What’s The Point of ‘Next-Gen’ If ‘Now-Gen’ Crashes and Burns? (Part 4) | Aero-News Network
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Thu, Oct 14, 2010

What’s The Point of ‘Next-Gen’ If ‘Now-Gen’ Crashes and Burns? (Part 4)

A Continuing Look At The Obstacles We Face

Aero-Analysis/Commentary by James R. Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief/Rabble-Rouser

While yesterday's Intermezzo was a welcome relief from some of the gloomy topics we've addressed in this editorial series, it's time to get back to brass tacks. In Part 5, we'll discuss something unusual… a problem that presents some really intriguing solutions (if properly addressed), but for now, let's chat about the 'elephant in the room' - the declining stature of some of aviation's many and varied associations and organizations.

And before we get into this particular topic… one deserving of an entire segment of this editorial series, let me note this from the outset. A few years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more supportive editorial position for the mission of AOPA, EAA and other groups than that espoused by ANN. We supported and believed in the mission of these organizations with few reservations… and had great faith in the direction and leadership of all those involved… but since then, something has changed - and we'll leave it to you to decide what that might be… We had great respect for the actions of AOPA's Phil Boyer and have always had a deep and abiding affection for the spirit of the EAA that Paul Poberezny created… but something seems amiss with a few of our pivotal aero-groups…at a time when we need their best and most effective efforts, NOW, more than ever.

Let me make this clear... no one wants to admire and laud the efforts of our associations more than we do… but if they're not doing the job… we need to speak up. While there are some groups that appear to be doing better than most (AEA, ICAS, GAMA, NATA, and some aspects of NBAA), we really need to insist that the alphabet groups stay on track. 

The Decline of Organized Aviation

The associations are not what they used to be, and in many cases we have only to look at the mirror to see the reasons for that - we get that which we support with our membership dollars. And yet, the decline of many of today's aviation organizations is terrifying -- some more than others -- while a very few still show promise, initiative and (at times) brilliance in meeting our needs. Today's AOPA has evolved in some puzzling ways and become quite different than what it was under Phil Boyer… and I not only don't like what I see, I'm truly concerned about it. This AOPA can often be arrogant, unresponsive, poorly directed, and seems like it's wandering in the wilderness looking for direction and the way back to its proper mission, and some of their 'misses' are truly bizarre --  I mean, for God sakes, the AOPA Wine Club? There isn't something more important to do with their resources?


Give me a break!

The associations are constantly putting their hands out for more bucks… and then spending those dollars in puzzling ways… some of them in direct conflict with their own members and affiliated industry companies. And just as puzzling, there has been an outward migration of some truly talented folks from these groups - with EAA and AOPA both losing valuable staffers and/or Board members who were asked to leave or simply could not countenance what they saw as destructive paths for the organizations they once supported so avidly.

Example: How do you validate a rumored $700K+ expenditure for a below-par 'AOPA-Live' effort at last year's so-called 'Summit' - allowing the organization to cover itself with a scorched earth effort so that it could drown out everyone else (which we believe and have been told is nothing more than an attempt to control the coverage the organization receives by inundating the online world with so much poorly configured content accrued at tremendous and inexplicable expense, that it drowns everything else out - especially anything that even hints at true criticism). There's little doubt that AOPA, in the absence of its former mandates, specifically those dedicated to the true interests of its constituency, has gone "Off-Mission" and needs an immediate and drastic course correction if it's going to maintain its proper standing as an effective advocate for GA. If they don't understand this, then maybe the AOPA Wine Club is a little more active than we fear…  

We have so much more that concerns us, of late… but the very recent publication of media coverage restrictions and guidelines for the renamed AOPA Summit is but more disturbing hand-writing on the wall… both for what it means, directly, but for how those new rules might be used to control coverage of the event (and it, in fact, does direct the limits and conduct of much of the overage we had envisioned for this year's event). AOPA has specifically restricted some forms of coverage and requires their blessing for several other media programs… and there is a hint, throughout the doc, that seems to suggest that if you don't do what they want, they can ask you to leave. This is a new policy… and we have confirmed that nothing like this existed under previous management. Further; we have to admit that we've been concerned about this for a while… as certain AOPA personnel sought to, and oft succeeded, in curtailing ANN and other media outlet's access to various aspects of some previous AOPA events.

God only knows what they're afraid of… but I specifically remember Phil Boyer's counter to Sun 'n Fun's ridiculous banning order of yours truly some years ago in which Phil not only noted that AOPA would never put such restrictions on a working journalist… but proudly insisted that they had no fear of proper journalism… so that they had no need to even think of restricting media access. THAT was an AOPA that I was proud to support… and one that never sought to control my access or coverage of their events - even when Phil and I didn't see eye to eye (as a matter of fact, I've rarely encountered someone who enjoyed a respectful 'argument' more…).

EAA is not blameless either… they blew an amazing opportunity to gain a year's start on new leadership by jacking around Pete Bunce while also playing the Media-Control card at Oshkosh/AirVenture… with a list of things we were told we were not allowed to do… at this Federally-Funded public-use airport supported by a worldwide membership and industry that could use all the media and exposure it can get (and yes, EAA is trying to drown some of the other media outlets out as well… but not nearly to the extend as that shown by the control freaks overseeing AOPA's media policy).

New leadership, recently announced by EAA, gives us hope for the future (and trusted insiders tell us this guy, Rod Hightower, may indeed be the real deal… but we remain skeptical until we see the evidence), but if EAA is going to maintain a position of prominence, if not relevance, it needs to get back in touch with its membership… and also look back to Paul Poberezny's founding mission statements to get and stay on track. Paul was not a perfect leader… but there is no question that he understood the true spirit of aviation… and aviators… and the EAA of old was a beautiful thing to behold before it became overtly commercialized, insular and somewhat restrictive. And yet… I still love these organizations (AOPA and EAA)… both for what they used to stand for and for what I desperately hope that they might stand for yet again.

Most important of all… how can the associations ask for our support when they don't think enough of us to give us a direct voice in choosing their leadership?

Ask AOPA, EAA, and a number of other associations how their leadership comes into being and you'll be rewarded with a description of a twisting-turning, bizarre, in-bred, Keystone Kops set of rules and bylaws that are designed to allow those that currently run these organization to keep doing what they want to do without the "interference" of the little people like you and I. If they want our support, they have to respect each and every one of us enough to be responsive to us to the point where we have a direct say in how these organizations are lead, staffed and directed. In a constitutional democracy, it is bizarre to note that such member associations eschew the very basic tenets of the liberty that created this nation and inspires much of the rest of the world to bigger and better things.

 And finally, we need to look at the role associations should be playing… they need to refine and whittle down their mission statements to something that actually produces a proper benefit -- and no more -- they need to quit interfering with the rest of the industry in those areas where the industry is doing just fine by itself (i.e., associations should not be insurance companies, wine merchants, investment counselors, PR Agencies, travel agents, 'news' agencies or take on other roles that get in the way of other industry business - or compete directly with businesses run by various members of its own organization - talking about eating your young!), they need to quit playing ego games and hoisting up their leadership as Demigods, they need to quit fighting with other associations, they need to practice complete transparency, they need to quit being greedy/hyper fund-raising entities simply for the sake of playing cash cow, and they need to be completely and unerringly run at the behest of, and for the benefit of, their constituency.

Final-Final Note: We do not level these criticisms lightly and mean them to be read carefully in the hope that they might induce/inspire a positive change. But we're also not unaware that there is a great feeling of unrest within the SportAv and GA community. Recent responses to a short ANN editorial examining the more unsatisfactory aspects of recent AOPA fundraising efforts produced over 2600 responses in a matterof a few days... with less than a dozen of those telling us that we were all wet... and the rest overtly supportive -- the majority of which indicated that they had either discontinued, were thinking of discontinuing, or were going to discontinue their membership. AOPA insiders tell us that there is concern over declining membership numbers and the possibility that membership could slip below 400,000 in 2011... negating some of the impressive gains made by the association in past years... and providing yet another worrisome stat for us to ponder as we attempt to revitalize aviation.

Personal Note To Aero-Alphabet Groups: Don't you dare tell me, or any other aviation journalist, that a legitimate question about your association (or its activities) is none of our business or limit the coverage we try to undertake… you don't have the right… like it or not. Our responsibility as journalists (for the few of us that actually practice the craft) is to check on the transparency/opacity of the Emperor's wardrobe as often as possible. That's how things work in a proper, democratic, principled society. If you don't like our questions or coverage (so long as we are respectful), you'd best reconsider the true source of your angst and be prepared to look in the mirror… as it means we're simply doing our jobs. -- JRC.

Next… There used to be a time when Flying Clubs were a prevalent and popular aspect of the GA and Sport Aviation landscape… and in the last few decades, they've all but disappeared. However; a revitalized and modified version of such entities… relevant to the 2010 generation… might provide inestimable value to rebuilding the popularity, affordability and accessibility of GA. And by the way... while we seem to be throwing some rocks at certain entities in aviation, do be advised that some of the toughest criticism we have coming up is for our own ilk... and the truly deplorable state of aviation journalism.

More to follow in the coming days… Stay tuned!

Jim Campbell -- Unrepentant Aero-Advocate, Professional Trouble-Maker/Pain-In-The-Ass/Aero-Evangelist (YOU Choose which one truly applies)
FMI: ANN's 'Great Rant' -- I've Got Some Comments! -- Part IV


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