Aviation Associations play a vital role in defending pilots rights to fly. For almost every type or category of aircraft there is at least one available that promises to unite and further the cause of Recreational, General and Business Aviation. Each one of them comes with its own area of expertise and mission profile. Within associations, enthusiasts find fellow members, equally interested in having their interests represented, issues resolved or seeing their rights and privileges secured.
To associate or collaborate lies in the very history of mankind and it is absolutely normal for people to seek each others help and expertise in matters that are close to their hearts. Equally so in aviation, where thousands of small and midsized, even very large associations exist. Rest assured, listing just a few of the thousands of associations in the aviation industry alone, would flat-out exceed this blogs capacity.
Right at the start of this paper, we need to divide some of these associations into those who advocate for their members, and those who just host and foster mutual exchange. In other words, we need to look at the many mission statements these associations have published. You will find a couple thousand of those on the internet. Of those, lets focus on the ones who claim to advocate for their members in governmental, rule-making or legislative/ regulatory affairs.
A few questions to prop the readers grey cells into action…
- Is being a member of the Mushroomgrowers Association required to grow mushrooms?
- Are Notices Of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM’s) limited in who has a right to comment on them or does the word public mean everyone?
- Do you think that pilots have no right and no duty to advocate for their own cause, unless they belong to an association?
… If you answer yes to any of the questions above, please stop reading here, you are wasting your time and effort and you are insulting the intellect of quite a bunch of people, all over this planet. If you answer no, please read on.
The Oxymoron Of Association Marketing
Somehow, over the last couple of decades, associations have managed to portray themselves as the only form of passionate expression about aviation. Cheap marketing still works and emotion is a good tool to close the sale. Creating urgency and putting the pressure on sells a TON of memberships every year. Sheep always follow.
“If you love aviation/ to fly/ to work in aviation/ to land on water/ to speak with fellow pilots, you owe it to yourself to join our cause! If you don’t join/ renew/ up your membership/ sign up with our special double super program, you will surely see aviation’s demise within the next few years!”
Only a total Putz ridden by monumental idiocy would knowingly do something to hurt what they love, right? Hence – the majority of members join, rejoin, renew, renew early or sign up for lifetime memberships; and generally do as they are told to preserve their “freedom to fly”. The majority of members don’t have many questions about how membership dollars are spent, how effective their associations really are, how small or big their association is and how many of their fellow members they could actually reach if they needed help and push came to shove. How could they know much, after voting their representatives in by proxy, effectively giving them the power to manage everything behind closed doors and among their own?
What I am trying to say is that most associations have managed to portray and sell themselves as the ultimate savior. Questioning their integrity, political drama, lack of financial transparency or vision and decision making as well as salary and staff selections, is frowned upon and often censored or strafed with bitter silence. People challenging the status quo and having the atrocity to speak up about it are sued or dismissed as noise-makers, sometimes called “Anti Association Guys”. It is only a short time from angering the Kings to finding one’s business struggling, or one’s professional job outlook in aviation shrinking and shriveling to nothing. Yes, been there, done that.
Another Kahoohoo Looms
Somehow, the associations have managed to create a false picture in terms of who’s job it is to advocate for us with decision makers. Further, association have been observed intentionally keeping advocacy issues out of the public light, much aligned with the secrecy and earmark deals behind congressional doors. Commenting on a public notice of proposed rule-making suddenly becomes a privilege limited to those who paid money to belong to a special club?! Who are we kidding? Are we really trying to tell people that we don’t want their help unless they pay us membership dues? How stupidly idiotic and arrogant! Talk about turning your already sinking ship smack towards the biggest iceberg in sight.
What About The Independents?
At the end of 2011, there where 617,128 certificated, medical carrying active pilots in the United States Of America. This number is down from 800,000+ back in the 1980’s. Would you volunteer to fall for a conservative, non scientific estimate of probably 1.4- 1.8 million people who have held or still hold a certificate but are no longer able to fly for lack of medicals? Did they turn into pumpkins or are they still around? Do they all hate aviation and no longer care for advocacy? Ohhh, NOOO, dear reader… they are not gone. They read media articles, they follow facebook pages, they follow and post on forums, they visit airports and most of them probably still love aviation more than anything. They just no longer see a need (many may not have the budget) to belong to an association anymore. Many of them may have realized that one cannot buy advocacy through a membership, or magazine subscription. Some of them may even realize that all that Washington talk is really BULLSHIT, advocacy is in fact a grassroots thing……. and politics shouldn’t be a part of an association that promises to advocate as their first mission statement bullet.
How will we reach these people when disaster strikes and airports get closed or seaplane bases get shut down? Do you want to trust the associations to reach them with emailing their alerts to a constantly declining number of members?
Bring passionate and honest people into the game and stop pretending that the current superstar CEO style leadership game works. Members would come hailing in instead of leaving in droves and renewing memberships wouldn’t be such a sticky subject, requiring the association to start soliciting half a year early. Gosh, people have a better chance to forget their birthday or wedding anniversary, than loosing sight of their membership expiration date…