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Thu, Nov 16, 2006

COPA Annual Meeting Showcases GA Excellence

A Top-Notch Owner's Club Meets At AOPA Expo

by ANN Associate Editor Mark Sletten

Members of the Cirrus Owner's and Pilot's Association (COPA) held their annual meeting during AOPA Expo this year in Palm Springs, CA. Hosted by association President Mike Radomsky and Vice-president Gordon Feingold, the meeting included a presentation by Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier and Cirrus president David Coleal. ANN was offered an invitation to attend the meeting. Simply put, we observed an owner's group par excellence - an example of involvement in the promotion of airmanship and safety that all of general aviation should strive to emulate.

Sometimes formal, sometimes relaxed, sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical; this association's leadership likes to keep attendees informed and entertained. The 2300-member association celebrated its fifth birthday during the meeting, and Radomsky kicked off the cake cutting ceremony by launching a small radio-controlled helicopter from atop the cake, flying it about the room to laughter and applause, then crashing… ahem, excuse me, "landing" the toy back on the cake.

The leadership obviously likes to keep the atmosphere light-hearted, but the entertaining banter so skillfully blended with nuggets of wisdom and caution forms a potent brew. Like a fine Cabernet having the sweet tastes of cherry and vanilla mixed with just the right amount of bite, the setting was fun with a deadly undertone -- the perfect approach to instill and foster the "safety culture" all members live and breathe.

What is a safety culture? It's an aviation way of life; where safety is paramount not only in word, but also in deed. When a member of COPA tells you safety is THE overriding concern for ALL of his or her flights, you can be sure you're not just receiving lip service -- you're speaking to a believer.

COPA, more than anything else, is an information clearing house for its members. The association publishes a monthly news magazine rivaling the industry's best in its depth, quality and class. It maintains an up-to-date website chock full of pertinent information like an event calendar, membership data, a photo gallery, weather, member stories, etc. Those alone would be worth the annual $50 membership dues, but in addition the association manages an electronic forum where members can communicate directly with one another via the internet. Best of all, using the forums, members can choose to post publicly so ALL may read, think and comment.

The association's leadership believes the forums are key to COPA's safety culture. Indeed, even Alan Klapmeier thinks information shared between members is critical. "Conversation about safety is essential," he said during his presentation to the members. "Training isn't the answer - awareness is. Anyone can operate the controls competently, it's the decisions we make that determine the outcome of the flight."

The forums aren't just a way to find a good place to get a $100 hamburger, although they're good for that too! And they're not just a place to discuss the latest boneheaded mistake, although that too is valuable. In fact, the members not only dissect accident histories, they also discuss NON-accidents.


Listen To ANN's Interview With Alan Klapmeier About The Culture Of Safety Here


Radomsky (pictured below) told ANN about a recent discussion on the forums where a member posted he had found the weather a bit dicey for a planned flight. He publicly related all of the parameters: current and forecast weather, who was on the plane, how much rest he'd had, the reason for the flight, the condition of the plane, his proficiency, etc., and how all of it added up to a decision to cancel the flight. Throughout the discussion, other members posted their opinions and reasons why they might have made a different decision, but all expressed unanimous support for the original pilot's decision to abort the flight. That's a safety culture.

The association doesn't just leave it up to its members to keep the information ball rolling. It's developed several programs designed to propagate and cultivate a safety mindset in all those who wish to participate. The Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program (CPPP) is a two-part, ground and flight training program all members are encouraged to attend annually. Subjects discussed include normal and emergency procedures, weather, advanced avionics, maintenance and single-pilot resource management. The flight portion is nothing short of an intense biennial flight review -- you know… the kind your local FAA flight examiner might give?

During the meeting, Feingold (pictured below) shared CPPP attendance statistics. Cirrus enjoyed a 20-percent growth in its fleet last year, but attendance at CPPP seminars grew by only 7-percent. Just as a smart pilot always reviews his performance and looks for ways to improve, COPA as an organization isn't shy about pointing out its own flaws. This one observation should tell you a great deal about the association.

In keeping with Klapmeier's belief that decisions drive safety, COPA also hosts a Cirrus-sponsored seminar on Critical Decision-Making (CDM). COPA members attending the CDM seminar participate in discussions on key safety topics. Cirrus factory pilots maintain a higher than average safety record and they share their observations and techniques with attendees. Also of note to COPA is the difference between currency and proficiency. Seminar leaders help attendees understand how to evaluate their own proficiency and factor it in decisions relating to personal minimums. Cirrus' Klapmeier believes so strongly in the CDM program, the company makes them free to attend -- all you have to do is get yourself there. Cirrus even pays for lunch!

COPA publishes a document it calls a "Code of Conduct." If one document could embody the COPA safety culture this would be it. In COPA's own words, the Code provides a set of guidelines helping pilots improve their airmanship, flight safety, and to sustain and improve GA. The Code presents a vision of excellence in GA. Its principles both complement and supplement what is merely legal.

COPA credits Michael Baum as the vision and motivation behind the Code. In the document he outlines principals, an explanation of and sample recommended practices for each of six topics:

  • General Responsibilities of Aviators
  • Passengers and People on the Surface
  • Training and Proficiency
  • Security
  • Environmental Issues
  • Use of Technology

ANN encourages each GA pilot reading this to download the Code from COPA's website (it's free) and thoroughly read and understand it. You won't find a finer guide to help you improve your airmanship, your awareness of safety and your relationship with the non-flying world.

Radomsky took a few moments to discuss some very interesting statistics. COPA reviewed the fatal-accident history of Cirrus aircraft and discovered a remarkable correlation: COPA members were involved in only three of twenty-three fatal accidents. Radomsky estimates you are 15 - 18 times more likely to be involved in a fatal Cirrus accident if you are not a COPA member.

You might think (I did at first) this sounds like a really bad way to shill for membership, but you would be very wrong. COPA leadership shares these numbers with its membership, but you won't see them anywhere in the public area of its website -- neither are they in literature promoting membership. Remember, ANN was attending an annual meeting of members, not a membership drive. COPA presents data like this to members as part of that safety culture. A safety mindset feeds and grows on success, and these numbers validate COPA members' efforts to follow membership guidelines and promote safety in the organization.

ANN asked Radomsky and Feingold if COPA has approached insurers with these incredible stats to get a break for COPA members on premiums. It's something COPA has considered with very mixed feelings. COPA is extremely (and rightfully) proud of its membership. Offering an insurance break would make for a monetary incentive to join COPA, and that worries Radomsky and Feingold. COPA wants members who wish to be part of its safety culture; members who will be involved, attend seminars, join the forum discussions and take an active part in the association. Radomsky and Feingold believe that's the kind of pilot responsible for COPA's extraordinary safety record, and they don't want to dilute the gene pool so to speak.

And speaking of active membership -- COPA is in the early planning stages of implementing a "buddy system." While the forums provide a great way for members to discuss situations after the fact, it doesn't help a pilot trying to make a good decision at the time of a flight. COPA's buddy system would provide members with contact information for experienced volunteer pilots to act as a sounding board for a pilot struggling with a decision. Radomsky says Flight Service Station briefers are a great resource, but sometimes a pilot needs to talk to another pilot who's been there, done that.

ANN has written about COPA before -- we were thoroughly wowed then, and nothing has changed since. This association continues to evolve and grow into a leading role in the GA community. If you own a Cirrus aircraft and you aren't a member of COPA, you might want to stop and consider why. COPA can help you learn more about your Cirrus aircraft, yourself and managing the risks of GA flying -- and you'll have fun doing it!



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