Vocal Minority Wins, Aviators Lose
Why Fuller’s departure is bad news for GA.
By by Robert Goyer / Published: Mar 05, 2013
The announcement last week that AOPA president and CEO Craig Fuller would be departing the organization was greeted by a small number of members with great glee. My guess is that the majority of the membership felt very differently about it, as do I. I’m very sorry to see Fuller go.
Fuller came to the organization virtually unknown in aviation but with long credentials in Washington politics, having served as Vice President Bush’s chief of staff during the Reagan administration and afterward in a number of high profile government and advocacy positions. Fuller came to AOPA a major player and brought that clout with him to every meeting with D.C. power brokers he attended during his nearly five years at AOPA. (For the record, Fuller is staying on at AOPA until a successor is named and the transition is made.)
At the same time, Fuller is also a real airplane guy. He was before he came to AOPA, and he will be after he leaves. He loves GA, owns airplanes, flies them and uses them to do business. He did before AOPA and he will after his tenure there is complete. How common do you think that is in someone with Fuller’s credentials?
The vocal minority's big gripe is that AOPA spends too much money on salaries and overhead, including the use of airplanes to get Fuller around the country for various meetings and fundraising events, functions at which he brings in money — sometimes a lot of money — to AOPA's coffers. Fuller often flies the airplane himself. Facetiously, I could say his piloting duty saves the organization money, but truthfully, what it really does is put him at the center of what this activity is all about: using airplanes to go places and do things. That is what AOPA, my AOPA at least, should stand for.
The idea that members of AOPA should rise up and take a stand against the organization using airplanes is baffling to me. The airplane in question is a Citation CJ3, which in my view is perfect for the job covering this big country of ours. In it, Fuller and his team can get where they’re going quickly, efficiently and ready to do business. That is the entire point of business aviation, and we applaud AOPA for flying airplanes. We encourage more organizations to do the same. Let’s all fly more.
Those of you who read Flying regularly know that we haven’t always agreed with Fuller or AOPA’s take on certain subjects, and we’ve made no secret of that fact. We don’t like the increasingly commercial tack the organization is taking and we feel as though its response to the growth of the drone movement has been slow and too timid.
On balance, however, the past five years have been positive. It’s clear that AOPA represents the interests of the little guy too. Over the past five years Fuller’s and AOPA’s progress has been all about helping the little guy, standing up for pilots rights and mobilizing support for flying in the highest levels of government at both the national and state level. The big point here is that almost without exception, what’s good for bizav is good for personal aviation: more airports, more access, fair regulations and improved technology. It works for all of us who fly. Its focus on flight training, on improving safety and on bringing more kinds of flying to more kinds of people is laudable, as well.
The other big complaint is that Fuller made too much money. He made a lot, I agree. I am envious of his high six-figure salary. At the same time, I don’t begrudge him for it, not for a second. The fact that this highly qualified, highly personable, experienced aviator and communicator earned a good living as the head of the largest pilot and aircraft owner association in the world is exactly as it should be. You get what you pay for.
I hope the next great candidate for the post doesn’t take a look at the history here, see the vitriol, the unfocused animosity and the over-the-top attack rhetoric and say “no thanks” to the job. But I’m afraid that’s just what will happen. Then, make no mistake, the real loser will be us pilots, who need a unified front today more than ever.