Hightower Out at EAA; Pelton New Chairman

Controversial leader departs abruptly.

Rod Hightower
Rod Hightower
Rod Hightower

The EAA Board has announced that president and CEO Rod Hightower has resigned effective immediately. In apparently related news, former Cessna president and CEO Jack Pelton has been named chairman of the EAA board of directors. EAA said that issues with Hightower’s family relocating from St. Louis to Oshkosh were behind the change.

Pelton delivered the news and explained the challenges facing EAA: "EAA, as all of aviation, faces many challenges with the continuing economic slump and the decrease in personal aviation participation. As an association we must remain focused on the original mission of our founder, Paul H. Poberezny, to welcome all members no matter what they fly, celebrate our volunteers, and treat our employees fairly," Pelton added.

The news came down to EAA employees at 1:30 p.m. on Monday that Hightower was gone. Pelton, one of the most respected people in aviation, will guide the association in the interim.

Hightower had a controversial tenure at EAA from the start. He presided over large-scale firings in 2011, including the dismissals of several popular longtime EAA employees. At this year’s EAA annual public meeting at AirVenture, numerous volunteers and members voiced complaints about what they referred to as the increasingly corporate direction that EAA had taken under Hightower, including several complaints about non-aviation-product vendors and the fenced-off VIP chalets along the flight line. Several members at the meeting also shared their concerns that the organization’s core constituents, homebuilders, had been marginalized under Hightower's leadership.

The EAA Board hired Hightower in July of 2010 to replace longtime EAA head Tom Poberezny, who left the organization on the first day of the AirVenture airshow that year. "I will be working closely with the EAA Board of Directors to ensure a seamless transition to a new leader," Pelton said.