AOPA Members and readers of AOPA’s Blog get frequent emails about the happenings in Frederick, MD – and part of these include news from around the world on aviation stuff, we should all know about and read. As you know, I read A LOT!
The Meaning of Aviation is an article written by AOPA’s Editor in Chief Thomas Haines and it takes a slightly confusing stand on several issues of our style of online communication. Well, lets not call it confusing, I believe to understand (contrary to this gentleman on the left) what causes the slightly irate way of concluding that the tone between General Aviation pilots has changed tremendously. After all, we’ve had several years of despair, financial meltdowns and sky high gas prices. Sometimes downright idiotic regulatory affairs, advocacy issues, TSA, Secret Service (Mr. President & Entourage travel a lot) TFR’s, Citizen Groups, airport expansion plans being halted, Taxes, Aircraft Re-registrations, Wine Clubs (!?), AvWeb articles who get taken down after legal agreements are reached, and this most recent FlightPrep dilemma are all parts of a nasty trend, and I believe it upsets your fellow airmen.
One particular section was a bit stunning:
“Unlike the general public, general aviation pilots used to be more civil. The fraternity of pilots enjoyed robust discussions in person, in print, and online, but, for the most part, respect prevailed. Over the years, I have observed that pilots, in general, are good folks—more patriotic and more respectful than the average citizenry. When my daughters were young, we spent a lot of time around airports and I felt comfortable telling them that if they ever got lost near or on an airport to look not just for a policeman, but anyone with a headset or chart bag or hanging around a pilot lounge. Pilots, I said, could be trusted to get you help. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I would still offer that same advice. Somewhere along the way, pilots have become as mean-spirited and spiteful as the rest of the population. I find that disheartening.”
Of course, having a somewhat educated online argument is tough! Emails remain unanswered, calls usually do not get returned and association blogs do not always foster open exchange on such tasty subjects. Surely (don’t call me Shirley!), letters to the editor may or may not get printed. Hence, I won’t even try. Instead, I’ll share some perceptions on this subject on my own blog, which invites comments and allows subscriptions.
“”Apparently, in this member’s mind, general aviation consists only of clean-shaven white men.”
In 22 years of flying (and many more around airports) have I never ever heard a racial slur against non white aviators. Some backyard cowboys and girls may have funky conversations but I have so far taken a fairly generalized approach to them. I either leave the gathering, or I point the behavior out, telling the offender that I am ashamed by his comments. I get plenty of jokes for my German accent and have learned to overhear snide remarks that connect me to Adolf Hitler or the Nazi’s. Many fellow citizens view anyone with an accent as a Alien, here to milk our system, freeloading and going to school “on their dime”… For the first few years I would take offense. These days, I recognize senseless, underdeveloped Schmucks when I see/ hear them. Ignorance is what usually settles the issue. An association is fully within their rights to discharge members for such misconduct. Do it! Don’t whine about it – take action and settle the issue, once and for all. Distance AOPA from such characters. You don’t need them. Giving them a delayed microphone, by exposing what they did, makes me wonder why you did not initiate action right on the spot, when this happened.
“As with online forums in many locations, the AOPA forums attract plenty of people with strong opinions. They make for entertaining reading, but it’s a shame when people spout off without even bothering to gather any facts.”
Lets try again:
Forums are very funky little machines of human interaction. People, especially pilots generally self moderate and the voice of reasonableness (at least in the forums I still frequent) still prevails. AOPA’s forum has 15.097 Members (~ 3.5% of AOPA’s Membership have a profile), of which 2.272 (that’s a whopping 0.53% of AOPA’s Membership) are active participants. At almost any hour of the day (or night) between 150 and 250 members are online, of which sometimes up to 50% are lurkers. Lurkers are silent readers, who may tend to take offense and write nasty emails to AOPA Key personnel, but FAIL at engaging their fellow members directly. The forum is heavily moderated (some say severely censored) and the list of “forum leaders” is almost as long as some other forum’s complete member list! The forum is not visible to the public, nobody gets to read these ramblings, it’s really just AOPA members who bother to read. Yet, it is taken as serious as a heart attack and AOPA is losing members over it’s downright embarrassing style of moderation of it. Acknowledge, it – or ignore it – but these are the cold hard facts…
“Toni Mensching, who heads up the AOPA team of specialists that answer the technical questions in members’ e-mails and calls summed up the mood and our frequent response recently in an internal e-mail a few months ago: General member frustration and intolerance is beginning to seep into everyday contacts. The cause seems less to do with AOPA specifically and more to do with upcoming elections, economic turmoil, and an overall stress on aviation from all directions. There is increasing pressure from members contacting us venting about problems very distantly related to AOPA. This is an unavoidable result of high AOPA accessibility. “
Lets try to wrap this one up. If Menschings statement tells me anything, then it would be that AOPA has lost touch with it’s average member. You know, people who struggle to put gas in their airplanes, have to park in the snow because the hangar rent and the future insurance cost increases won’t go over well fiscally, or with the concerned CFO at home. Maybe they simply realize that Sport Planes did not turn out to be the ultimate Fix A Flat? Our problem seems to be that we associate in our association, but we leave the networking and talking, and sharing of information resting squarely with the magazine. It has become to darn convenient to pay and let others fix issues. These same pilots do not frequent policymakers offices, they do not write/ hold speeches, they do not shake hands with the next best politician promising to stop the regulatory idiocy, nor do they have a say in when and exactly why someone will be granted a patent for landing an airplane on it’s damn wheels and then decides to take half the pilot population to court.
My recommendation: Attend a Customer Service class at a local educational facility and learn that the seeping negativity from your customer/ member is not caused by ease of access, but rather a lack of a functioning network and care. You cannot expect 430.000 people to collectively sit around the bonfire and sing Kumbaya, but maybe it’s time to realize that your average member is frank, direct, honest and true to be the bone. They are not some sort of special people, shoving $700K airframes around, and they do not have to make agonizing decisions everyday as to which of the turbine powered airframes they will take out for a spin. They are engaged locally, passionate and often do not have the microphone to share with their fellow pilots what exactly goes through their mind when something goes sideways. They are often short, crisp and smack on the point and when you ask their take on something, they may, just like your average fellow citizen, show compassion, passion or severe concern. Yet, they don’t need to be told what to think or say. Opinion/ V8…
It is my opinion that if we reached out to them, they would share more and hence get more accustomed to having their voice heard. The beginnings of such movement are visible (audible, too) and as always, it will get worse, before it can get better. Don’t get offended by them and forgive them for sometimes being politically incorrect, unfiltered or even a bit rough around the edges. They’re neat people when you meet them in person and beat your average citizenry by the size of a barn door in terms of style and class…