Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is a non-profit political organization whose membership consists mainly of general aviation pilots in the United States. AOPA exists to serve the interests of its members as aircraft owners and pilots, and to promote the economy, safety, utility, and popularity of flight in general aviation aircraft.


AOPA was founded on May 15, 1939, with the goal of keeping general aviation fun, safe and affordable. In April 1939, five founders went to work out the details of the organization and deciding upon a fitting name. After several days, C. Townsend Ludington, stated that it should be named just what it is: the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The name was unanimously approved.

AOPA's first political activity was to urge passage of a United States Senate bill that would establish the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which allowed thousands of people to earn their pilot certificates with the aid of a government subsidy. It also stimulated general aviation activity and aircraft sales, and provided an aviation education for those who would later serve in the air forces of World War II.

After one year of operation, AOPA had a membership of 2,000. Three months later, that figure had doubled, and local pilot groups called "AOPA Units" were being formed around the country.

Pre-World War II

In 1940, with World War II imminent, AOPA formed the "AOPA Air Guard" to introduce civilian pilots to military rules and procedures, and form a base from which the air forces could draw additional pilots. Some 5,000 pilots participated that year, taking three courses of instruction required by the military.

On December 7, 1941, upon the United States' entry into World War II, the government sought to ban all civilian flying, but AOPA helped to establish an identification program that persuaded the Civil Aeronautics Administration(CAA) and the military to allow properly registered pilots to fly in all airspace, with the exception for border areas known as Air Defense Identification Zones. AOPA offices moved to New York, then—in 1942—to the Washington, D.C. area.

Prior to the war, AOPA membership rose to about 10,000, but about 3,000 members left to serve in the armed forces. When the war ended, membership once again rose, with about 20,000 active AOPA members by the end of 1946.

Post World War II

The years following World War II brought explosive growth in aviation, and AOPA continued lobbying activities on behalf of general aviation pilots. For example, when the CAA proposed shortly after the war that communications equipment be required for everyone, AOPA initially opposed this requirement, in part because the vacuum tube-laden radios of the day were very heavy and compromised a light airplane's useful load. Ultimately, a compromise was reached requiring communication radios only in the busiest airspace.

By late 1948, AOPA was helping to educate pilots about the VHF-based navigation tool "VHF omnidirectional range" (VOR) and published manuals on the subject. The association also aided test programs for VOR and Instrument Landing System (ILS) equipment.

As a Congress-focused lobbying activity, AOPA's first employee, J.B. Hartranft, pushed for formation of the Congressional Flying Club, which still exists. He persuaded manufacturers to donate aircraft and volunteers to teach both ground school and flight.

Also in 1948, Hartranft hired Max Karant, formerly managing editor of "Flying" magazine, to serve as assistant general manager of AOPA and editorial director for "AOPA Pilot" magazine.

The 1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s, AOPA expanded its political role further. Several midair collisions between airliners and general aviation aircraft led to a vigorous debate over a proposal by the Air Line Pilots Association to ban general aviation from any airport used by air carriers. Partly as a result of this battle, the "party-line" unicom — a term invented by Hartranft and Karant — was brought into being to help pilots know of each other's presence.

AOPA created the AOPA Air Safety Foundation in 1950, offering the "180-degree" rating that provided basic instrument instruction for non-instrument-rated pilots.

Major lobbying on behalf of general aviation pilots in the 1950s included reductions in life insurance rates, charting of VOR stations, and retaining highways on sectional aeronautical charts. A military plan to scrap the evolving VOR-DME system in favor of TACAN led to a pitched battle that resulted in a compromise still in use today.

An "experimental" type of airspace that was the forerunner of today's Class B airspace was proposed in the mid-1950s for Washington National Airport. It would have extended convert|15|nmi|km|0 from the airport in all directions and up to convert|3000|ft|m|-2 above ground level (agl). A full mile of visibility would have been required for operations under visual flight rules (VFR), as well as a speed limit of 180 miles per hour. AOPA successfully lobbied to keep Washington National Airport open to general aviation, and it was many years before terminal control areas (also forerunners of Class B airspace) were instituted.

The 1960s were a growth period for general aviation, with aircraft manufacturers introducing many new models and producing an average of 9,000 airplanes a year. With the increased flying activity, communications became more important. AOPA pushed for additional radio frequencies for aviation. A plan to close many flight service stations was muted, and the first "AOPA Airports USA" airport directory was issued.

The International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association was created in 1962, with the first members including Canada, Australia, and the Union of South Africa.

Various battles were fought over air traffic control, including proposals for mandatory transponders and new types of controlled airspace called "Terminal Area Radar Service." By 1964, the Atlanta Municipal Airport was offering these services, and the program would soon be expanded nationwide.

Two midair collisions in 1967—one between a TWA Douglas DC-9 and a corporate Beech B55 Baron over Urbana, Ohio, and the other between a Piedmont Airlines Boeing 727 and a corporate Cessna 310 over Hendersonville, North Carolina—pushed public opinion about transponders away from voluntary use and towards mandatory use. AOPA recommended creating dedicated climb and descent corridors for high-performance airplanes and put a high priority on development of an effective collision avoidance indicator.

In 1969, however, a collision near Indianapolis between an Allegheny Airlines DC-9 and a Piper Cherokee led to urgent calls for creation of Terminal Control Areas around busy airports. AOPA worked in each case to maintain access for general aviation pilots.

The 1970s and 1980s

By the end of the 1960s, AOPA membership had climbed to 141,000. "Doc" Hartranft was still exercising leadership, and Max Karant was making pilots aware of the battles yet to come. The 1970s would include some of the most important political battles AOPA had ever fought, including those over TCAs, the Airport and Airways Development Act, fuel crisis fallout, and ever-tightening federal regulations.

Proposals to squeeze more taxes and fees from "fat cat" general aviation pilots were fought back many times during the 1970s. A Nixon proposal to raid the aviation trust fund was also stopped.

The 1973 oil embargo took all of AOPA's persuasive power to prevent catastrophic cuts in general aviation activity, as Hartranft pointed out that "while general aviation has 98% of all aircraft, it uses only 8.6% of civil aviation fuels (while) 91.4% is used by the airlines."

In May 1977, Hartranft assumed chairmanship of the AOPA Board of Trustees, and former FAA assistant administrator John L. Baker took over reins of the association. Just two years later, at the end of the decade, more than 245,000 pilots were members of AOPA, and general aviation was a viable market niche for manufacturers. More than 18,000 airplanes would be delivered in 1979, but the specter of product liability was on the horizon.

The AOPA Political Action Committee was formed in 1980 for more lobbying effectiveness. It would be needed, as an increasing number of politicians became involved in aviation technical matters in the name of aviation safety.

Air traffic controllers went on strike on August 3, 1981, and ATC underwent the most massive changes seen to date. General aviation was singled out for virtual elimination from the ATC system until AOPA helped work out a flow-control method that allowed general aviation (GA) flights under instrument flight rules (IFR).

In May 1983, AOPA moved its headquarters from Bethesda, Maryland to the Frederick, Maryland Municipal Airport. It symbolized the growth of the association, which now had 265,000 members and was recognized as one of the most effective lobbying voices in Washington, D.C.

Additional airspace restrictions—including ARSAs—were proposed, and AOPA fought to keep regulation to the minimum necessary for safety. AOPA urged that the FAA establish an office to monitor traffic in terminal areas, install more instrument landing systems (ILS), provide more airport improvement program funds to outlying reliever and potential reliever airports, build more runways at existing airports, and designate more military airports as joint-use facilities.

In the middle of the decade, Alfred L. Wolf, the last surviving founder and one of the original trustees, died.

The effects of product liability impacted general aviation in the 1980s, and airplane production declined rapidly. In 1985, Cessna Chairman Russell W. Meyer Jr., reported that between 20 and 30 percent of the cost of a new airplane represented product liability insurance. AOPA worked to introduce reform measures, and organized its membership to contact their elected representatives.

By 1989, AOPA membership was close to the 300,000 mark.

The 1990s to present

As the 1990s opened, the fight for general aviation airports accelerated. Development pressures and noise complaints threatened airports with restrictions and potential closings. In 1990, as part of encouraging favorable public relations coverage for general aviation airports, AOPA instituted journalism awards named for retired "Pilot" editor Max Karant. Separate awards are available each year for radio, television/cable and print journalists.

In 1991, another milestone in AOPA history occurred when Phil Boyer, former senior vice president with ABC Television, assumed the reins of the association from John Baker. The next year, he launched AOPA Pilot "Town Meetings," bringing AOPA's leaders to the members at meetings throughout the nation. In 1995, AOPA launched its Web site, AOPA Online.

Recent surveys conducted by AOPA reveal that protection for local airports is one of the greatest concerns among pilots of all experience levels. In the United States, loss of public-use airports has occurred at a rate of almost one per week. Many of these are privately-owned airports, but there has been an alarming increase in efforts to close public facilities. In 1997, one prominent example was Meigs Field, Chicago's lakefront general aviation reliever, only minutes from the downtown business district. Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the airport closed so that a $28 million park could be constructed on the site. However, the airport reopened on February 10, 1997, after a major effort by AOPA, local airport support group "Friends of Meigs Field," and the State of Illinois. This was considered a big victory for general aviation and AOPA. Under the darkness of night on March 30, 2003, however, by a controversial order from Mayor Daley, bulldozers gouged large X symbols into the active runway, effectively shutting down Meigs Field. Sixteen planes that were parked at the airport were stranded by this move, and one inbound aircraft was forced to divert. No notification was given to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the closing and the City of Chicago was later fined a total of $1,033,000 for the early closure.

To further increase effectiveness in local airport issues, in 1997 AOPA launched the Airport Support Network. The goal of this very important program is to identify one volunteer representative at every public-use airport in the country. These individuals serve two primary roles, informing the association of potential threats to the airport and, when necessary, rallying the support of local pilots.

AOPA staffers fought hundreds of battles for pilots in the first half of the 1990s, including funding for Direct User Access Terminal System, DUATS and effective opposition for both a "shoot-em-down" proposal from U.S. Customs and a suggestion for costly renewals of pilot certificates.

One of the biggest victories for general aviation, however, was the 1994 passage of product liability reform legislation, which led directly to an announcement from Cessna that production would resume. AOPA presented the first new Cessna 172 off the production line to Sharon Hauser, February 1, 1997 as the 1995 membership sweepstakes winner.

General aviation showed some very significant growth during 1998. More new aircraft were delivered than in any year since 1984, and the number of student pilot starts was up for the first time in years. Students were completing their training, too — the FAA issued 22 percent more new private pilot certificates than during the previous year. The number of new instrument ratings increased an impressive 36.6 percent. AOPA continued its industry-leading "Platinum Level" support of GA Team 2000, the cooperative program to increase student pilot starts, which was renamed Be A Pilot. AOPA also recognized the need to increase the value of what they have to offer for student pilots, and laid the groundwork for AOPA's purchase of "Flight Training" magazine, the only magazine dedicated to the student pilot and certificated flight instructor. The purchase was completed in January 1999, and the Web site was launched.

During 1998, AOPA obtained a change in status from a not-for-profit to a tax-exempt organization, under Section 501(c)4 of the Internal Revenue Code. This change freed more funds that can be spent on important general aviation initiatives. An additional amount was credited to membership equity as a benefit of the change.

In 1999, AOPA moved quickly to respond to media questions after John F. Kennedy Jr.'s tragic crash off Martha's Vineyard in July 1999. As the world awoke to news of the search for Kennedy's missing airplane, association staff began what would total 150 media interviews in four days. The emphasis was on countering misconceptions and bias against general aviation and small-airplane flying. The unprecedented effort won kudos throughout the aviation industry, including editorials from aviation officials and editors across the nation. Most gratifying was a coveted Aviation Week and Space Technology "Laurel"—essentially an aviation Oscar—awarded to members of the AOPA team.

In late 1999, AOPA launched yet another publication—its weekly email newsletter, "ePilot."

AOPA closed the 1990s with 357,644 members.

For more than a decade, AOPA had been working to unlock the aviation trust fund. That effort paid off with passage of the Aviation Investment and Reform Act (AIR-21), which authorized funds for airport and airway modernization. Although AOPA staff personally worked with members of Congress to gain their support, AOPA members' grass-roots efforts to contact elected representatives and senators helped to make the difference. This marked only the third time in the past 10 years AOPA had rallied the membership to write on a national issue. In addition, AOPA waged a public campaign for AIR-21, with press releases, interviews, and a special "advertorial" published in the aviation trade magazines that carried the message to thousands of nonmembers, prompting them to write their legislators in support of this important bill.

The government's aeronautical charts provided AOPA a chance to combine work in both the legislative and regulatory arenas on an important initiative in 2000. For many years these charts were produced and distributed by the National Ocean Service, a unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had consistently produced a reliable product. When funding and budget issues led NOS to propose the discontinuation of important charting projects, however, AOPA realized that this critical safety function should be an FAA responsibility. As a result, the association secured legislation that transferred aeronautical charting to the FAA's new National Aeronautical Charting Office.

September 11, 2001

The September 11, 2001 attacks affected the AOPA as well. Even though the events involved aviation as a weapon of destruction, AOPA staff worked to keep pilots informed and to lift unnecessary restrictions, and defended the right and privilege to fly.

In the days and weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks, one of the greatest needs of members was for accurate, clear information regarding airspace, temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), airport closures, intercept procedures, notams, and more. AOPA was ready with AOPA Online. Not only could members find plain-language translations and graphical depictions of notams and TFRs, they could get answers to their questions about the rapidly changing environment. In September, 2001, alone, the Web site hosted more than 2 million sessions.

At the same time the AOPA Pilot Information Center was flooded with as many as 1,600 member calls per day and stayed open over two weekends for the first time in the association's history. Staff members postponed vacations and other personal activities to keep the phones operating at full capacity.

Accurate information about general aviation and how it operates was also critical to lawmakers, the public, and the media. Information from AOPA Online appeared in such newspapers as "The New York Times", "The Wall Street Journal", "The Washington Post", and "Chicago Tribune", and on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS, ABC, and other television and radio news outlets. In addition, AOPA representatives conducted more than 500 media interviews in which they cut through public fear and overreaction to tell the real story of general aviation and how it serves America every day. In interviews with television, radio, and printed news media, as well as in an editorial for "USA Today", AOPA explained general aviation's importance to the national transportation system and argued against unnecessary restrictions.

Just as important as staying informed was getting back in the air and flying safely. AOPA Legislative Affairs, the association's lobbying arm on Capitol Hill, arranged meetings with influential policy makers and told general aviation's side of the story. Boyer personally met with a number of legislators to provide them with insight as to how GA operates and the enormous economic impact of keeping general aviation aircraft on the ground. As the flood of complex, confusing, and sometimes misleading notams threatened to overwhelm pilots who were allowed to return to the skies, a staff member was stationed at FAA headquarters to help clarify these rules, often before they were released. With an on-the-spot advocate for general aviation, AOPA was able to tell the FAA about the realities of operating general aviation aircraft and uncover some of the hidden implications in their proposals. Those efforts also helped stop some of the most onerous proposals from ever becoming reality.

In the weeks following the attacks, as much of aviation returned to some semblance of normalcy, a handful of airports tucked under so-called enhanced Class B airspace and within temporary flight restrictions around Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston remained closed. AOPA worked with policy makers, airport managers, and business owners to come up with proposals that would address security concerns while making it possible to get those businesses back to work. Determined efforts eventually reopened those fields.

To make sure that the money needed to fund public awareness and educational campaigns is available, AOPA launched the General Aviation Restoration Fund, which had raised some $500,000 by the end of 2001. Plans for 2002 included major newspaper advertisements informing the public on the positive role general aviation plays in the United States, and directed readers to a newly designed Web site devoted exclusively to describing all aspects of general aviation,

Even as AOPA fought to keep restrictions imposed on general aviation to a minimal, reasonable level, some pilots ran afoul of the complex and rapidly changing rules. The AOPA legal services team was able to work with the FAA to establish no-violations agreements for certain transgressions caused by faulty information passed to pilots through flight service and other official channels.

"User Fees" and the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007

The Bush Administration has proposed the "Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007". AOPA is actively working against this bill and opposes its new funding structure. In particular, AOPA is working against the concept of "user fees".

This bill introduces new channels of revenues for the FAA. The FAA has suggested to the congress that aircraft should pay for Air Traffic Control (ATC) Services for each usage, such as a pilot talking to a controller for a clearance to perform a specific maneuver. FAA argues that the increase in traffic requires a new funding structure other than or in addition to the current airline passenger fees and aviation fuel alone. AOPA argues that the new funding structure is not required to meet the needs of modernizing the ATC system. Phil Boyer, AOPA's president, claims that the new proposed funding structure will generate less revenue for FAA than the currently used structure.

AOPA argues that the General Aviation community and activities will be reduced if usage fees are levied on the pilots using the ATC system. The FAA argues the General Aviation community will not suffer from the proposed fees, claiming the fees will be small compared to the overall cost of aviation.


AOPA has two monthly printed periodicals: "AOPA Pilot" and "AOPA Flight Training". The former is targeted at certificated pilots and contains reviews on new products, airplanes and more. The latter is meant to encourage student pilots with fun stories, safety tips and advice on training. Members of AOPA are eligible to receive either magazine for one year with their paid member dues.

External links

* [ AOPA official site]
* [ AOPA Air Safety Foundation]
* [ Be A Pilot]
* [ Records] of the AOPA at the Hagley Museum and Library

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