With the announced resignation of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association‘s Craig Fuller and the departure last year of the Experimental Aircraft Association‘s new president, some are asking whether AOPA and EAA should merge. I think not.
Neither EAA nor AOPA members should support a merger concept based only on recent performance by either organization, both still in transition. Tom Poberezny and Phil Boyer were hard acts to follow.
At EAA, I had no expectation that moving from a long-time “family business” would be other than similar troubled successions in the real business world. Any new leadership path is a break from custom and tradition. The odds of getting it perfect the first time were tall.
With Boyer, his appointment broke tradition — by design. The typical Washington association exec was an ex-Congressional or FAA officeholder. A businessman, Boyer modernized AOPA for the 21st Century. But he always stayed close to AOPA’s heritage. Why was he so good? The AOPA Trustees knew and pursued him even when he wasn’t pursuing them.
Boyer’s remarkable resume included 1) former president of a national membership organization with advocacy experience on The Hill, 2) leadership of a respected regional pilot association, 3) entrepreneurship in an aviation business (ABC’s Wide Word of Flying videos), 4) deep executive and “people management” experience, 5) unusual strengths in new technology / technology development, and 6) a strong background in public opinion, audience research and sophisticated marketing.
That last is important: he listened to members and they were his top priority. But while he revered and deferred to AOPA traditions and culture, he also knew that non-dues income had to become a larger slice of the pie.
Boyer was also a great flyer and reveled in doing it as a private pilot. When hired, he owned a cabin class piston twin and had flown across the Atlantic and in European airspace, our nightmare vision of the future. Best of all, he still got a kick out of flying ANYTHING, even a 172. It was apparent: He was genuinely one of us, only smarter and more talented. But just like that long-gone $16,000 Cessna of the 1970s, what Boyer offered may be today’s wishful thinking, a new standard not now exactly repeatable.
Why? Despite sparking better times with liability reform and so much more, Boyer’s tenure was boosted as well by the resurgent 1990s. The economy rebounded and GA blossomed again. That’s gone for now. I hope the AOPA trustees can pull off another miracle, but times have changed. It’s a new world regardless of how talented the next new hire.
On the bright side: At either AOPA or EAA, I doubt member and media concerns will go unheeded. That critique represents a roadmap for the future. But neither public nor pundit has to filter their wish list through the brutal sieve of today’s operating economics, Washington budget politics or other realities. Association managements must do so, but – Catch 22 — that doesn’t get them off the hook.
To ignore honest, concerned feedback would mean chalking up these leadership issues to today’s malaise and settling for “the best we can do.” No one wants that.
But an EAA/AOPA merger? For now, I say this: Don’t take predictably difficult, even era-ending transitions as justification for “simple solutions.” That’s too easy.
All should realize that each organization does what it does better than anyone else. At the same time, each has been demonstrably weaker in what the other does best. Let’s not dilute their individual strengths. We need them. Thus, we need both of them.
© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved