Why AOPA is Changing
Summit is going away; here's why.
By Robert Goyer / Published: Sep 17, 2013
The announcement last week that AOPA's upcoming Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, would be its last was greeted by far less reaction than I would have imagined. Many members, indeed, were happy to hear it. With Craig Fuller gone and a new guy, Mark Baker, at the helm, we all expected changes, but such a big change so quickly was still a surprise, though you'd never know it by the reaction.
The move to cut Summit, according to AOPA, was done so the organization could more effectively meet with its members in grassroots settings. There's some value to such a change. After all, we live in a big country, so no matter where you hold the gathering, there are bound to be a lot of pilots who won't be able to make the investment of time, money or both to attend. By getting out to more local airports for more hot dog roasts and more face-to-face interactions, AOPA will be giving members more of what they're asking for. They want their organization to control costs and do away with what they regard as luxuries, like AOPA's Citation CJ3 jet.
I couldn't disagree more with this point of view, which I consider a view of aviation shortsightedness to a fault. The very notion that the head of the world's largest aviation organization being pilloried for flying to an aviation event makes me wonder if we've fallen into Bizarro World, a place where things are done in ways that are the opposite of what makes sense. In this world, it's okay to fly to a meeting, so long as it takes five times as long and costs one-fifth the amount. It's horse and buggy economics. Aviation has grown into the remarkable phenomenon it is in large part because it makes great logistical sense.
As far as the end of Summit is concerned, I do understand AOPA's desire to ditch an extremely costly and time consuming event that actually serves to alienate a good chunk of its membership precisely because AOPA does such a great job with it. The AOPA Live initiative, the many forums, the bizav friendly environment and the necessarily high costs of attendance have combined to make Summit in many ways the opposite of the grassroots kind of outreach that Baker proposes.
While I personally loved Summit and looked forward to it every year, I do get that it's a big expense that brings limited benefits to the membership. Why not take the cash Summit used to cost and use it to expand real member benefits, like insurance, advocacy, safety counseling or legal representation? As long as Baker flies to his meetings in an Ercoupe, the membership is likely to support him and his proposals, including his first initiative, to reach out to members in a way that includes as many of them as possible in places they want to go and in ways they can afford.
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