AOPA: Fuller's Out, Who's In?

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Last week's announcement that AOPA President Craig Fuller will be stepping down came as both a surprise and a coincidence for me. It was a surprise because we had no inkling it was coming; I don't recall Fuller having made just a five-year commitment. It was a coincidence because I'd been thinking that my current membership in AOPA would be my last year. More on that in a moment.

What of Fuller's tenure? I'm not sure what the AOPA board had in mind—is anyone?—if it hired Fuller for a five-year hitch. Fuller took the helm in 2009, just after the economy tanked, the Dow headed south and there was a palpable fear of a second Great Depression. Fuller followed an 18-year run by Phil Boyer, who was generally considered an energetic, relentless promoter of GA. That Fuller is only the fourth president in AOPA's 74-year history makes his short time in office a glaring outlier. If he was thought by the board to be a bridge executive, it's not clear from what to what. GA was headed for the dumps when Fuller stepped in and although the association's investments suffered, it never experienced the mass downsizing that many companies throughout the economy suffered.

Under Fuller's tenure, AOPA has done its usual mix of legislative outreach, advocacy and promotion. I can't put a letter grade on the lobbying work because it happens in the background and it's impossible to say if the association is as effective at this as it tells us it is. As for promotion, AOPA has been active in airport defense projects, in group ownership efforts and, recently, in a pilot recruitment and flying club programs. In my view, these are good and proper things for an association to do. Like everyone else, I can carp about whether AOPA is doing these things effectively, but my own smell-the-coffee view is that whether well executed or not, they won't have a meaningful impact on the GA slide because it's simply propelled by much larger market forces than any member association can hope to affect much. Perhaps it's time for AOPA to roll out a much more aggressive learn-to-fly campaign. Maybe that would make inroads.

My own disenchantment with AOPA relates to its fiscal stewardship and its turn under Fuller's leadership toward an association that sometimes seems to view its membership as a ready market for new revenue streams as much as it does a community under siege and in need of strong, grass-roots leadership that keeps membership interests in mind. Two years ago, we had a look at AOPA finances and we found that while the association had taken a hit during the 2008 downturn, its policy is still to maintain a large cash and asset reserve—more than $70 million—even as it approaches members for more donations. Similarly, AOPA's associated foundation also has a large reserve.

Moreover, it continues to aggressively pursue products and services that compete with some of the very people and organizations from whom it expects support, most recently in the tablet app market. The fact that AOPA enjoys tax-exempt status in at least part of its operation gives it a considerable competitive advantage. This helps AOPA, but it saps the morale if not the vitality of the GA business community that struggles for its very survival. If there's any repetitive complaint I hear from small companies in the industry, this would be it.

When we asked Fuller about this, he was unapologetic, insisting that these ventures were in the members' interest because they both provided benefits and services and revenue for the association to carry out its lobbying and promotion. There's truth to this, but also a stunning lack of awareness of how bad things are in the GA hustings. What used to nip a little flesh from the GA corpus, now cuts bone. While smaller businesses struggle or even fail, companies lay off workers and sales lag, AOPA still maintains generous salaries for its top executives and a staff little diminished when compared to many companies who are a shadow of their pre-2008 size.

The boilerplate explanation for this is that AOPA's fiscal frame of reference is not GA, but the world of associations. In that context, AOPA's salaries are in line with other associations of like size. And therein lies the rub for me. Associations are of the world of Washington and the governments they orbit around and only secondarily of the industries they represent. Fuller came to AOPA from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and while his interest in GA is certainly genuine, when the discussion turns fiscal, he's an association guy.

So just as I'm unenthusiastic about the idea of government expenditures remaining high because they always have, I'm similarly unimpressed with the notion that AOPA top-tier salaries and expenses are high because those of other associations are, too. Or that it maintains fat cash reserves of more than twice annual revenue because that's what other associations do. (Fuller, by they way, resigned from the NACDS amidst grumbling that community pharmacies hadn't been well represented.) Further, AOPA's finances are hardly transparent. Fuller rebuffed some of our questions about specific line items in what little of the AOPA budget we could see.

So in looking toward Fuller's replacement, the AOPA board faces both a challenge and an opportunity. Does it look for another association guy like Fuller or a GA salesman like Boyer? Or a hard-to-find mix of both? The latter may be that fantasy Washington-outsider candidate we all hope for but who probably doesn't exist. Nonetheless, that's the type of AOPA leadership I'd want and perhaps the one who would keep me from abandoning the association when my renewal comes up later this year.

Further, as a member-supported organization, why aren't AOPA's financials more visible? Why can't we, as members, get lucid answers to questions about major expenditures that aren't itemized? Why should the answer be none of your business, as it was to some questions we asked?

In business and politics, you pay your money and you take your choice, but for me personally, I'm not choosing more business as usual from the aviation associations I join. I'm looking for creative leadership that recognizes by thought, word and action that those of us out here in the trenches aren't having an easy time of it. We aren't getting raises. Some of us aren't even holding on to to jobs in aviation. Worth noting is that now both major GA associations—AOPA and EAA—have top leadership vacancies and both face a world in which the universe is in decline, a world in which they are likely to have even less influence. Like the rest of us, they'll need leadership that understands the need for cost control and at least doing the same with less. In my view, AOPA hasn't grasped this yet.

You may feel differently, so feel free to state your case below and to take our survey on how well AOPA has done its job under Fuller.

Comments (105)


I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. My Dad and Uncle have been AOPA members for a long time (20+ years) and both continue to pay their dues like clockwork whenever they renew notice comes. I am not a member of AOPA, probably becasue I'm a bit of a cheapskate and I can use my Dad's account :-)

I think Mr. Fuller has the core of a great GA advocate. I met with him at the Elkins Pilot's Club 50th anniversary celebration and I saw a guy who is about as GA-friendly as anyone would like and a very personable guy.

Yet, when I see him in videos explaining the "value added" services that AOPA is now providing, I see a bumbling executive who is not living the core of what AOPA stands for like Mr. Boyer.

As I've said before, let's combine AOPA and EAA and let Jack Pelton run both...

I hope you do renew your AOPA membership just because we need the numbers to make the lobbying efforts of the Association work.

Posted by: R. Doe | March 4, 2013 7:02 AM    Report this comment

AOPA is the 900 pound gorilla in aviation, I think we need to remain members even though they are nto very effective. They are the best we have. AOPA needs a leader who realizes that Washington and the FAA are the greatest threats to aviation in this world. Someone who will work to lessen the power they have. The FAA is strangling aviation and if we don't stop them they will stop us. We are headed toward a world where the only aircraft flying will be government and large corporate jets.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | March 4, 2013 7:12 AM    Report this comment

Paul,you are dead-on in your assesment of AOPA and Craig Fuller. I saw him as the country club big- shot type who only cared about raising money to make his job comfortable and those around him who sucked up to him. I am now retired after being in management for almost all of my 40 year career to inclde ten years as a military officer. I could see this type of guy coming from a long way off. One thing that hasn't been menioned is the AOPA Board's actions and/or lack of action. They hired this guy. Until now they supported him thru all of the criticism of their members. Shame on them.

Posted by: larry maynard | March 4, 2013 7:16 AM    Report this comment

The AOPA board needs to clearly redefine the primary and secondary missions of the association, then look for a new president that promote those missions. They also need to let their members know what these missions are and how they will defined.

Paul, your examples of what they are doing with salary's, cash reserves, competitive market services, and unwillingness to provide their 'members' with real answers to questions, all point to the board and upper level management being out of touch with the new GA reality we are living with - especially after sequestration started Friday.

One read of what the FAA is proposing for permanent cuts should tell anyone GA in general and and group associated with GA needs to be making significant changes in how they do changes - if they want to survive into the future.

Posted by: Richard Norris | March 4, 2013 7:23 AM    Report this comment

Well put Paul. Replace AOPA with EAA and the situation is the same. Fuller and Hightower ran the organizations like any other K Street lobby and were shockingly out of touch with the reality of G.A., recreational pilots, home builders, and the thousands of small businesses that support them. If these two orgs do not make members needs their top priorities, they will continue their decline. Frankly, the real problem are the board members who hire such people and then give them a blank check. It does seem that the EAA finally realized this, with Jack Pelton and Paul Poberezny now in charge. We shall see if it was not too late.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | March 4, 2013 7:32 AM    Report this comment

One thing about dropping AOPA, though: you'll get membership solicitations from them for the rest of time. I'm still getting offers to rejoin years after dropping them myself.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | March 4, 2013 7:41 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you are right on.

Posted by: LARRY ANDERSON | March 4, 2013 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Every member supported non-profit organization such as AOPA and EAA should have a mission, vision and values statement displayed promininately and regulary in communications. The leadership of that organization should be ready and eager to communicate to the members how every action relates to and supports that statement.

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 4, 2013 8:09 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I did not renew my AOPA membership this year as I had had enough. Depending on who is selected to lead AOPA and agenda I will consider supporting AOPA again. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 4, 2013 8:15 AM    Report this comment

I got the news about Fuller’s impending departure the same day that I read that the FCC AGAIN is proposing to “obsolete” 121.5 MHz ELTs. AOPA’s position is that doing so is unnecessary. And yet, during the term of Mr. Fuller, I have acquired a gut feeling that many AOPA positions like that one are toothless protests of what AOPA’s management considers to be inevitable changes. The equally (or even more) senseless shutdown of the domestic Loran network was another example of what I consider to be a completely unacceptable go-along-to-get-along attitude on the part of AOPA.

You think that Boeing’s got battery problems? Just look at the failure modes of the ADS-B system. Yet AOPA has been leading the cheers for implementation of this all-of-our-eggs-in-one-very-flimsy-and-very-expensive-basket approach to a problem that – almost certainly – will itself be obsolete/irrelevant long before the FAA’s answer to the problem ever is implemented.

The only thought that springs readily to mind is to merge AOPA and EAA under the leadership of people like Jack Pelton, Allen Klapmier, and Paul Poberezny – to address the existential crisis that faces all of general aviation. Denial is more than a river in Egypt.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 4, 2013 8:27 AM    Report this comment

Jay, you're right. I too get these money wasting mailers from AOPA all the time.

Rafael, I dropped out of AOPA years ago. They're ineffective, and vastly inefficient. Why pay into a fat pig when you can't get the bacon?

Posted by: Amy Zucco | March 4, 2013 9:04 AM    Report this comment

When Fuller instigated the AOPA "Wine club" to boost revenue I immediately thought "Oh, now AOPA is associating flying with ALCOHOL." Just great!

Then I've noticed that the AOPA expos have lost vendors over the years--there are far fewer than there were when Fuller started. Heck, even Cessna corporate didn't show up at the last one.

Was it Fuller? The economy?


Posted by: David Rosing | March 4, 2013 9:06 AM    Report this comment

All good points Paul. My only comment would be even with all their faults, if not AOPA or EAA, than who do I have as my advocate?

Posted by: JOHN KAZICKAS | March 4, 2013 9:12 AM    Report this comment


When I first received notice of the resignation of Mr. Fuller from AOPA, I immediately submitted the name of one of our own GA friendly, highly published, extremely knowledgeable, fluent, at times even eloquent, lives-eats-breathes aviation in all forms, experienced in running organizations and currently Editor of Aviation Consumer, Mr. Richard J. Durden, Esq. for consideration as the next President and CEO of AOPA.
Having read some of the comments generated here, I am even more convinced that Rick is THE person for the job.
So, if any of you agree, start submitting his name to AOPA for their consideration.

Posted by: Charles Truthan | March 4, 2013 9:14 AM    Report this comment

We all depend on AOPA to be our "voice" in Washington, so I was more than concerned to see that only a TINY fraction of AOPA's budget was spent on lobbying, about $$400,000.

That compares to over $700,000 for Fuller's compensation, that doesn't include his retirement benefit.

Posted by: KRIS LARSON | March 4, 2013 9:21 AM    Report this comment

Phil was a pilot who became a spokesperson and was willing to wade, hip-deep, into the DC cesspool of lobbyists. Fuller is a career lobbyist who happens to be a pilot. Therein lies the difference. As for the future, if the Board could somehow, through whatever means possible, persuade someone like Alan Klampmeier to take the job, we would have an articulate, enthusiastic visionary to become the "face and voice" of GA.

Posted by: ANDREW NIEMYER | March 4, 2013 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Excellent analysis Paul.

GA is a special interest group, no doubt about that, but we need advocates to help us at least keep up. For that reason, I'll continue to renew my membership. In my opinion AOPA is doing more good than harm.

Another leader like Phil Boyer - someone who really lives in GA, and can lead others to do the work of dealing with Washington would be my choice. I really like your note that AOPA feels to be "of the beltway" as opposed to being "of General Aviation." I think that needs to change, without losing whatever clout in Washington AOPA has.


Posted by: John O'Shaughnessy | March 4, 2013 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Just days before I let my AOPA membership expire last year I changed my AOPA mailing address to a known invalid PO box.

The ploy worked like a charm; I haven't received as much as an AOPA postcard urging me to renew.

Posted by: Gordon Mano | March 4, 2013 9:48 AM    Report this comment

Paul, your comments are spot on!

I recall the day back in 2008 when I received my PPL, joined the AOPA, and proudly put an AOPA sticker in the back window of my car.

Since then what I've maintained my basic membership, but having seen the level of investments maintained by AOPA I could not justify sending in any additional funds either as a contribution or by purchasing any AOPA sponsored-product.

While there may be some benefits to the AOPA that stem from behind the curtain activities, what I've seen over the past five years has been an onslaught of promotions intended to extract more money from GA pilots for life insurance, health checks and other cash-generating programs just like the multitude of large national organizations that seem to have lost the whole point of their existence, focusing on cash flow generation rather than aiding their members with tangible benefits and representing their respective communities. When I put that sticker in the rear window I thought I was evidencing my support of GA but sadly, offers of wine-lists, endless cash solicitations & junk mail is the only thing I'm seeing coming out of AOPA...the rear window sticker was removed several years ago.

This year's membership renewal is likely my last. I also belong to EAA, and yes while there are issues there as well, I felt represented enough by them this year, that I made a modest $250 contribution over & above the annual membership fee. Enuff said!

Posted by: ROGER HAMILTON | March 4, 2013 10:00 AM    Report this comment

Many people seem to feel betrayed that the AOPA does not divulge financial information to its members. I seem to recall that they made it clear, during the purchase of the Citation jet (and during Boyer's administration, I believe) that members were really just customers and had no more business knowing what the association was doing with the money than a Chevy owner has to do with GM.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | March 4, 2013 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Arrogance comes before the fall.
Advocacy isn't a drive through item, it can not be bought. Tomorrows advocacy world will look much different from what we have seen over the last 3 decades. I heard there will be three puffs of white smoke over Frederick when the next old boys club member gets a shake at making $ 4MM dollars over 5 years while keeping the finances secret from those who pay for all of it...

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 4, 2013 11:16 AM    Report this comment

After more than 25 years as a member, I too let my AOPA membership lapse last year. I just grew too weary of reading the same articles, hearing the same upbeat news that did not remotely match what I was seeing on my home ramp, or the ramps I visited. The wine club pushed me to the edge. The article that featured Craig dropping into the Bahamas in the club Caravan sent me over it.
AOPA would do better by asking pilots who quit why they did so than bombarding them with offers to rejoin and get a free hat.
Robin White

Posted by: ROBIN WHITE | March 4, 2013 1:18 PM    Report this comment

By coincidence, I got my renewal request in today's mail. I was probably going to renew as a knee-jerk response, just because any advocacy is probably better than no advocacy. But now I'm having second thoughts. I consider quitting flying every year, more so on medical years, and somehow supporting an asociation that pays the chief executive $700K + benefits doesn't go down that well. Maybe you have to pay that much to get any quality at all. Or maybe I'm just so poor that $700K sounds like a ton of money but isn't. Either way, I'm going to wait a bit before renewing . . .

Posted by: DAVID CHULJIAN | March 4, 2013 1:51 PM    Report this comment

First of all, no one has to own or fly an airplane and in case you haven't noticed we pilots are a dying breed--literally. I also have dropped both my memberships in AOPA and EAA after 35+ years of flying, because I no longer feel either organization represents my interests. I have elected to spend my money on experimental aircraft that I can maintain myself without the obstruction of the FAA and the current administration's involvement with my operation of same. I still find aircraft to be very useful and a relaxing form of transport compared to driving as long as I don't get involved in the "system"---now possible since my retirement and more flexible travel schedule. I have zero interest in trying to change things in Washington or anywhere else---I just enjoy flying and will continue to do so until shot down----RCW

Posted by: richard wecker | March 4, 2013 9:12 PM    Report this comment

I have to say, I think the assesment of Fuller is spot-on and well stated. I always knew he kinda left a bad taste in my mouth but couldn't exactly say why. The point about the board hiring him in the first place is well taken. I coulda, maybe shoulda reinstated my lapsed membership a while back and just couldn't bring myself to write a check...maybe it's not just me.

Posted by: David Friedman | March 4, 2013 10:45 PM    Report this comment

OK, Paul ... and I write this with all the respect I can muster: YOU run the organization. You've certainly got the insight and vision ... time to apply some "lift" to your oration.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 5, 2013 4:11 AM    Report this comment

I'm flattered. But it would be a tragic waste of my skills as a hurler of spitballs. Also, for as little patience as you have with bureaucratic BS, I have even less.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 5, 2013 4:36 AM    Report this comment

Had a minor medical issue - was a member of AOPA medical services - not very helpful - was told that I was facing a 3 month deferral. Called the regional flight surgeon's office myself - they bent over backwards for me & kept me flying. Similar experience with their legal plan - their first words were they cant give legal advice - what am I paying for?

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 5, 2013 5:58 AM    Report this comment

Josh,your comment about the Legal Services is disturbing to me since I bought it but never used it for several years. Wonder if anyone else has had the same experience. Thanks.

Posted by: larry maynard | March 5, 2013 6:02 AM    Report this comment

FWIW, I had another prepaid legal plan, unrelated to AOPA. Same line, I think it's an industry standard.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | March 5, 2013 6:28 AM    Report this comment

Paul, since you refused the my next choice for AOPA President is;
Thomas B. Haines, AOPA
Editor in Chief/Associate Publisher
Senior Vice President, Publications

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 5, 2013 6:32 AM    Report this comment

Haines is a hard-working and genuinely nice guy, with a personality that reminds me a lot of Boyer's, with the exuberance knob turned down a point or two. I suspect his next big task will be to incorporate what he can of the talent that will be left behind when Flying magazine folds its tent. Frankly, I think that AOPA needs some of the irascibility that Baker brought to the table. Bertorelli certainly qualifies on that count. They need to find somebody who actually believes that s/he can and will make a difference, then get the hell out of his/her way. I think that whoever you would pick as your choice for an FAA Administrator (with the FAA unshackled from the DOT) would be a good choice for AOPA’s leadership position. I loved the comment about the white smoke! Talk about a visceral indictment!

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 5, 2013 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Irascibility, or even honest and critical dialog (Yup! Looked it up)isn't a very welcome or appreciated trait in the U.S. association circus and will hurt ones business to the point of extinction. If its not about turf, its about money, most of the time its about power and politics. I am afraid the CEO/Pres/Exec within such organizations (much like the papacy) lives, eats, breathes and ultimately dies by the swords of those truly in charge. Good pay seems to be a given, but heck, I'd hate to have almost half a million other smart people who could really do all of it without me, look at me and say: "Ha! So now what?" I think these executives are often severely limited in their ability (puppets, so to speak) to bring about changes, for fear of punishment for political incorrectness and simple honesty. Popularity isn't remotely valid or should receive very, very limited consideration as a qualifier for any aviation leadership position. Otherwise we'd have Walmart executives working for the White House and NBA basketball players doing diplomacy work with Warlords. Wait a second.... DANG!

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 5, 2013 12:06 PM    Report this comment

Concerning the AOPA legal services plan, back in the mid '90's I used their services for my red-green eye condition. My FSDO was going to deny this newly minted pilot any flights into or out of any airports without a signal light tower. Think about that. They claimed that if my radio went out - in daylight - I would have no way to land. So my FBO wouldn't rent me their Warrior because of this.

Wrote AOPA, as I had their legal services plan, and they jumped all over the situation, sending the FSDO copies of applicable FAR's yellow highlighted, circled, arrowed, and underlined. Cleared that right up for me. Silently, without apology, I received 'permission' to fly into any airport during daylight hours from then on.

That same FSDO oddly had me take the signal light test at a strange time as I recall. Something like 11:43 am, right when the subtle Arizona sun is smack over the top of the tower. Failed the test the first time, and after several weeks allowing my eyes to recover, scheduled the second attempt for night. They refused that and said I had to come out again in daylight - at nearly the same time! Anyway, AOPA cleared that up for me too, and I took it at night and easily passed.

I know Phil Boyer was probably the chief then, so my experience isn't directly relatable to today. But for now, I'm staying with them and EAA and hope they can represent us well.

Posted by: David Miller | March 5, 2013 12:33 PM    Report this comment

Dropped my membership a few years ago for two reasons. The frequent "scare-up-the-membership" tactic of announcing a new risk of "user fees" and the failure to achieve a permanent solution is burned out. Secondarily, the press to eliminate the third class medical appears to be off, if it ever even existed. IMO the AOPA should use it's resources (our money) to 1. sponsor "club" aircraft at local airfields and provide monetary rewards for CFIs who produce new pilots based on time-to-license and safety; 2. lobby for and remove the 3rd class medical requirement permanently; 3. secure a permanent alternative to "user fees" and other significant lobbying efforts (i.e. forget 122.5 ELTs - not worth the fight).

The foregoing objectives would lead to an increase in the number of safe pilots and allow many competent, experienced pilots to return to the air - both of which must would lead to a renaissance in GA and likely stop this slow and agonizingly painful demise.

Posted by: Marc Curvin, MD | March 5, 2013 2:51 PM    Report this comment

And one more thought. Maybe it's time to abandon AOPA all together and form a new GA advocate whose mission at the outset is stated clearly and whose bylaws include publishing annually (or even semi-annually) accounting statements.

Posted by: Marc Curvin, MD | March 5, 2013 5:21 PM    Report this comment

Marc, replacing any currently active or somewhat functional association (even the smallest and most ineffective ones out there) would be a monumental effort, incredibly expensive (everyone is in some sort of strategic $$'s partnership with the 3 and 4 letter groups, hence industry support would be next to NIL) and pilots budgets are obviously stretched to the limit with whining sounds audible even at $25.00/ year. Further, with very few exceptions, the aviation media likes to cozy up with "old friends", meaning that almost everything that challenges the status quo somehow never appears in the "news". You would have a hell of a run to reach even a couple thousand people. Example: I have some combined 700 members on my sites and a blog that gets an average of 12000 lousy readers per year. Twitter & Facebook maxed to the rim, you couldn't get a 5% response rate to an advocacy alert, asking people to write letters or submit comments. People are fed up, have a low tolerance level and don't seem to like opposing opinions. They are certainly not actively looking to do unpaid advocacy work or get involved beyond reading and shaking their heads. I've been working on various projects for 5 years now and just scrapped three of the more ambitious ones, simply because it wasn't possible to raise the funds to realize them or even share them with a bigger audience. I'd say: Mission Impossible.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 5, 2013 5:56 PM    Report this comment

BTW: AOPA's tax returns are public information and can be obtained. The question is how much clumping and shading any non-CPA could possible decipher before realizing that transparency isn't the norm. As long as we elect Board Of Directors by proxy (essentially self appointed from within) and write blank checks by giving people we don't even know our vote to set the course for the association, things cannot change. While most associations have their super-stars, the actual work is often done by volunteers. This pool of mostly incredibly passionate people often get stood up like clowns and idiots, hear no thank you's or have to fight tooth to nail to avoid becoming too involved in small town political power hack fests within their groups. Passive members are nothing but numbers and ink on a piece of paper, we need more "old school" brainstorming and networking beyond the highly fragmented industries. In essence, what I would like to see is a step back into the 1980's in terms of how we view and communicate with each other. The pilot of a Kolb Firefly is as important in my community as the guy with the TBM850 on steroids. We might have different reasons to fly, but we share everything else, especially Bertorelli (ahem!) Bernoulli! Wake up and move or stay happy, I'll fall off my soap box, who can read that much, anyways, right? Good luck and thanks for this article, Paul.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 5, 2013 6:18 PM    Report this comment


I have to take issue with your assertion that the current battle over obsoleting 121.5 MHz ELTs is "not worth the fight."

For many owners of light aircraft, the typical $2,000 installed cost of a low-end 406 MHz box is a significant burden. In combination with the unjustified obsoleting of the installed base of perfectly good Loran navigation equipment, and the 2020 mandate for installation of ADS-B and required companion GPS navigation equipment, the aggregate cost easily can exceed $10,000. For a lot of us, that (and the 100LL-replacement fiasco) is going to be the final nail in the coffin of our aircraft ownership experience.

When my government proposes to reduce the value of my airplane to spare parts and scrap, I expect “my advocate organization” to fight tooth and nail on my behalf. In my judgment, it hasn’t done that with consistency during the term of Mr. Fuller.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 6, 2013 6:54 AM    Report this comment

Our "advocate organization" should certainly lobby aggressively on our behalves. A problem with AOPA is the difficulty in understing their agenda. I see no clear connection between Fuller / staff and the GA community. A clear connection is a person with a name and a phone number and an email address. Their "job openings" as advertised over the last 6 months range from "event organizer" to "web site guy" to "administrative blah blah". Never a job like "ELT 121.5 project manager". I'm retiring next year - will probably become more of an activist then than I have time for now ...

Posted by: Marc Curvin, MD | March 6, 2013 7:14 AM    Report this comment

Sure wish some would respond to my comment above that 1. sponsoring aircraft and rewarding excellent CFIs, 2. eliminating the 3rd class and 3. a permanent use fee fix would be a great primary mission of the AOPA. If we cannot agree on some agenda as the financiers of the organization, forcing it to evolve into a more effective GA advocate will be unlikely.

It's difficult (for me) to think of a more appropriate organization to improve the GA experience at local airports. We the members consist of pilots, mechanics (many, like myself are both), CFIs and others. I'd be glad to donate some (more) time at local airports if AOPA were mobilized as such. Of course, then, there wouldn't be much time for wine drinking. How many DA20s or 172s could AOPA support if they got rid of the jet ?

Too many thoughts - have a nice day.

Posted by: Marc Curvin, MD | March 6, 2013 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Chuck Truthan is right on the money about Rick Durden, currently editor of The Aviation Consumer, as a perfect replacement for Mr. Fuller. I have been a member of AOPA since 1971, and I don't intend to leave, because, as others have noted, somerepresentation is better than none.

Posted by: Peter Tolley | March 6, 2013 8:59 AM    Report this comment

Excellent commentary by Paul, and some great posts! I was going to accuse you all of missing the root cause of this, but in the very last post above, Larry Maynard got the job done! The AOPA governance structure (BOD) hired and supported Fuller for 5 years while he departed further and further from the “runway” that is OUR best interests! Who are those BOD masked men? I have tried to find out in the past, and write to them with my views, with no luck. We are all effectively shareholders with no voice! This must change or I will regretfully join the exodus for the door. And perhaps we need an expanded forum on the proper priorities, policies, and governance of AOPA – and EAA!

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 6, 2013 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Paul's commentary raises valid points re AOPA leadership/management. Comments suggest AOPA has lost focus and should seek to appoint a CEO who will right the ship! The classic tantilizing questions: who, what, when, where, why and how?

A national CEO search should have a clear idea of the type of person to look for along with measureable expectations for the position? If Mr. Fuller was/is out of touch, then Board members are also singing off-key.

To remedy this situation, the Board should consider a series of moderated/facilitated listening forums/workshops at key locations around the country where members and other stakeholders express their views. Distill results into a revised mission statement with aligned policies/programs/services and a comprehensive CEO position description.

To the extent this notion has merit, it could be refined and personally presented to Board members by a member coalition. Otherwise, the Board will be deprived of members' input and likely end up with another association executive who may or may not understand the issues facing GA or what to do about them. Going in, there should be a clear notion of what they're trying to accomplish.

There's an opportunity on the table for a different outcome -- the membership should seize it!

Posted by: Keith Bumsted | March 6, 2013 10:51 AM    Report this comment

Keith Bumstead - right on! I suspect you have executive experience in large organizations. May I add that the AOPA BOD should engage a top-tier executive recruiting company to teach and guide them through the process? For folks unfamiliar with this work, it is far from superficial but will yield to expert guidance. Further, the mechanism for selecting BOD members, and for them to stay in touch with their membership, is of crucial importance and clearly needs fixing.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 6, 2013 11:06 AM    Report this comment

I agree, AOPA is more than 3/4 of a scale off. Time to go missed approach and reconfigure intentions. New board and new president and return to the original AOPA VALUES. Max Karant is turning in his grave.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 6, 2013 11:23 AM    Report this comment

Legal services plan--I've had it for years--and am glad to say I never needed it--BUT--a decade ago, The local FSDO decided to impose itself on the local community celebration that had been going on sucessfully for years--"You can't have airplanes, helicopters, balloons, antiques, ultralights, and gliders flying at the same time--you have to close the field and get a waiver."

When I explained that every one of those activities had an applicable FAR, and that we would be violating our FAA sponsorship agreement by forbidding certain activities, they targeted "Intense scrutiny"--effectively causing pilots and attendees to stay away. I contacted all of the alphabet organizations--and all participated. EAA contacted their members, the parachutists contacted USPA, balloonist contacted BFA, and gliders the SSA. When it came to AOPA, they said "you've done everything right--we will support any legal action." Their attorneys spent far more than the 3 hours mentioned in their contract. They also contacted our Congressmen.

The result was--an apology from the FAA--something unheard of.

Posted by: jim hanson | March 6, 2013 2:25 PM    Report this comment

We need a charismatic leader like Baker or Boyer. The first qualifier should be anybody that refuses to live in Washington, D.C. Not only would it identify the candidate as someone with intelligence, but someone that has not adopted the "go along/get along" inside-the-beltway dance.

I'd like to see someone that doesn't equivocate--someone that draws a line in the sand and says "No farther!"

We need a free-thinker--an iconoclast--someone that refuses to do "business as usual." Good luck finding one in the Potomac Swamps!

Posted by: jim hanson | March 6, 2013 2:33 PM    Report this comment

Typo? Wrong Baker? This Baker applied with EAA in 2012. Position: Glorified Switchboard Operator. The position is still being advertised: Quals: 24 years in aviation, com, multi, single, sea, inst. with agi & igi. Bilingual. Reference letters from people across the U.S. in roles from ATP to assoc. chairs, directors, even executive director of an association. Resume shows no US bachelors due to: Educated in Europe. Modified response: "You're dumb, get a bachelors degree, get back to us when they have learned you something". Truth: No combination of skills and experiences is being considered. We hire robots, we get robotic services and membership treatment. CS is in the basement! 5 weeks later, I received the first renewal notice for EAA in 5 years. Until then, not a single renewal. Imagine you're too dumb to work for someone in one of the lowest positions open, but you're good enough to send in a check... Business as usual is alive and well and if one tries to change that, there will be slapping sounds. Not whining, just trying to show the other side of the coin. Ours is a special "by invitation only" club, showing up uninvited will cause tremendous ripples. These association machines have become incredibly complex, with departments and managers, directors and vice presidents who make lots and lots of money and have not the slightest motivator to scale down or change on anything. Honesty and lack of political finesse will do the rest.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 6, 2013 3:22 PM    Report this comment

The "corporate"(robot?)type is nothing more than an over paid glorified drone! What's needed - find a successful small-medium business/manager owner with a track record of achievment, aggressive entrepreneurial sprit, policial savey, knowledge of the GA industry and a few pilot rating in that order. Add a stream lined less ponderous organizational line/staff business model and your cooking!

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 6, 2013 4:45 PM    Report this comment

The "corporate"(robot?)type is nothing more than an over paid glorified drone! What's needed - find a successful small-medium business/manager owner with a track record of achievment, aggressive entrepreneurial sprit, policial savey, knowledge of the GA industry and a few pilot rating in that order. Add a stream lined less ponderous organizational line/staff business model and your cooking!

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 6, 2013 4:45 PM    Report this comment

Marc, I'm with you on no. 2. The current half-hearted AOPA/EAA effort to limit the 3rd class medical won't do this PA-32-300 pilot any good. At age 65 it seems unlikely that they will get the current proposal, much less the next step of eliminating it entirely through while I am still flying/living. If the FAA won't eliminate it for all of us, it makes no sense to do it for some of us. Can I really do that much more damage having a medical problem with 300 HP and six seats than somebody else can do with 180 and four?

As to the AOPA raising money, I can understand selling logo'd merchandise, which hopefully also promotes the organization, but the wine club really blew my mind. Unfortunately the practice of constant solicitations is endemic to almost all organizations which rely on their membership for funds. I have started sending a form letter back to the many organizations that I belong to/support. Explaining that I will send in my annual membership but will not respond to any other requests for donations. That is not why I send them money. If they continue to send them, I will drop my membership. So far, mixed results. I spoke to one group which called me to find out why I hadn't renewed. I explained and they actually stopped for a while. Eventually they renewed their efforts, so I permanently dropped my membership. I guess that, overall, these tactics work so they aren't likely to stop unless a large number of their members react this way.

Posted by: John Worsley | March 6, 2013 5:20 PM    Report this comment

Mr Hanson's response hits this issue right on the head. AOPA needs someone who will tell the FAA,TSA, and other government agencies no more! The limp response AOPA has had over TSA issues is exactly why I have not contributed to any of the PACs AOPA has. AOPA needs a leader and board members who have the backbone to say to the government "no more business as usual" and draw a line in the sand and say "no farther", just as Mr. Hanson has written.

Posted by: matthew wagner | March 6, 2013 7:19 PM    Report this comment

As a long time AOPA member, I too would like much more financial transparency. Nothing more concretely communicates priorities than financial action. Save the $ on telling me how you're doing by letting me actually see.

Posted by: BRADLEY SPATZ | March 6, 2013 8:27 PM    Report this comment

I think a search committee (on the board) will hire a company to conduct an extensive search on behalf of AOPA. Rest assured that the "right" resume's are already hailing in, if the replacement isn't already internally decided, which wouldn't be all that surprising. 3-6 puffs of white smoke over Frederick will indicate that a selection (right amount of nods from the right people on the board) has been made. If you guys succeed in finding a leader with a "backbone" who will stand up to our "political and regulatory idiocy redefined" system (in a compassionate, charismatic, honest and connected way) nominate the person. Not only pilots associations would be interested in having and retaining such leaders. Make sure its someone who can unite people, the poor ones who fly small stuff and struggle - and the 1%ers who feel as if they float above everyone. What divides the country today, is what divides us.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 6, 2013 8:28 PM    Report this comment

AOPA has become a bloated organization whose overpaid managers fly around in a Citation Jet and pretend to represent the vast majority of pilots who can barely afford to fly. They continually up sell. I understand Fuller's total compensation is $815,000 per year and many of the other "executives" make similar outrageous salaries. I tried to find the email addresses of the board but was not successful. Fuller is a disaster and AOPA needs a leader who really understands aviation and who will work for a reasonable salary. I am a former Marine Officer and in the Marines the officers eat last after they take care of their men. We do not need a blowhard like Fuller.

Posted by: Patrick McBurnett | March 6, 2013 11:54 PM    Report this comment

Astonishing! I thought I was the only one who felt that AOPA was a completely out-of-touch pyramid marketing scam disguised as a GA advocacy group with a bureaucrat wearing a Chairman Mao hairdo as president.
As a former enlisted man, I appreciate McBurnett's comments.

Posted by: Bill Hill | March 7, 2013 7:15 AM    Report this comment

I found your article to be a balanced review of Fuller's tenure at AOPA. While some fault him for being a Washington insider, isn't that the type you want lobbying? What I do see was a mixed performance in very difficult times. I think that we think that AOPA can and should perform miracles. Why can't AOPA fix 100LL, 300k 172's, and reform the FAA? It's not AOPA's fault and therefore can't be pinned on Fuller. Phil Boyer was a tough act to follow in good times and it wasn't a good time. Stop blaming Fuller for that.

Posted by: John Pursell | March 7, 2013 7:17 AM    Report this comment

It is interesting that there are very few comments regarding growing the GA population as a priority item for AOPA. If an organization doesn't grow, it dies. My unscientific observation from attending the last two Sun N Fun and east coast AOPA conventions is that they look like a senior citizen rallies. If general aviation is to grow, it needs new young members. ELT's and medical exemption support is nice to have, but we NEED to have more young pilots. AOPA must hire a young (under 50), young looking passionate person to be the voice of a new AOPA.

Posted by: joe howley | March 7, 2013 7:26 AM    Report this comment

Two words: Harrison Ford

Posted by: AARON YOUNG | March 7, 2013 8:22 AM    Report this comment

Younger people will never have the broad support of the majority of higher aged members. Status Quo. This country and its society seems addicted to superstars and unfortunately that doesn't exclude the aviation world. Unfortunate fact: You(the flying public or even AOPA members) have *absolutely* no say on who takes the helm. None, no control whatsoever. If that was the case, you could nominate candidates. Members pay and read magazines and buy stuff, that's all - please. I'd venture a guess and say that 60-70% of AOPA members will be happy with whoever gets the spot, because "something is better than nothing" and expectations are very low. Personal involvement is even lower and most people don't care. No pilot association can take the financial pain of flying away, at best they can slow or stop trends, but pulling our collective cart out of the mud will be our "communities" duty, nobody can do it for us, not even movie stars. Our community is divided and highly fragmented we have no solid concept on how to attract younger people. Don't we join associations so that we can have more powerful networks and better reach? Isn't it because we know that we have to hold together? The guy at the top is just a facilitator and voice/face. Level the playing field and remember that chains are as strong as their weakest link.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 7, 2013 9:00 AM    Report this comment

The consensus (or at least common thread) is the BOD and Mr. Fuller are out of touch with the majority of the membership.

I agree, and there is little the general membership can do, as while the BOD is elected by the membership, candidates are nominated by the BOD. Which also picks the President/CEO.

Can you say closed club?

The only way to get their attention is to write them and with your requests, i.e., open books, different rules for choosing BOD/President, and threaten not to renew when your membership expires. With the advent of social media, creating a site/blog is not that hard and may be an additional tool to pique their interest.

If enough members follow participate in a letter writing campaign/blog, then we may have a chance at getting their attention.

I do not believe we need a lobbyist, but believe we need a strategic thinker who represents GA, not corporate interests. I agree with Mr. Maynard, we don't need to spend $700K+ annually to get that type of individual. I'm convinced there are enough of us, who believe in the cause, and have the skills who would do it for much less.

I also believe Mr. Bumstead's recommendation of small focus groups is spot on. That is part of identifying important issues and the overall strategy to rejuvenate GA.

Posted by: John Wrenn | March 7, 2013 9:31 AM    Report this comment

The consensus (or at least common thread) is the BOD and Mr. Fuller are out of touch with the majority of the membership.

I agree, and there is little the general membership can do, as while the BOD is elected by the membership, candidates are nominated by the BOD. Which also picks the President/CEO.

Can you say closed club?

The only way to get their attention is to write them and with your requests, i.e., open books, different rules for choosing BOD/President, and threaten not to renew when your membership expires. With the advent of social media, creating a site/blog is not that hard and may be an additional tool to pique their interest.

If enough members follow participate in a letter writing campaign/blog, then we may have a chance at getting their attention.

I do not believe we need a lobbyist, but believe we need a strategic thinker who represents GA, not corporate interests. I agree with Mr. Maynard, we don't need to spend $700K+ annually to get that type of individual. I'm convinced there are enough of us, who believe in the cause, and have the skills who would do it for much less.

I also believe Mr. Bumstead's recommendation of small focus groups is spot on. That is part of identifying important issues and the overall strategy to rejuvenate GA.

Posted by: John Wrenn | March 7, 2013 9:31 AM    Report this comment


Mr. Howley also identified a key issue, growing the population with younger persons. Pilot population is aging and will die off, without interest in young persons. To happen, we have to drive the cost down and make it more affordable. I would hazard that excessive government regulations, and lack of tort reform drives up the cost of GA, and reducing/restricting both should be a major goal of AOPA.

So, if the problem is the government and its strangling regulations (which drive up the cost of GA), then that should be the target, and our organization should focus on reducing regulations and costs. I don't see AOPA advocating for either of these goals.

So I see us having two choices. We comment from the sidelines, or we can get more involved in the process and try to change our association from within.

Posted by: John Wrenn | March 7, 2013 9:32 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Howley also identified a key issue, growing the population with younger persons. Pilot population is aging and will die off, without interest in young persons. To happen, we have to drive the cost down and make it more affordable. I would hazard that excessive government regulations, and lack of tort reform drives up the cost of GA, and reducing/restricting both should be a major goal of AOPA.

So, if the problem is the government and its strangling regulations (which drive up the cost of GA), then that should be the target, and our organization should focus on reducing regulations and costs. I don't see AOPA advocating for either of these goals.

So I see us having two choices. We comment from the sidelines, or we can get more involved in the process and try to change our association from within.

Posted by: John Wrenn | March 7, 2013 9:33 AM    Report this comment

For those you who questioned who is on the Board of Directors, it is published every month in the AOPA PILOT magazine. If you are like me you won't recognize any of the names as aviation supporters.

Posted by: Gilbert Pierce | March 7, 2013 9:36 AM    Report this comment

My first impression of Fuller was formed when I read his AOPA blog just after he took office. One of his first posts expressed a giddiness and wonder at the 2009 Presidential inauguration taking place only a few miles away from Frederick. Good Lord man, can't you recognize a freight train when its headlights are bearing down on you?

Posted by: A Richie | March 7, 2013 10:09 AM    Report this comment

For those of you who think Haines would be a good replacement consider the following. I had a conversation with him a few years ago at the Alaska Airmen Association fair in Anchorage. I told him I thought it was wrong for AOPA managers to be flying around on AOPA owned turbine airplanes. I also told him the magazine should stop writing so much about turbine airplanes as the vast majority of members have little interest. He proceeded to tell me I did not understand turbine airplanes and they were very cost effective. He had no response when I told him I was a major airline pilot who had many thousands hours flying and managing turbine airplanes. The current management has lost perspective and needs to be replaced; unfortunately this is very difficult.

Posted by: Patrick McBurnett | March 7, 2013 10:12 AM    Report this comment

Luminaries such as Harrison Ford have an important role in AOPA, but not as CEO. They just don't have the necessary executive experience and successes. And "internal candidates" such as Haines are probably too deeply ingrained to turn the ship around.

Yes, the AOPA BOD is key. I have been able to access their bios but not themselves. They should all read every post above, and more, in a determined effort to understand their membership before proceeding to replace Fuller. The fact that it is so hard to access the BOD is at the heart of the problem. Will someone please post all their email addresses here?

And let's change the AOPA Bylaws to stop the BOD from nominating new members themselves!

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 7, 2013 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Recommendations: New board, new president, open books, transparency, cancel FlyQ, no more Citation, no more AOPA spam, no more wine club, limit salary to a mere $500,000 includining bennies for the prez, focus on new start funding programs nationwide, get someone from the ranks to lead under membership control not proxy, and change "SUMMIT" to convention. Do all and I will come back to AOPA. Thank you very much.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 7, 2013 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Yeah, that "Wine Club" thing is embarrassing. If there is ONE thing that does not go with aviation it is drinking! It's just a really bad public image and does not promote a favorable view of GA pilots. But what would you expect from a Drug Store executive?

Posted by: A Richie | March 7, 2013 1:03 PM    Report this comment

Two words: Addison Steel. He's a visionary like Steve Jobs and smarter than most. We need to change the image of the aviation culture. NASCAR used to have the same problems as AOPA... Young people enjoy Nascar culture and like someone said earlier... Airplane conventions/events are like going to a retirement village... I say elect Steel.

Posted by: joe smith | March 7, 2013 1:17 PM    Report this comment

Homer Simpson. He's a good guy, married to Marge, has kids (Bart, Lisa & Maggie), drives a reasonable car and probably knows as much about airplanes as all of us. His nuclear safety background could help protect glider pilots getting to close to nuclear power plants in the future. He draws from a wide array of at least 187 other jobs and will hold a conversation with any of us, anytime. His intellect and mental rigor far outperforms that of members of congress, even that of senators and governors. Last but not least D'oh!is allegedly already approved language as per ICAO methinks.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 7, 2013 1:49 PM    Report this comment

D'oh! Homer is off the list. Doesn't have a Bachelors degree in an aviation program. We'll have to keep looking. ;o)

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 7, 2013 2:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul...your observations are absolutely correct. I for one am sick and tired of all the emails,snail mail,and the annoying dinnertime phone calls from AOPA begging for money when the execs of the organization are riding around in a multi million dollar Citation. Most of us who own or rent airplanes are sacraficing or going without just to scrape up enough money to put fuel in or pay for a rental hour once in a while. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: PAUL TAKESIAN | March 7, 2013 3:29 PM    Report this comment

Paul -- Now that you've poked this little hornets nest and received these very fine comments, I'm wondering what you intend to do with the information and opinions expressed herein.

My suggestion is to pull it together along with other insights and make an appointment with the AOPA Board Chairman to present it (in person) as an indication of the level of dissatisfaction in the rank and file with current policies, program and services. With the number of Avweb subscribers and the size of your megaphone, I'd be surprised if you couldn't get an early meeting set up. Avweb is similar to a double-agent -- representing your subscribers who have an interest in seeing both GA and AOPA succeed while being an AOPA member in good standing. It seems like a potential win-win.

Please let us, your loyal subscribers, know how you intend to proceed, and thanks for your efforts on behalf of us long-suffering AOPA members.

Posted by: Keith Bumsted | March 7, 2013 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the comment, Keith. I think what we've decided to do is to distill the data we have from the survey--something like 800 responses so far--and publish the full Monty right here on Avweb, stripped of names. Hoping to get that done by Monday, along with a news story.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 7, 2013 7:35 PM    Report this comment

I agree with Dan Gryder. AOPA needs fixing as it is terminally vain and unapproachable. I would think the BOD is aware of this as they appear to be a good pick but uncommunicative. AOPA's original purpose remains under a mountain of fluff and waste, perhaps blocking the BOD's perception of the association's primary goal, to benefit members and the GA community. Upper management has failed to represent and maintain a strong and credible GA champion. AOPA, as it is, needs cleansing.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 8, 2013 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Are we sure Fuller was fired? Last I heard he was still out doing speaking engagements in our jet.

Posted by: larry maynard | March 8, 2013 2:14 PM    Report this comment

By the way, AOPA declined our request to interview anyone on the board.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 8, 2013 4:46 PM    Report this comment

AOPAL CONCLAVE TO START NEXT MONDAY: Is political drama unfolding in Frederick, Maryland?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 8, 2013 7:58 PM    Report this comment

Paul ... this is THE best editorial you've ever written AND the blogs that followed are -- likewise -- spot on. There's little I might add that hasn't already been said or parrotted. All of us who love aviation dearly deserve better than what we've had from both AOPA and EAA recently and now, with the departure of Fuller and Hightower, we have an opportunity to at least HOPE that someone better will appear. Both associations have shown us what the best looks like and we ALL need to collaborate to ensure that the two groups that represent us DO represent 'US!'

I, for one, hope that Jack Pelton stays at the helm of EAA for a few years. As for a new commander-in-chief at AOPA, we can only hope -- when the puffs of white smoke come out of a Citation Jet in Frederick -- that someone of equal capability rises and assumes the helm. The recommendations sound good to me.

I have remained a member of both organizations for the reasons many have ellicited. They're all we have ... I just don't like many of the things AOPA has done or the ways they've done it. Quitting doesn't do anything to improve things. If WE allow poor management and actions to continue then we deserve whatever it is we get.

Anyhow ... keep firing them spitballs, Paul. I enjoy the heck out of a writer who isn't afraid of offending someone with their 'balls.'

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 8, 2013 8:35 PM    Report this comment

We did not stand for a dictatorship form of gevernment in 1776. We dumped the tea, fired shots at the whites of their eyes, and told the king that we would not participate in absurd taxation without representaiton. AOPA's stance is clear. This is their money, they collected it fair and square, members will have no say in any matters, and no information on financials. Fine. I get it. Yes, Fuller was fired. He didnt even finish his five year deal. The board figured out that people were casting votes via "alternate means" i.e. not renewing memberships. However, they are going to be left with a jet, a turbo prop, and glossy paper based turbine featured magazine that no one subscribes to, that they can't sell ads in, and no one is interested in. As far as the tea thing, I am on board. It's how revolutionarys do things.

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 9, 2013 9:43 AM    Report this comment

It is curious that there are so few posting here in defense of AOPA and Fuller. Before we work ourselves into a frenzy and act like a Lynch Mob, perhaps a few people will come out of the woodwork in defense mode. As fair people, just like Bertorelli, I know we will all want to fully understand both sides.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 9, 2013 9:52 AM    Report this comment

I agree. If your member association President is "appointed", makes $850k/year, rides around in a membership bought jet, has a personal "pilot" on staff for $120k/year to be his pilot because he is not enough of a pilot to be able to fly the jet himself, and has devised all of these products and services that directly compete with advertizers like Sportys, Jep, Garmin, etc etc, then let the explaining and the defense begin. I'd like to hear this one. Why is it quiet? There ain't no defending, because there ain't no defending.

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 9, 2013 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Why are you guys complaining about the big silence? Its what has made public relations nightmares and pesky members with questions shut up for decades. Don't change the status quo and start demanding answers from people who don't give a rats behind about your opinion and haven't in 30 years. I've tried to hint at a couple of things (factual, if with a bit of candid critique) but AOPA isn't banned from reading and acting. Simple fact: As long as the money comes hailing in and salaries get paid, nothing changes. Joining is the equivalent of being told to put up and shut up, because sure as hell won't the members have a say in the organizational structure. Not a single 3-4 is different and the industry pays them despite the competition.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 9, 2013 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Jason, I think perhaps you are missing the point. Almost every poster here is of like mind - we think AOPA and Fuller have been seriously off-track for a long time now. This begs the question regarding opposing viewpoints. What might we be missing? It's just a matter of respecting alternate views and learning from them before we march head-log into battle. Unless we are all just blowing off steam with no productive output in mind, the only pathway forward does seem to be a nasty battle. And it will need to start very soon if we are to have any influence before a clone of Fuller is hired to march AOPA in the same direction.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 9, 2013 3:43 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps there is a bifurcation between the Jet Jockeys in AOPA and the rest of us. Perhaps AOPA is properly serving the Jet Jockeys. Perhaps the Jet Jockeys represent the majority of the money in aviation, if not the majority of headcount. Perhaps it is no longer possible to contain Jet Jockeys and the rest of us in one organization. Evidence - jets numbers are growing while pistons are shrinking, jets are primarily business whereas piston is much more oriented to personal use, Jet-A is not threatened but 100LL surely is, and jets are far less sensitive to escalating costs. So how can one umbrella organization possibly serve these divergent needs, beyond a few areas of common ground?

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 9, 2013 5:01 PM    Report this comment

"Jet" is either corporate or airline. Airlines have a union, and very few airline pilots have heard of or care about AOPA (with some exceptions) Corporate jet drivers have PRO Pilot magazine and B&CA, but dont need an association pre se. AOPA was built for General Aviation, or GA. The N number on the AOPA jet is N4GA...for G A, not N4CF, or N4JTS. Neither the audience nor the intended theme of AOPA have shifted, you simply have an all powerful single source dictator president capable of damage with no checks and balances (See US Govt constitution, three branches, checks and balances) and unchecked, unaccountable power. The only "power" left lies with the people, who always have the right to vote with their wallet, decline membership, and walk past the big yellow tent. Now I know why that tent is yellow. If there is a good explaination for AOPA's new course and what nutcase Craig has done, now would be a good time. When we restore an airplane, we take it down. We take it all the way down. We replace the crooked with new. And then we build it back right. We build it back with all new stuff. Then we have a new plane that flies right, everyone likes, and stays on course.

Posted by: Dan Gryder | March 10, 2013 7:26 AM    Report this comment

I just noticed that for the second day the AOPA Benefits web site would not let me open their article on finding a replacement for Fuller. Maybe it's just me but I think they may have taken this article off the website. If this board were to do the right thing they would send Fuller packing immediately and find a qualified interim to take over and assess the situation, advise the board and help with finding a new president or whatever they call him. Of course the interim should not be an insider. They certainly shouldn't have Fuller around advising them on a replacement or making any more decisions on behalf of AOPA. Apparently this is what EAA did. Of course EAA isn't very transparent about what is going on either.

Posted by: larry maynard | March 10, 2013 7:53 AM    Report this comment

Dan Gryder - you draw a very nice distinction between the factions of Bijzets and the rest of us in G.A. Surely this is the heart of the problem - AOPA is supposedly trying to serve both factions, and we might argue that Bizjets are ruling the roost, probably because they have a lot more money they bring to the table. So, can and should AOPA follow a mission to serve both factions? This is a central question and either answer demands extensive restructuring.
But one word of caution. Just because we don't see much useful activity on the political lobbying front, doesn't mean it is not very productive. Stopping User Fees is a bit like stopping another 9-11 in that we never get to see what would have happened if the intervention never happened.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 10, 2013 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Larry Maynard - good suggestions. I don't see how Fuller could have been "fired" based on the fact that he is still in office, still attending meetings, made an AOPA video proclaiming his regime was successful and reflecting back, and apparently consulting on his replacement.
The absolute key here is for the AOPA Board to recognize they have a crisis here. It isn't just a crisis of leadership, it is a crisis of mission. And they must reach out openly to all constituencies for constructive input as a first priority.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 10, 2013 12:55 PM    Report this comment

AOPA has every right to publish fluff, sell insurance, promote contributions to its foundations and even run some of them badly. Associating with celebrities is standard operating procedure, although I'd recommend Jimmy Buffet over Harrison Ford. But AOPA crosses the line when it decides to become a tax-exempt Sportys and competes directly with its advertisers. Aviation doesn't need this kind of cannibalism.

Posted by: Richard Herbst | March 11, 2013 3:22 PM    Report this comment

Paul: This is too important to be left without a follow up. AOPA, the entity, is not the focus of the complaints, it is the present administration's policies and mismanagement that have created dissent. Craig Fuller is on his way out, perhaps not by choice, but without a convincing explanation leaving behind an uncooperative rank and file. The BOD is not amplifying therefore increasing the ire and feelings of beleive of dishonest actions. At the end, AOPA, the entity, will suffer as it depends on membership partticipation and contributions. The number are decreasing for several reasons, decline in the pilot population and turmoil within the association are two that I can identify. An emphasis on communication in good will would help. AOPA's administration and programs need fixing, minor corrections or large corrections but AOPA needs fixing.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 12, 2013 9:00 AM    Report this comment

Working on the follow, Rafael. Thanks.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 12, 2013 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps the central root cause here is the vail of secrecy and subsequent lack of understanding on both sides (members and governance), that always generates negative results.
Surely the AOPA BOD needs to step out from behind the shodows, listen, and communicate. NOW! Perhaps they are doing all the right things and we just don't know it. Perhaps they are reading this string! Wouldn't it be great if that is so! We could then all rally around and coral the wagons! If it is not so, then we could all start working together towards a much better outcome that would be broadly supported.
One more point - the operational leader (President) should not be the same person as the Chairman of the Board! They are very different jobs that sometimes should conflict.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 12, 2013 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Good article, Paul. One factual correction, though. You say "Or that it maintains fat cash reserves of more than twice annual revenue because that's what other associations do." Actually that's no what other associations do. I spent an evening on a while back, reviewing the tax returns of maybe 50 comparable associations. Only one, a tiny medical speciality association, had reserves anywhere near AOPA's as a percentage of revenue. The cash hoard is unneeded. AOPA's business is stable and not subject to short-term fluctuations. Between a small reserve ($10M) and cutting the ample fat, AOPA can easily manage itself in downturns. The rest of the reserve should be returned to members via dues reductions or dues holidays and/or can be moved to the flight safety foundation and put to work.

Posted by: GEORGE ANDERSON | March 12, 2013 7:37 PM    Report this comment

Geo Anderson you are right. Their cash reserves are way to high. Of course there are a lot of things they could do with that money. Once again, problem is lack of transparency. If they keep losing members they should lose some employees, cut pay, or at least freeze some of the highly paid employees. They might be able to lose some employees thru attrition but I kind of doubt that because of their small size. But who knows?

Posted by: larry maynard | March 13, 2013 6:42 AM    Report this comment


You have certainly created a firestorm; good job. Notwithstanding my earlier comment, I am considering ending my membership, which I have held since 1971. I guess I just wasn't paying enough attention. Huge salaries, fat cash reserves, and a lack of transparency coupled with arrogance is too much. Thanks for opening my eyes.

Pete Tolley

Posted by: Peter Tolley | March 13, 2013 7:44 AM    Report this comment

As I've said before, let's combine AOPA and EAA and let Jack Pelton run both...
I don't think that EAA wants AOPA.

Posted by: Bill Owens | March 15, 2013 11:07 PM    Report this comment

AOPA and EAA have very different missions and very different constituencies. They both need to realize that and start responding to the membership segmentations. Approximating .... EAA has homebuilders to warbirds to Barons. AOPA has Huskies to Citation X to Netjets. There must be a realignment before this mess can be properly resolved for the betterment of G.A.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 15, 2013 11:25 PM    Report this comment

re: Jason Baker on March 5, 2013
Charles Barkley would do a much better job at Secretary of State than John Kerry will ever hope to do. He is NOT a part of the establishment and tells it exactly as he sees it, not regurgitating the same old tired non-working line. As chairman of AOPA an advocate for GA, with the power of AOPA's (our) membership will get the needed political attention even if the person is not tied to the "Association" cartel.

Posted by: Michael Hoover | March 19, 2013 8:27 PM    Report this comment

Now this is journalism!! Author and responders....


Posted by: Peter Kearns | April 18, 2013 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Every member of the Board of Directors is a CEO or head of some hedge fund. As such, they have a vested interest in keeping their corporate taxes low. They are spending out political capital fighting user fees on corporate jets rather than members interests. A corporate jet uses just as much ATC effort as an airliner, yet pays much less into the system. Aopa says that jet user fees are just the beginning, but they are only saying that to quiet the membership and get on their side.

Posted by: Jim Clarry | May 26, 2013 11:05 AM    Report this comment


As you know I was outraged years ago when I found out how much they were paying to the executives. I quite at that time realizing that the pay to Boyer was just the tip of the iceberg. The organization in my opinion has become a marketing company to support million dollar plus executive salaries and not an organization that has an understanding or a care about the general in general aviation. I have asked to be taken off of their mailings but every few months here comes an offer to rejoin. Your membership dollars at work.

Posted by: *AUL MANDEL | May 1, 2014 4:08 PM    Report this comment

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