AOPA’s Baker: Look For Focus On Airport Access, Protection

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Newly installed AOPA President Mark Baker said Wednesday that the key to pilot recruitment and retention is protecting access to airports. All things in aviation start with an airport. Weve got to make that accessible and fun, Baker told AVweb in an extended interview on Wednesday, which is available in todays podcast. He added that its unrealistic to expect AOPA or any member organization to drive pilot starts in a significant way just through programs intended narrowly for that purpose. As far as believing we can lead by ourselves in changing the pilot population, I think thats probably a bridge too far at this point, Baker said.

Since taking over the association last month, Baker has been educating himself on the organization and its membership, but hes already steered AOPA toward a more airport-centric culture and he said this will continue. In announcing the cancellation of the annual Summit show for 2014, Baker said this will save member funds and allow the association to focus on regional events instead.

We want to make sure that the pilot population embraces the neighborhood and that the neighborhood embraces the pilot population. Weve got to bring the message out there and thats part of this whole regional kind of appeal that Im working on, to be there on Saturday at the pancake breakfast or Tuesday night at the airport meeting, Baker said.

When asked if this signals a tilt away from turbines and toward smaller aircraft, Baker replied, Our members want us to expand all the way from a J-3, through an ultralight they may have built, to a turbine. A very small percentage of the market goes to turbines, but they still have the same airport needs.

Baker concedes that theres measurable dissatisfaction among the membership, ranging from disagreement over policy decisions to the associations fundraising efforts, which some members say come too frequently. An AVweb survey done last March revealed that 53 percent of AOPA members surveyed gave the association high marks for effectiveness, but 17 percent rate it poor to mediocre.

[Thats] not acceptable. I look at that as an opportunity. My initial response to that is give us a chance with this regional approach to make sure were hearing those members. You wont be able to get to everyone, but I dont see why this cant be an opportunity to turn that around, Baker said.

Baker said AOPA will devote some efforts to addressing the high cost of flying, but cautions that members shouldnt expect too much. The cost of flying is going to a challenge for a long time to come. Getting the FAA to move on the Part 23 revision could be a significant contributor to lowering the cost of aviation and having a better experience. Fuel is going to be what fuel is going to be. But if you look at used airplanes today, theyre actually a great value, Baker said.

We also asked Baker about another member sore point: frequent fundraising efforts for reasons that arent always obvious. I dont think weve always been as clear about what these things are and my perspective is to make sure these buckets are very clear. Its my intent to try to maintain membership dues where theyre at, Baker added. But Baker said everything is on the table for review, including another area thats generated complaints: the number of aviation businesses AOPA has launched that compete with the owners and pilots who support the association. Baker told us that all of the associations revenue streams and programs are subject to review. Were going to review them all. If they make sense, theyll go forward, if they dont, they wont, he said. He added that fundraising will be more targeted and probably, overall, less traffic. As for continuing competitive businesses or launching new ones, Baker says hell have more to say on that later.