into the action. On the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli concedes he may be a kook for thinking this ought to work.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: Why Freedom of Information Isn't

For reasons never very clear, government agencies drag their feet when asked to release the most mundane information. On the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli relates the experience of one owner trying to do his own due diligence in following the FAA's fuel approvals policy. If you're guessing he hit a brick wall, you'd be right. Why aren't government agencies kinder to and more cooperative with their citizens they're supposed to serve?

Read more and join the conversation.

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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

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AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Executive Air Transport (KMKG, Muskegon, MI)

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Executive Air Transport at Muskegon County Airport (KMKG) in Muskegon, Michigan.

AVweb reader Alex Anderegg recommended the FBO for its "excellent service (baggage help, fuel, courtesy car, catering, charter services, etc.)" and told us the folks at EA Transport "deserve to be 'FBO of the Week' because of their deep commitment to great customer service and pilot training."

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

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Help Us Celebrate AVweb's 15th Anniversary back to top 

The Final Grand Giveaway Celebrating AVweb's 15-Year Anniversary: Win a Garmin Aera 510 Handheld GPS

CLICK HERE to Register for All 15 Drawings

Where has the time gone? Our 15th anniversary year is almost over, and that means we've come to our 15th (and final) "Grand Giveaway." If you haven't already, register for one final chance to win — as we give away a Garmin aera 510 handheld GPS. All you have to do is click here to enter your name and e-mail address. (You must be a registered AVweb user; if you've entered any of our previous 15 Grand Giveaways drawings, you'll automatically be considered for the aera — no need to enter again.)

Remember: We won't rent or sell your name, ever. Tell your friends, and invite them to sign up for AVweb so they can enter this final 15 Grand Giveaways drawing. (We won't spam them, either — but do we hope they will sign up for our newsletters.)

Deadline for entries is 11:59pm Zulu time Sunday, December 19.

Click here to read the contest rules and enter.

The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 

Picture of the Week: AVweb's Flying Photography Showcase

Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions | Past Winners

Each week, we go through dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of reader-submitted photos and pick the very best to share with you on Thursday mornings. The top photos are featured on AVweb's home page, and one photo that stands above the others is awarded an AVweb baseball cap as our "Picture of the Week." Want to see your photo on AVweb.com? Click here to submit it to our weekly contest.


Our ongoing effort to catch up on "Picture of the Week" brings us to the slow period in recent submissions — and a short edition of "POTW" to bridge the gap between today and Thursday.

medium | large

copyright © Gary Dikkers
Used with permission

Early Morning — EAA Seaplane Base, Lake Winnebago

Gary Dikkers of Madison, Wisconsin always makes it out to the Seaplane Base during EAA AirVenture — and while that always makes us jealous, since we're lucky if we can manage a whirlwind visit in between press conferences and interviews, at least Gary is kind enough to snap some incredible photos. This one earns our latest blue ribbon and leaves us pining for the warm, long afternoons of summer.

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Used with permission of Denton Finley


We get lots of pics of Fifi, but we never get tired of 'em. Here, the B-29 rolls into the Alliance Fort Worth Air Show, courtesy of Denton Finley of Waco, Texas

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Used with permission of Emmet Welch

If Ansel Liked Airplanes

Emmet Welch of Folsom, California transports us to an alternate universe where Mr. Adams was as much a fan of general aviation as of natural landscapes. (Actually, it's just Emmet flexing his photographic muscles while making a stopover on the Coyote Dry Lake Bed in the Nevada desert.)

medium | large

Used with permission of Dan Melia

First Airplane Ride!

Dan Melia of Burlington, Colorado didn't tell us this young fella's name — but judging by his expression, this could be the first of many flights to come.

medium | large

Used with permission of Michael Ward

"Thanks for Taking Me to AirVenture, Grandpa!"

Another pilot-in-training helps us sign off from this catch-up edition of "POTW." Michael Ward of Racine, Wisconsin supplies both the pic (snapped on a cell phone at AirVenture 2010) and the pilot to be.

In case you're wondering what we meant by a "short edition" of "POTW": There are only a few bonus pics up in the slideshow on AVweb's home page. (Mainly because we packed it to the brim last week.) They'll only be up for a couple of days, though, so don't miss 'em!

Click here to submit your own photos to "POTW." We've just about caught up on our backlog, and that means we could use more of your photos! If you want your holiday-themed photos to appear before December 25, be sure to get them in before next Monday, the 20th!

A quick note for submitters: If you've got several photos that you feel are "POTW" material, your best bet is to submit them one-a-week! That gives your photos a greater chance of seeing print on AVweb, and it makes the selection process a little easier on us, too. ;)

A Reminder About Copyrights:
Please take a moment to consider the source of your image before submitting to our "Picture of the Week" contest. If you did not take the photo yourself, ask yourself if you are indeed authorized to release publication rights to AVweb. If you're uncertain, consult the POTW Rules or or send us an e-mail.

Short Final

Overheard in IFR Magazine's 'On the Air' Section
Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

A student pilot finally spotted the airport after getting multiple vectors.

"Tower, I'd like to make this a touch-and-go and then depart the pattern."

"Oh no! It took so much effort for us to get you here, and now you want to leave right away."

Paul Scott
via e-mail

Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Scott Simmons

Jeff van West
Mariano Rosales

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your PDA or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

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