AOPA today launched a new initiative called the Center to Advance the Pilot Community, a program we brought to light a few weeks ago. Despite its name, this is not a new physical center but rather a new branch at the organization’s headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, that aims to halt the decline in the pilot population and once again begin to grow the aviation industry.
Former EAA vice president of membership, Adam Smith, has been charged with booting up the new initiative as AOPA’s senior vice president of the Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Smith hopes to invigorate the aviation industry by focusing on the positive aspects of aviation despite years of decline (the active pilot population has declined by more than 25 percent in the past three decades).
“I’ve never seen a turnaround in history in any business or any industry that was driven from negative things,” Smith said in an interview with Flying. “You’ll usually get that by focusing on your strengths and the good things that you have to offer.”
One way the Center will focus on industry strenghts is to offer awards to flight schools and flight instructors that have exhibited good industry practices. Eleven awards will be handed out at the AOPA Aviation Summit next week to winners that were selected from a pool of 2,400 nominees.
Another part of the focus on encouraging best practices in the flight training arena is three Flight Training Field Guides — one for students, one for instructors and one for flight schools — which will also be introduced at Summit. Smith was quick to point out that these are not actual flight training manuals, but rather guides for creating a better flight training experience. The field guides and awards came out of AOPA’s Flight Training Student Retention Initiative, which will continue as part of the new Center.
Another factor that Smith feels has positively affected the aviation industry is flying clubs, and this is an area the Center will focus on deeply. The Center will help new flying clubs get started and will also serve as a place for existing clubs “to network and share best practices for the betterment of all,” said Smith. Smith said there are 650 flying clubs active today, but he feels there is room for a couple of thousand clubs.
Smith currently employs three people at the Center and is planning to hire another five in the near future. He hopes the existing and future initiatives will not only help bring new people into aviation, but also hold on to those who are involved and bring people back who have been involved. “There’s an old adage in business that it’s much cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one,” Smith said.