Around the Airport

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A KICK ASS, LEAN, MEAN, CUTTING EDGE, FULL FRONTAL, AVIATION ORGASM


(This was mostly written within days of Hightower’s exit.  I played around with it for a while but now I just want it off my computer.  In fact, I'm even tired of looking for all the typos.  Feel free to email me if you find one, or twenty.  If I have left out things you think should be in here, things that grind your gears, or ways EAA has ticked you off, it doesn’t mean I don’t agree.  It also doesn’t mean I do.  All it really indicates is the lack of hours in a day.)

EAA has a problem.  Their President is gone, the members and vendors are not happy, and the majority of the remaining management lacks an understanding of what EAA is.  As bad as that may seem though, these issues are not the problem; they are the symptoms of an often fatal non-profit illness known as Acute Spinal Culturitis.  Put simply, EAA has a culture problem.
Is there a cure for such an illness?  Yes, there is.  Unfortunately, the treatment has to be perfect and it must be administered with precise timing.  Mind you, entire nations have disappeared due to such problems. So where do we start?  Figuring out what EAA is would be the logical first step. 
What is EAA?  It may not be what you think.  Although a large percentage of members believe the organization is about homebuilding, if truth be told much of what EAA is, or was, was an organization founded to promote freedom; freedom to build your own plane and the freedom to fly it.  Today’s board would do well to remember that.  There can be no more selling out to anyone who wants to take that away; anyone.  Secure the freedom to do those two things, make them both easier, and you will have secured a future for the organization.

“The Spirit of Aviation”, is what EAA has chosen for a tag line (motto, whatever) and quite honestly, that is a great statement.  The spirit of aviation is what EAA has been in the past and what it needs to be again if it wants to survive.  This also means that a percentage of the membership needs to learn the same lesson.
It is time for homebuilders to stop perpetuating the notion that EAA is and should only be about homebuilts.  I have deep respect for those who build and fly their own planes.  Yet with that in mind, I have to say it is time for them to stop acting as if their parents sailed to America on the Mayflower and because of that they should be given the city of New York.  This is such a silly notion, that my reaction now is one of laughter.

Yes, homebuilding is the EAA mascot for a reason.  I also understand that it doesn’t help when you’re treated as a second hand member at your own event.  But, it is time to quit flogging the horse. The time has come instead to take stock of what we have and face reality.

Homebuilders represent what EAA was when it was founded and they represent the same to this day.  They didn’t leave EAA, EAA left them.  But that does not mean that EAA should close down everything except the Sport Air Workshops in order to express that they are sorry they moved away from their founding ideals.

Were EAA to be what some homebuilders want, it would produce a high budget publication for a readership of less than 5000 so that 100 of them could read once a month what they could have found online in three minutes and printed at their computers for less.  EAA is not and never was a technical manual on how to build a plane.  It was the Spirit of Aviation.  Obviously, everyone knows there were always how to articles in Sport Aviation.  But those articles applied and appealed to other areas which were also building steam; vintage and warbirds were soon followed by ultra-lights and more.  Was EAA ever an experimentals only group?  Perhaps there was a moment, similar to that cosmic fraction of time when time as we know it began, but it is clear that EAA rapidly became much more than that to a large cross section of aviation and that is what it has been ever since.

Ultimately, we are all in this together and it would be nice for everyone, including homebuilders, to quit implying they are the most important part of EAA.  It would also be nice if homebuilders weren’t continually insulted and pushed aside.  The moment has come to figure out what has to be done to save this ship and expect everyone to participate in the cure.  It may not taste great going down but in the end we’ll all be better off if we can act like big boys and girls and take our medicine.  A healthy EAA is the goal.
To begin with, an understanding is needed.  EAA should state that it will be the world’s premier organization for homebuilding and that the spirit of aviation which makes it so will also be applied to all areas of aviation considered “the sport of aviation”.  Homebuilders need to accept that the only way homebuilding stands a chance of survival is to have an organization full of members who understand what it takes to keep aviation alive and flying machines in the air.  In some form or fashion, anyone who flies or maintains a vintage aircraft, warbird, ultra-light (that’s what I call them), racing plane, homebuilt, rotorcraft, and even a Piper Cherokee in today’s world is trying to do the same thing; keep the freedom of flight alive and the planes in the air.  Every single one of us has something to learn from the others and we are stronger together. Yet, before we move on, there’s an additional point about our groups I would like to discuss.  It is about remembering “who brung you to the party”.

How many of you have heard the statement “EAA is so much more than just homebuilding”?  Heck, I pretty much just said it myself.  There is a difference though in knowing it and hearing it spoken the way we’ve all heard it.  And, I really do not want to hear it again from EAA.  Yes, as I just described, we get it, EAA comprises much more than homebuilding.  But let’s remember the rule of foundations; as long as you build a good one, the things built on top will stand.

The freedom to build and fly is the foundation of EAA and yet we must not forget that in recent years some folks in management actually took the side of the FAA to make it harder to build and certify experimentals.  Oshkosh employees even went so far as to criticize members for daring to challenge them on it.  EAA may get some members back on board but this is something they will never forget.  In fact, if it were up to me, my first act to start EAA back on track would be to lop the proverbial heads off anyone who played a part in this; janitors to board members.  If EAA were a country, these people would be hanged for treason and I hope the members make note some of these people are still with EAA management.  For those of you in Oshkosh who participated in this, let me suggest the next time you want to play “my little lobbyist”, make sure you remember who is paying your way.

OK, now that we have discussed the major issues from both sides, it’s time for the two groups to start finding solutions several issues.  Here is a suggestion for the makeup of the board.

The current board of directors has to understand that they will be answering to the members.  To insure this happens, an advisory board with veto power, elected through mail-in ballots, should be created.  These people would serve as the conscience and soul of the group and would have the power to vote up or down the  primary board’s choice for president, that person’s pay, when or if he or she gets any bonus, and any major initiative.  EAA has had no accountability to its members for some time now and this would put an end to it.  Small and daily operational details would be out of the bounds of this board.  If this were deemed completely unacceptable, then a second option would be to have a third of the board elected by mail in ballots included in Sport Aviation.  All initiatives should then require a ¾ or greater majority vote of the board for approval.

Next, the members need a reality check.  EAA is an airshow and a magazine.  Deny it all you want but that is the truth.  You as members are the soul.  That said, for a soul to interact with the world it has to have a body of sorts that allows it to be seen.  Airventure is that body.  Without it, you are nothing more than someone who pays for an average magazine.   Airventure is yours and you should be proud of it.  Although the management forgot this aspect of Airventure, you have made your voices heard, I believe some people have listened, and now it is time for you to show your cautious support.

A good way to start supporting “Oshkosh” starts with learning the economics of such an event.  I agree it is nice you flew your plane to Oshkosh but please do not expect to get in free when you get there.  If you believe you should be getting in free of charge, then EAA, your accounting teacher, and your parents have at some point done you a great disservice.  These events cost great amounts of money to operate and when you go you should be going with the understanding that although your being there adds greatly to the event, you presence also generates an expense which you are willing to incur.  How much you should pay to get in can be left up for debate but you should expect to pay.

Perhaps the best way to describe my stance on attendance is to liken it to showing up for a pitch in dinner.  If you feel the event is worthy of your time, then you bring something to the party that makes up for or covers your attendance.  If you don’t feel it is worthy, you stay home and work in the yard instead.  And, if you still need something to make it easier, just remember that the more members who fly in, the more obvious it is that America is still the king of aviation and that your group EAA, hosts the pinnacle of aviation events.  Therefore, if you are attending this event and you are not proud, management isn’t doing its job or you are being a miserable grouch, or more likely both.

Let’s review:
EAA is about the freedom to build and fly, the board should agree to answer to members, and members must understand Airventure cost a great deal of money to operate.  Now we need to rebuild the organization.  Where to start?

Culture:
As I mentioned earlier, EAA has a culture problem.  A museum that drains funds, a magazine that is poorly executed, a convention that has lost its way, and management that doesn’t listen are nothing more than symptoms of this all too common non-profit disease.  But how exactly does an organization lose its culture?

Easily, one could argue this issue surrounds Airventure.  The show is after all what EAA has become, that and a magazine.  Although the organization may have many tentacles, when members discuss it they are almost always discussing one of two things, Airventure and the magazine “Sport Aviation”.  It is also safe to say members have legitimate issues with both.  Through the years the culture of EAA moved from membership to attendance, articles to readership, pilots to free rides, and souls to management.  Everywhere you look within the organization, the culture has shifted from people to numbers and yet I feel sure in stating that I have never met an integer with a heartbeat.


As Airventure became the focus, Oshkosh became the focus. Entrenchment relative to the caste system followed and soon EAA was building monuments to itself.  Museums, lodges, and ineffective programs which fed off a growing figure of free rides instead of pilots, drove a surge in EAA much like packaged mortgages and derivatives drove the false real estate boom.  Unfortunately, members fell for it and in so doing so they share part of the blame.

So how does EAA get back on track?  First EAA and the members need to revisit, once again, what EAA was originally about and what it once accomplished.

Early on, EAA was not purely about homebuilding but instead about owning and flying a plane you had built; there is a difference.  It was about Freedom.  It was an attempt to bring like minded people together to revive the glory days of aviation lost when the government first decided aircraft would have to be certified.  Back then the aviation industry was generating hundreds of new aircraft designs per year.  A few decades later it was not.  Standing up for people who wanted to build and fly airplanes was the right thing to do at the right time.  And soon thereafter, homebuilders were once again cranking out hundreds of new aircraft designs per year.  This success was proof that if you set people free to build and fly, advancement follows.  It was so successful in fact, certified aviation was left to play catch up and look to experimentals for ideas.  Then, as though it never happened, modern EAA stewardship threw it away.  This must be fixed, and it must not ever be allowed to happen again.


A Mission Statement:
EAA needs a new mission statement that reaffirms its commitment to its members and the freedom of homebuilding and flight they once enjoyed.  There will be a vicious battle waged over the wording of this throughout social media and local fly-ins but it needs to be done.  Ultimately, the shorter it is the better.  Something like this would be great:  EAA is the Spirit of Aviation and therefore committed to its members and the freedom of flight.  Looking to our roots in homebuilding, we will faithfully strive to reduce the burden of regulations on the sport of aviation while promoting our passion to the masses.  An improving force on society, aviation makes the world a better place, offers education from science to common sense, and connects us to each other.  In our eyes our members are equals and our mission is clear;  To work for and defend those who build in their garage, seek to rescue aviation history, and fight to preserve our place in the sky, for when they are safe so is aviation.

In this mission statement resides all the points that are critical to getting EAA back on track.  EAA IS COMMITTED TO ITS MEMBERS and the freedom to build and fly your own airplane, EAA’s homebuilding heritage, putting the FAA on notice we will no longer roll over to their scurrilous whims, promoting aviation, seeing aviation as a betterment to society, as aviators we are one, and when you protect the front lines of aviation, the grass roots level, aviation as a whole is secured.   This is what EAA was meant to be and this is what it needs to be once again.

The Logo
In this time of cleansing, a new logo for the organization would be appropriate.  Whatever it is and no matter who creates it, it must not look like a jet (whose idea was that?), and it must convey flight.  While we’re at it, we also need to decide what to do with the name Airventure.  Nobody uses it.

Yes, I know EAA was trying to solve some legal issues by staking claim to an official name for the event but it just isn’t working.  EAA should suck it up and go back to using Oshkosh as the name of the event.  On top of the obvious things there would be another positive to getting rid of it.  The move would lower the cost of everything from printing to t-shirt embroidering.  Why?  Everyone knows “Oshkosh” and nobody knows “Airventure” and because of this EAA has to pay to put both words on everything in order to insure people understand where it came from.  Furthermore, doing away with Airventure would allow the local community to get back in the game of merchandising.  A half-way point solution to this issue would be a name reversal.  Make it Oshkosh Airventure instead of the Airventure Oshkosh it is now.


If you need a great example of how silly it was to rename Oshkosh “Airventure”, all you need is to hear is one name, “STURGIS”.  Who, in their right mind, would take something so universally known as STURGIS, and rename it “CYCLEVENTURE”.  I can hear it now, “Hey Bob do you want to ride to Cycleventure with us”?  Bob would then say, “Cycleventure?  Screw that, I’m going to Sturgis”.  The attempted renaming of Oshkosh to “Airventure” is clearly one of the most ridiculous things ever to come out of EAA management and “OSHKOSH” has suffered because of it.  Because of that, from here on out I will no longer refer to anything but Oshkosh.  (Thanks to my brother for this perfectly relative, simple, and striking example)

The Museum
The museum should be restructured.  I understand wanting a monument to EAA but I would prefer that monument be leadership in the arena of sport aviation rather than a big facility that is a drain on resources.  When you consider EAA is an organization about flying, it seems rather strange it would take so many wonderful planes and permanently ground them.  This is at odds with everything the group should be.  Therefore it is time to re-organize the museum.

EAA should start by restructuring its primary museum facility to include only historical homebuilts and experimentals.  This isn’t as narrowly focused as it seems.  The museum could include a vintage aircraft with a clear pedigree in homebuilding.  One such warbird example is the prototype P-51.  That machine is clearly an experimental and its original construction was in many ways a group effort in homebuilding.

A restructuring should also include a change to exhibits that drive home the freedom homebuilding offers, the skill involved in building these aircraft, and some of the great advancements in aviation that came from homebuilders.  As for all other aircraft, they should be subject to one of two outcomes.  Either they would be sold at auction to people who intend to put them back into the air, or any non-experimental or non- prototype aircraft remaining would be maintained in airworthy condition in order to offer flight experiences to the public.  The later would also allow for small flight displays throughout the year at Pioneer Airport.

The proceeds from the sale of the warbirds and surplus antiques in EAA’s museum would go to a newly established fund that would be used to maintain the museum and only the museum.  As for warbird representation, EAA could fill that need and increase museum traffic by displaying a rotation of different warbirds.  These aircraft, on loan from members, would also serve to generate return attendance by marketing the warbird of the month.

Now, what about Pioneer Airport?  Have you ever wondered whose it is and what it is?  Another long standing source of head scratching is the way it is used; or isn’t.  Often included in EAA materials as being part of the museum complex, one has to wonder why they have such a hard time effectively utilizing it.  One thing is for sure, on any given day, EAA has far more antiques than its resources can handle and it is time for a complete review of donation acceptance policies.  Fortunately, a quick look at the “donations” page of their website appears to imply they already realize this.  More on Pioneer in a minute.


The Airshow:
_______ (the name I said I would no longer use), or as everyone on planet Earth calls it, “Oshkosh”, needs help.  This primary source of revenue for EAA best exemplifies the cultural problems within the organization.  Fortunately, the event has one thing going for it, the people.  As aviators and enthusiasts, when we come together in Wisconsin, we are one.  We are equals.  We all love the feeling aviation gives us and we all come together to speak the language; a language EAA often seems to have forgotten.

Historically, every form of aviation enthusiast, from Hollywood star to garage builder knew they could come to Oshkosh and, despite their background, be treated and seen as nothing more than an aviator.  Yet somewhere through the years, EAA mgt fell for the notion of turning the place into a Hollywood side-show.  It was also highly believed great numbers of pilots and citizens were coming to Oshkosh to see these “stars” and thus improving the night time attendance.  I was told this by a high ranking executive and in some ways he was right.  EAA was forever lacking anything that would keep people around after 5PM.


Oshkosh attendees had been hungry for night time entertainment for ages, sometimes literally due to a lack of open food vendors.  Anything after hours would have improved evening attendance.  Unfortunately, the first time people stayed around for a concert or comedy show, EAA decided it had found a new formula for improving the event.  In no time flat, everything related to Oshkosh took on a new slant; Come see George Lucas promote his movie; while you’re here take a look at some planes.  Each consecutive year, more stars were headlined and enthusiasts were ruffled.   When people started saying “I went to a Foreigner concert and a fly-in broke out”, you knew it had gone too far.  Through its actions, EAA was saying “We are not all equal.  These people are important and you should come see them,” and members grew tired of it.  Don’t get me wrong; non-aviation entertainment isn’t bad.  There’s a point though where it has just gone too far.

Corporate sponsors.  Now there’s a subject that gets members going.  This is another unfortunate subject.  Both sides have screwed the pooch on this one.

It seems you can’t talk to people at Oshkosh these days without someone getting worked up over the corporate sponsors.  Again, somehow EAA has taken a positive and made it a negative.  Sadly, I believe this is largely due to the makeup of the board of directors.  Corporate types rarely understand grass roots types and there lies the root of so many problems.

Board members assume the average member understands the great level of funding required to host Oshkosh (although they never tell the members anything) and so they go guns blaring to promote every corporation willing to send money EAA’s way.  The board sees it as basic bean counting and so they think it will earn them a pat on the back.  Then, believing they did a really great job, they trumpet the names of any corporations footing part of the bill.  Yet to members and volunteers, Oshkosh is a way of life and the official message comes across as a sellout marinated in rotten fish.  A long time Oshkosh attendee sees the girlfriend of a Ford executive driving a brand new car where they as long time patrons are not allowed to walk and they want to track someone down to spit in their face.  Only EAA could get hundreds of thousands of dollars to help keep an organization alive and end up pissing the members off because of it.   Geez, it isn’t that hard guys.

On the other hand, many members just don’t get it.  Some of them feel as though they should be showered in confetti upon their arrival, others think everything should be free, and many get upset over restrictions that are clearly mandated by the FAA.  As members, even as an attendee, you have a job.  That job is to know what it takes to put on such an event.  If you don’t, then you are clearly missing part of the magic.  Yet, I must also again point out EAA has never done anything to explain this to members.

Now that we’ve covered the increase in Hollywood types and corporate sponsors, let’s discuss another group of people; small business people. They too once came to Oshkosh as one of us.  They came to share their vision of aviation and to market their products to people who spoke their language.  Unfortunately, with an abundance of these vendors EAA was not happy with the bottom line.  Directors, being people whose incomes were determined by stock values instead of good business practices, pushed for changes they could understand; do whatever it takes to get a small increase in the bottom line.


Soon, Fortune 500 companies with no connection to aviation were buying the best spots on the grounds and rubbing elbows with management.  With the extra money and the growing list of high roller contacts EAA insiders began to collect, their desire for more followed.  And from there it wasn’t long until legendary aviation designers, retailers, artists, and homebuilt start ups began to disappear from the pavilions.  This was followed by their disappearance from the grounds altogether.  Like all other boom and busts, this binge of corporate style management culminated with a disaster.  Going over the cliff, the fatal blow was to Oshkosh culture; the notion of two classes of aviation; those who can buy a better experience and those who cannot.  The Chalets; need I say more?

Sure, it would be easy to put this all on Hightower’s shoulders.  But let’s face it, the board did not say NO.  Yes, I understand the board’s job is not to run the organization, but it is there to steer it.  That is why they are called the “Board of DIRECTORS”.  And deep down, we all know they thought these were great ideas.  That is who they are.  That is where they come from.  And, that is where they took us.  Therefore, the membership should put them all on notice and realize Hightower’s departure will not automatically fix all ills.  Like a microcosm of our country, they did what they wanted until you became just mad enough to speak out, then they miraculously shape shifted just far enough in your direction to get you to shut up.  Now let’s see if they were sincere.

As for the show itself, one debate that has been going on behind closed doors at EAA for years is the amount of focus that should be placed on the airshow segment of the event.  Some have wanted to do away with it all together while others wanted more focus placed upon it.  Myself, from what I have learned about event history, I know that if you were to get rid of it, the event would die.  Similar to the soundtrack of a movie, the airshow must be there for Oshkosh to have any meaning.  Yet, the more emphasis you place upon the airshow the farther the event moves from being about members and the closer it comes to being the typical walk-in public based events so many of us have learned to avoid.  You also risk the show masking what would otherwise be an obvious lack of activity.

With these things in mind, I believe the airshow already has more than enough focus placed upon it.  Aviators don’t go to Oshkosh to watch an airshow.  Sure, every pilot will at some point watch part of the show for whatever reason, but the far greater percentage of true aviator attendees are doing something else when the airshow is in progress.  If management doesn’t know this, they do not know their membership.

Do you remember when all kinds of proposed homebuilts were sold as plans out of airplanes on the flight line?  No?  Well, that is something else that went the way of the bottom line.  In order to sell or offer anything other than conversation at Oshkosh, you have two choices; buy a pricey vendor plot, outside or in, or you can be a well connected crony and do business how you please.  Some may try to argue this but for many years I have made a point to photograph all the insiders who were allowed to “bend” the rules smaller fish could not.

Ultimately though, the real point about vendors is the level to which their Oshkosh attendance fees have raised and the level to which the options for startup grass roots designers and businesses people have sunk.  There’s a reason the homebuilt market is often referred to as “Van’s” and a large part of that is due to the way the little guy has been removed from Oshkosh.  And yet amazingly, EAA/Oshkosh’s support of homebuilts got so bad in recent years, Richard VanGrunsven himself played a part in the start up of a new organization intended to offer what EAA was not; support for Kit Manufacturers.


And with all that said, there are so many things the average EAA member still doesn’t know about Oshkosh.  For example, the accounting for Oshkosh never has been truly separated out from the rest of the organization.  EAA says they can tell you how much Oshkosh brings in, but in reality it’s difficult to know for sure.  So many lines of the spreadsheet are blurred by “what is EAA” and “what is Oshkosh” that it might be a cause of serious concern were anyone to ever really know the truth.  Even worse, it could potentially reveal vanishing funds, missed opportunities, and almost surely some exaggerations that are relied upon to attract vendors.  Will we ever know?  Does the “board of the reborn” really care?  We’ll know soon enough.

Even more perplexing is the use of Pioneer Airport for helicopter rides and parking blimps during Oshkosh.  On site is one of the greatest venues in the US for displaying vintage aircraft and for the entire week of Oshkosh it is used only for helicopter rides and mooring blimps.  This is incredibly short sighted and I’m sure it is due to the desire to generate revenue with helicopter rides.  Yet of all things, a helicopter does not need an entire flying field from which to operate.  What gives?  I asked around and here is what I was told by several people.

“IMPOSSIBLE”.  Not only was I told it was impossible to hold anything at Pioneer during Oshkosh, I was told that the FAA would absolutely not allow it due to conflicts with other aviation patterns during the event.  There were also several people who expressed doubt over the ability of pilots to operate in and out of Pioneer safely.  Ultimately, it seemed such a forgone conclusion it almost surely is an opportunity missed.   Here’s my solution.


On one night of Oshkosh, when the field closes to inbound traffic, how about we create a half-hour window of airspace that is only open to antiques?  Then, instead of having the vintage dinner over at the shelter building far away from everything, let’s hold it at Pioneer.  Pilots interested in flying to Pioneer can drop their name in a hat, and then 25 of them, with no duplicates of type/model allowed, will be pulled out.  Additionally, the folks at Vintage could give five other slots to planes they believe to be of great significance historically.  So, when the field closes, just before sunset, 30 vintage aircraft would lift off from Oshkosh and reposition to Pioneer.

What a great thing this would be.  Non-pilot attendees would get a chance to see vintage planes operating from a “vintage field”; more people would be drawn to the museum complex side of things, and the vintage group could have their dinner among a truly vintage setting (all pilots and enthusiasts welcome).  I can find no reason what so ever why this would not work and no reason anyone wouldn’t want it to.  Ultimately though, one thing is for sure, Pioneer is greatly under-utilized and this would be a way to give it some much needed marketing.  The next evening, after the primary field closes, another small window would be left open for the vintage planes to return to the spots they had left vacant.  While they were gone, their spots would have been marked by signs in the ground that read “Come see this plane in its environment, Pioneer Airport”.

Before moving on from the subject of Oshkosh, I feel it is critical to discuss one other aspect of the show that most do not realize.  Oshkosh is largely, by the textbook definition, unorganized.  It is also one of the best examples of what can be accomplished when you leave folks to do their jobs and don’t micro-manage.  Of course it also is a great example of what happens when management decides they know better.  What am I talking about?

Well, forever and a day Oshkosh has been run by volunteers.  And by run, I mean RUN by volunteers.  Each area or aspect of the show has its own team of volunteers who work and have worked that area for ages.  Each area also has its proverbial team leader(s) that stands in for the group during planning sessions and meetings.  Yet, planning is a little stiff of a term.  Each area works to perfect and improve its operation, and or services, and then they all get together to sort out any technicalities that may have arisen due to their ongoing efforts.  In the way of an ecosystem, depending on demand, weather, the economy, and so much more, one area may bloom one year and die back in the next.  And like an ecosystem, it all works great until you screw with it.  That’s what happened under the last administration.  Management thought it knew better and a significant amount of issues which previously had not existed came to be.  Government, so to speak, got involved.  Keep that in mind the next time you decide to complain about a volunteer.

Finally, early on I mentioned how I believe when you attend Oshkosh, you are coming to contribute to the event more than you are coming to see it.  Yet, I also fully understand that for this mentality to persist, the management of Oshkosh has to host the event with this in mind.  In recent years though, Oshkosh became more about filling the coffers of the organization and took on the feel of “you should want to come support us”.  I sincerely hope the leaders of the organization can figure out a way to understand this; they must become part of the community instead of expecting the community to come to it.


Magazine
Sport Aviation is largely accepted as the face of EAA.  Unfortunately the publication no longer represents the organization.  When was the last time EAA ran a multi-page article on someone who scraped together a homebuilt for under $5000?  Are these planes not pretty enough?  Could it be due to the fact there are no electronics in these machines that would allow full page coincidental advertisements to be sold?  Who knows?  What I do know though is that there are quite a few machines out there that have actually been bought or put together for $5000 and many more of them for under $10,000.

Without articles on the easiest (least expensive) entry points to aviation, and a growing list of advertisements and articles unrelated to that core, many opportunities to support the foundation of the organization are being missed.  Sport Aviation must return to its roots and begin once again to cover the spirit of aviation, not just Oshkosh.  EAA spends entirely too much time and money on the publication to allow it to be nothing more than a high dollar wish book.  Instead, it should instead be a possibilities book.  Young adults must be able to look at Sport Aviation, and think, “I could swing that”.

Another area in which the publication could begin to rebuild the culture of Sport Aviation would be to use it to explain and re-affirm the partnerships that exist with organizations such as Vintage and Warbirds.  Few people know that these groups lie outside the realm of EAA but instead work as partners from an agreement signed back in 1989.  This relationship could be explained and then developed.

All parties involved would start by agreeing to support the spirit of aviation even if it is outside their groups.  Their marketing efforts would likewise be coordinated to promote the idea of the spirit of aviation.  Furthermore, since each area needs to be strong, each group would agree to the principle of one for all and all for one.  Therefore, when one group has an issue, it’s everybody’s issue.  As a way to display support for this coalition, a one or two page synopsis of the latest Vintage, Warbirds, and Experimenter (from online) magazines would be included in Sport Aviation along with any issues their groups are facing.  We’re in this together; let’s act like it.



EAA President:
Step one:  Get rid of the notion of a corporate president.
EAA has no need for a “corporate president”.  Although the board of directors may disagree with me on the subject, I am 100% sure about this.  What EAA needs as a president is a person who is first and foremost, passionate about aviation.  If they are this plus intelligent, have the ability to walk and talk aviation, and meet the next bullet points, they are qualified.
  • Have been successful at running a business of less than 25 employees
  • Has organized large successful events
  • Has the demonstrable ability to find and surround themselves with the brightest minds, not ass-kissers, available.
  • Owns and has owned for at least the last three years a plane of 180HP or less.
  • Has flown at least 30 hours in that plane each year for the last three years.
  • Works on his or her own plane whenever possible.
  • If they can be taken to a restaurant where a server is paid to “accidentally” spill water on them and they sincerely laugh it off
  • If they are a genuinely nice person and people at their old job would miss them.
  • Thinks big and brave
Find a person like this and EAA will thrive.

Step two:
Take as much time as possible to find this person.  You only have one shot at this.
Step three:
Develop and publish, in all EAA publications, a criteria set which would allow members to judge the success of the next president.  Essentially, define what will be considered successful.  Then, if you want to take it step further, let members vote up or down, line by line, on these items and even ask for their input.  Can you imagine members being allowed to determine how the President is judged?  It would certainly offer many more opportunities to discover what members want.
Politically:
Move back to being the lobby for our rights as originally envisioned under the amateur built aircraft rules.  Do not accept the notion of our sport being dumped into categories which require us to conform to commercially built aircraft standards and practices. We seem to be approaching a day when we will have to submit our ideas, 337’s, and plans for certification and accept issuances of denial for projects that haven't been tested to commercial standards. This path is unacceptable.  It is time to put the FAA back into a position of advisor, rather than commander, and to do that we must have at the top, not politicians, but backbones of steel.  We must be strong.

A great way to develop this strength would be to build a coalition of organizations facing many of the same issues as aviation.  Boating, automotive, motorcycle, 2nd Amendment, and even lawn care groups all know the same issues we face.  They, like us, are continually attacked from all angles by bureaucrats who wish to do to them what they wish to do to us; put us out of business.  Working together we would have more power and more resources with which to fight back.

EAA must also get its head screwed on straight when it comes to safety.  Safety does not equal zero risk and risk does not equate to a lack of safety.

337’s
The time has come for everyone to realize, accept, and embrace the cheapest avenue into aviation is used airplanes.  Why our aviation groups continue to ignore this perplexes me but I have a few ideas.  There’s the fact advertising revenues don’t exist for old airplanes.  And of course, there is the undeniable truth that our aviation leaders have fallen for the notion newer planes are safer.  Another possibility is they so badly want a savior, in their eagerness to identify and report on its arrival, they are missing the idea it may have already arrived as abundant and cheap used aircraft.  Whatever the case, if we are going to connect new aviators with cheap airplanes, we must deal with the 337 mess.

There’s no doubt in my mind the FAA has an undeclared initiative to ground older airplanes through the use of red tape.  Their reasons for this though are conceived in ignorance and therefore unacceptable.  If our aviation community was forced to pick one thing it could do to give aviation a boost, anyone who chose anything but fixing the 337 mess could be guaranteed a mindless boob.  There is no shortage of inexpensive airplanes; there is a lack of avenues to easily repair and retrofit them with newer and better equipment.  Get this mess straightened out and you would immediately give a shot to the bottom line of component manufacturers, mechanics, engine shops, flight schools, and everything else associated with operating classic aircraft.  There is no reason for having to beg the FAA for 337’s and a fix is needed.

Note: Part 23 Certification rewrites will never accomplish for aviation what a 337 fix would do.

Safety (Italics indicate something written in the language of government):

One of the first and most difficult jobs of EAA’s new President should be to set the record straight with both the FAA and the aviation community.  In a moment of clarity with an eye toward reality, the new president should state that EAA will no long participate in the folly of striving for unobtainable increases in safety.  The notion any appreciable increase in the safety of aviation can be obtained without unreasonable expense or the removal of that which gives aviation its soul is ludicrous under current FAA methods.   Therefore, under new leadership, EAA should state it will continue to support existing and accepted safe practices, and nothing more, unless a demonstrable and quantifiable 15% or greater improvement in the level of safety can be show be shown to exist, with an expense of one percent or less, of the value of any airplane in which it would be deployed, and in which it would not remove the pilot from the controls or restrict his/her freedom of flight.  At the time such an improvement exists, EAA will fully support it only as a voluntary option.  Until that point, all FAA proposed safety goals or programs will be viewed as nothing more than political photo ops, thus triggering full EAA opposition.  The participants of aviation, both personal and business, have suffered far too long from the uncertainty and threat of pipe dreams and the time has come to accept reality.  Aviation is safe.
But wait, what’s so great about safety anyway?  While aviation wrings its collective hands over the lack of young entrants to the sport, kids everywhere are taking up sports like those seen in the X-games; games that routinely leave people wounded and maimed.  People fill stadiums to watch the professionals in these sports risk their lives.  Why do you think the Red Bull Races were such a success?  How many people do you think wet their pants with excitement when the pilot landed safely back at the airport?  None; that’s how many.  Yet how many people thrilled at the planes as they raced through the pylons and cheated death?


Now, I’m not saying I want people dying in airplanes.   What I am saying though is this; there are no vibrant and free pursuits without occasional death and injury.  That may completely shock your senses but take a minute, think it through, and let’s place it at its most basic level.  If 1,000,000 people are actively flying, there are going to be more deaths and injuries than if only 200,000 people are.  A more active sport is, quite simply, going to produce more broken bones.  Less broken bones, the FAA’s stated primary goal, is therefore a sure sign of an inactive or dying sport.  Ultimately, if you want aviation is to grow and thrive, safety cannot be your number one focus.  Or, in the words of the FAA, Safety Kills (aviation).


Marketing
Let’s face it, the marketing for aviation sucks.  It is horrible.  NO, it’s worse than horrible; it’s ghastly.  The leaders of our sport have taken one of the most exciting things on the planet and convinced people it sucks so badly nobody wants to do it anymore.  I’ve already mentioned the BS of safety, but what about all the doom and gloom, avgas this, shrinking population that, and all the woe is me garbage?  Spend some damn money and hire real advertising and marketing professionals.  If nothing else, somebody grab the damn phone and call up Red Bull, anyone involved with The Running of the Bulls, and even a freaking truck stop with a mechanical bull.  I don’t care, just quit doing everything in your power to make this incredible sport seem bland and outdated.  Oh man, this makes my blood boil.

If I could have every penny spent on Young Eagles, that lodge thing at Oshkosh, and some of the other silly feel good programs, I could pay some decent marketing and advertising professionals to develop, produce, and run an advertising campaign that would have people lining up for lessons.  But no, our leaders keep trying the same things in hopes they’ll eventually work.  Or maybe they just want to hire their friends?

If you want kids in aviation, place ads in social media outlets that imply girls think pilots are “hot” and that boys will fall in love with any girl self-confident enough to fly a plane.  Kids also covet freedom so give it to them with aviation.  I can see a kid sitting by the window looking out at a plane as it flies by.  The headline would say “You may be grounded, but not for long”.  To grab the middle age groups, show them how aviation will make them young again by setting them free.  And as for the seniors, appeal to the importance of passing on knowledge by taking their grandkids for a flight.  “Be a kid again; fill a young person’s mind with your soul”.  Of course, these are the most basic of advertisement spots.  Today, there are so many options.  The ideas are endless.  They just aren’t anywhere near aviation.

For all potential pilots as a group, we need to appeal to the things that make aviation great; what it is about flight that stirs the soul and that which makes it symbolic of the America we all miss and love.  If you want a perfect example, look to the Dodge Super Bowl commercial “And God Made a Farmer”.  The commercial is a fantastic example of what aviation needs; an appeal to the soul.  But, don’t feel bad, even Dodge and their agency got things wrong.  Fortunately, someone wrote a very concise “how to do it right” patch for such a campaign.  Were aviation to follow the steps in this link, it would be off to a great start.

Put bluntly, we need to be doing everything in our power to mold EAA into, and market it as, A KICK ASS, LEAN, MEAN, CUTTING EDGE, FULL FRONTAL, AVIATION ORGASM. Anything less and it continues to die.

For your consideration:
Please note there are so many facets to EAA that it would be impossible to cover everything of concern.  Additionally, each facet of EAA has its own list of things that need to be addressed.  Therefore, I know some of you may read this piece and grumble that I left something out.  And you’re right, I have left out many things in hopes of getting this small enough for people to read and use it as a jumping off point for conversation and thought.  I certainly have not covered everything and I clearly do not have all the answers.  But, I have tried to offer something.  Feel free to agree or disagree.

6 comments:

Greg C. said...

Right on, Rich!
This is excellent.

Anonymous said...

Helluva manifesto and dead-on. No arguments from this quarter.

budd d.

Gene LeJeune said...

EAA left me over ten years ago. You have put into words the feelings and reasons I have not renewed my membership. I currently fly an ancient Cherokee 180 with a 4 didget serial number.

I have first hand experience with the 337 issue in trying to update things which have little to do with airworthiness but would make the aircraft safer.

Gene LeJeune

Netpackrat said...

I will re-join the EAA when they return all the land they stole, and not one instant before.

Charlie Branch said...

As the former steward of a 1946 Aeronca Champ, I concur with amending the "337 mess" to allow use of parts more recently manufactured as long as they meet requirements for use on aircraft of similar characteristics. For example, extend the STC for the Cleveland 199-46 disc brake and wheel conversion kit for Cessna 120/140/172 to the Champ of similar power, construction and gross weight.
EAA should return to its "Experimental" and "Aircraft" roots, and bring "Oshkosh" back to celebrate the glory of flight.
It does seem that the Old Testament way of thinking (the spirit residing in the tabernacle, and with us) is easy to fall into, rather than the New Testament mode, which emphasizes that the spirit is in us, and the temple is just another building.
Thanks for this posting, from a member of the Coeur d'Alene Airport Association.

Ken Ibold said...

Once upon a time when I was recruited to work for EAA, I was very surprised to learn that 1) almost none of the headquarters staff are, in fact, pilots; 2) there is no employee flying club and 3) to join the group of employees volunteering to build an airplane in the museum shop (a Sonex at the time), you got to PAY EAA for the privilege.

This was pre-Hightower, by the way.