Sunday, November 13, 2011

Controlled Flight Into Terrain

If you’ve noticed a change in the magazines Sport Aviation and AOPA Pilot, then you are not alone. Do you remember Bill Murray’s character in the movie Ghost Busters? If so, then you likely remember the scene where he is trying to explain to the mayor just how bad things are about to get when he finally hits on something everyone can understand “…dogs and cats sleeping together”. Well, it seems the ghosts are loose and the streams are crossed.
Two years ago, if you and I had been hanging out and I had said, “Within two years, AOPA Pilot will be covering real aviation and Sport Aviation will be filled with articles about pressurized turbines, you would likely have laughed your ass off. Now though, a few of you are thinking “how did he know”.
Few organizations today do any long term planning. Having fallen into the trap of the instant gratification mentality of the internet generation, many non-profits have forgotten that although they have to be agile and open to change, there still has to be a goal, a destination at the end of a chart.  Without that, all you get are answers to yesterday’s problems. Welcome to AOPA Pilot and Sport Aviation.
Only a few years back, a writer at AOPA Pilot would have needed to work every angle to get a story about flying a biplane cross country green-lighted. Today, Dave Hirschman has free reign to write about flying anything. Two years ago, the pages were filled with turboprops, and cold unspoken advertorials. Today, Dave Hirschman routinely argues passionately with some other guy about whatever gets people worked up. So what gives? I suspect several things.
Not that long ago, AOPA was in the hot seat and this is what I imagine went down. Complaints about the wine club and the advertorial disguised as a magazine were reaching record levels; levels that could not be ignored. Then, just as AOPA was about to do some impeaching, somehow, an adviser got a call through to Craig to offer a solution. “Mr. Fuller, I think I have an idea to rescue your Presidency. What if we covered aviation in our magazine?” And, for whatever reason, Craig thought “You know, this crazy idea just might work”. A poll was taken, the results came back favorable, and Dave was given the go ahead to place real airplanes in AOPA Pilot. There’s just one problem; other magazines already do that.
Memberships; just as every drunk needs a moped, AOPA needs memberships. When General Aviation manufacturers had money to burn, they could buy as many articles in AOPA pilot as they wanted.  Faced with a choice, back then AOPA chose to drink the money and ignore the members.  This was an easy call because members, like voters, would swallow whatever they were fed. Now though, AOPA has a problem; GA Manufacturers are broke.
Trying desperately to make up with the members it ignored for those with bigger bank accounts, AOPA now finds itself doing some serious sucking up. I tell ya, it’s like an after school special; AOPA is the fair weather friend and we’re the not so attractive but reliable types that are easy to take advantage of. Unfortunately, there’s an issue with this too. We lowly membership types can no longer afford multiple magazine subscriptions.  Therefore, with AOPA Pilot starting to look like other magazines that cover real aviation, more substance will have to be added to the lobbying side of the operation if they are to retain subscribers, err, members.  Why? Because they have a new competitor; EAA.
Have you heard? Sport Aviation is moving away from grass roots. You haven't? Well yeah, there is new leadership at EAA and although Sport Aviation technically has an Executive Editor, other people in the building insist on playing that role too. Therefore, like a pinball, Sport Aviation is along for the ride in a game of executive bumpers. But maybe I am ahead of myself.
Some time ago, a new Executive Director was brought in to Sport Aviation in an effort to rebuild the heart of a dying magazine. That person, for all practical purposes, did just that. Then a new President came along. He, and perhaps along with a few others, had something different in mind.
Being a business person, and therefore someone who needs benchmarks to keep score and earn bonuses, he began making many changes to the organization behind the scenes. Expenses were cut and potential profits were identified. The magazine would play a large role in the later. But again, I am ahead of myself.
Do you know how a President of a non-profit like EAA is judged by its members? Historically, although you may not wish to admit it, it has been memberships. One of AOPA’s past Presidents, John Baker, is well known for reminding his employees of this fact. “We’re not in the aviation business.  We’re in the membership business”, he would say. And quite honestly, there is some truth to that. The question arises though, for what purpose are you in the membership business?
Now, understanding how a President is judged, put yourself in Rod Hightower’s shoes and find yourself a new batch of members with which to make your mark. Where would you look? What areas would you pursue? Do you have suggestions?
Well, this is how I think they now see it at HQ. They’ve had the homebuilders for years and they’re cheap. The vintage folks are the old timers who only want to talk about EAA’s past. And the warbird folks have run free for too long thus getting the best of everything while giving the least return. What does that leave EAA? The answer may frighten you but Sport Aviation has a new directive; focus on “The North-Forty”.
If you don't know what “The North-Forty” is, to regulars of Oshkosh, that’s Airventure to three or four of you, The North-Forty is the northernmost East to West parking area where modern flying machines, built on assembly lines, park. Fuel injection, turbo-chargers, aluminum, composites, glass panels, twin-engines, large N-numbers, and even jet fuel are likewise common to the area.
Now, if you know EAA, and you have a good feeling for what EAA is, then you likely see a problem. If Ferrari said it was going to focus on mass producing mid size, low performance, four door sedans for the broader American market, would you recognize that for the colossal mistake it was? Porsche tried something similar with the 924, and 914 before that, and it nearly killed the company. Why? Because that simply is not the business of Porsche. Likewise, the North-Forty is not what EAA does.
If you think I’m looking down on The North-Forty, think again. Those machines and their older brothers make up the majority of aviation. What they aren’t though is fitting material for Sport Aviation. If you don’t believe me, turn to page 25 of the November 2011 Sport Aviation. Look at that article and ask yourself if that piece belongs in that magazine. Does it feel right? No, of course not, its presence is a joke, and the fact the manufacturer has been around a hundred years does not make it appropriate. Furthermore, putting this nose-wart twenty pages from a full page add for the same manufacturer does not disguise what is going on here. Pay to print publishing has arrived, Sport Aviation is being rebuilt, and soon your beloved EAA magazine will be a mainstream aviation publication. What? You don’t believe me?
When I received this issue of Sport Aviation, I put it in my flight bag and took it to work. Over the next week, I showed the article to fellow pilots and asked them to guess what magazine I was holding. Amazingly, every single one of them, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, twelve total, made the same three guesses: AOPA Pilot, Flying, and Plane and Pilot.
If you pay close attention to the aviation publication industry, those results are not a good sign for Sport Aviation. But maybe you’re thinking that little experiment proves nothing. And you know what, it alone does not. But mark my words, that is what’s going on. Just look at their recent acquisition.
J. Mac McClellan has been a staple of the mainstream aviation publication industry (read boring) for a very long time. But, where was he before Sport Aviation? That’s right, Flying Magazine was his home and that is what he was hired to bring to EAA; Flying Magazine content. And why was he hired to bring Flying Magazine content to EAA? Because the North-Forty is the new largely unspoken vector for Sport Aviation. And why is the North-Forty the new direction? Because EAA is no longer in the aviation business, it is in the membership business.
Now folks, I’m going to say it again, this is a bad idea. Not only does this put EAA on a direct course with AOPA, a supposed new ally, it also has EAA trolling a segment of the industry in which it simply has no experience. It is not what EAA does. It is not what keeps EAA alive. And, if executives continue this pursuit, I believe it will be the ultimate downfall of the intent of EAA. I don’t care in how many issues of Sport Aviation, Vintage, IAC, or Warbirds, articles about PT-17’s appear. They will not disguise the fact that EAA is moving away from grass roots aviation and they will certainly not hide the fact who took us there.
As members of the Grass Roots segment of Aviation, we find ourselves in perilous times. Over-regulation, agencies such as the TSA, and a weak economy continue to swing at us with all they have. Yet that I can handle. It’s the thought of EAA and AOPA taking us down with the misuse of our money and trust that I cannot.

What other surprises are in store members?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dreams of My Feathers

Ever so often, a dream is so vivid I am compelled to write it down. My latest was, are you ready for this, about flying. Having recently reviewed my resume and all the experiences that go with it, apparently my mind has been working hard to put it all together as I sleep.
Take charter and 121 airline ops, airport management, tourism, and marketing experience, plus thousands of hours of general aviation flying, combine them into one position and you have only one option; a consultant for the expansion of aviation in China.
The dream started with Ginger and myself being approached by officials who were looking for someone with a broad background in aviation. Over dinner, we were told of aggressive plans to expand Chinese general aviation in five stages over five years; long term strategy, expansion of ATC and weather reporting infrastructure, airport location scouting and construction, aviation tourism development, and flight training were the stages. Then we were asked, “Are you interested?”
After of week of discussing what it would take for us to accept their offer, we met again with officials to negotiate details.
Our list was simple: we each make $300,000 per year tax free, free health care in any country, two homes (it’s a large country), full expense account, a budget for a world class museum and airshow (tourism development), and a fleet of aircraft for our exclusive use. We would need a CL-215T, C-46, OV-10, one Helio Courier on floats, matching T-38s, and a fully restored P-61. Additionally, a museum would be built at Lee Bottom and given a $500,000 million dollar starter budget for our team to work with while we are gone. With these items agreed to, we would rent out our house immediately and move to China for five years in an effort to expand GA in that country.
Staring at the list for at least a full five minutes, some whispering was exchanged by the ambassadors, and then one question was asked, “If we agreed to this, would you be open to flying the machines in the museum?”

I'm going back to sleep.

Confined to the Clouds

Sitting alone at the table, spread before me was a life; two years of mine to be precise. Summoned to answer questions, logbooks, tattered charts, and scraps of paper were my witnesses, my alibi. Thankfully, the large pile of evidence meant the inquiries, where was I, and, what exactly had I been doing, were questions I could answer. Unfortunately, they would take a while.
Six blocks across and six down filled the page I was tasked with completing. Seven long lines ran horizontally below. Across the top, instructions read “Fill in the time grid below. Then, list all aircraft flown in the last two years”.
If you hate being a number, time grids are the worst. Take numbers, assign them numbers, and you have the essence of a grid. Write just one and suddenly, without concern for its self-worth, hour number 11,253 becomes applicant number 2198. Hour number 3187 and what you did to survive is now merely one hour of Part 121, point six of instrument, and one hour of FMS time. How you handled fifty passengers, another pilot, and an airframe that was along for a ride in level six weather and managed to come out alive is insignificant. Yes, even your numbers are numbers. Desperate for a way to stand out, I stared out the window in thought. A bright yellow Mustang drove by.
“List all aircraft flown in the last two years”. Were the streets outside filled with Model A Fords, I would own this moment. Upon completion, nearly thirty planes served as reference for two years of my life. Friends far and wide, machines rare and exotic, and once in a lifetime experiences were marked by each type. And yet, in this world, mine is not an amazing life, nor is it even a useful one. It is what it is; a telegram applying for the position of email, a man of yesterday in search of tomorrow. A life that was over before it came to be.
To all of you who have trusted me with your planes, I want to thank you again for the experience. Like a raindrop to a fish out of water, each flight was an avgas boost to my spirit. I am not a wealthy man, someone of importance, nor am I even the son or relation of someone important to the community. And yet, you have allowed me to fly machines in which most pilots are excited to sit. I am what I am; a pilot. Confined to the clouds, my soul exists, while my body goes to work, and you were kind enough to notice.

Rent a Home Near Lee Bottom

Looking for a home near an airport?  We may have what you want.

Before it is released to the local market, Ginger and I would like to let everyone know we have a nice home for rent just down the road from the airport.  It has around 2000 sq.ft, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, eat in kitchen, fireplace, deck that over looks the river bottom, and possibly hangar space that could be rented.  If there is anyone out there who is interested let us know.  It would make a great place for a retiree, someone who wishes to get away occasionally, or a local pilot who doesn’t mind the drive to Louisville or Cincinnati.

Louisville is a one hour drive, Cincinatti is a 1 1/2 hour drive, and Indy is two hours.  At Lee Bottom, the cost of living is good, the stars can be seen at night, and it is quiet.  $600 per month plus utilities with a minimum year’s lease.