Monday, February 08, 2010

Sweepstakes to professional captains don't promote GA

Just found out via AvWeb that a FedEx captain was the winner of this year's AOPA sweepstakes plane, the "Let's Go Flying" Cirrus SR-22. Congrates to Mr. Graves (the winner) and his family!

That said, I think year's sweepstakes highlights a huge blind-spot in GA's thinking when it comes to getting the public more interested in flying. If you're not familiar with the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) sweepstakes, if you enroll in the AOPA or renew your membership, you're automatically entered in a sweepstakes for an aircraft that AOPA selects each year. Usually AOPA takes a used aircraft and spends a year upgrading and renovating it to better-than-new condition. Last year AOPA took a different approach and accepted a donation of a relatively new Cirrus SR-22 from owner Lloyd Huck, who donated the Cirrus to the AOPA to promote awareness in aviation and increase the pilot population.

AOPA spent a year flying the Cirrus to aviation trade shows, and even to a couple of non-aviation shows as well as part of a tour titled "Let's Go Flying" in order to promote GA. I don't know how many new pilots or members the signed up, but I can be sure of one thing. I bet more than a few are disappointed that the brand new Cirrus they envisioned they would one day fly ended up in the hands of a FedEx captain who already owned a Cessna 180.

Now I know, the sweepstakes is open to any member and I trust the AOPA does a random, blind drawing to determine a fair winner. But if you have the sweepstakes in order to bring in new pilots into GA, you need to think about the message you're going to send when the winner turns out to be someone who is ALREADY a professional pilot and airplane owner.

I'm a loyal, long-time member of the AOPA. If you're a pilot and you don't belong to either the AOPA or the EAA, then you're missing out on some great benefits and opportunities for increased training. Plus, while user fees have been defeated this year, its a constant battle GA will have to continue to fight in the years to come as we have to justify the importance of public dollars to the non-flying public year after year. Organizations like AOPA, NBAA, and EAA are our most important defenders of our privilege to fly.

But if the AOPA is really serious about getting new pilots, they need to think really hard about these kinds of contests. The next sweepstakes plane is a REMOS, a really fun, capable light sport aircraft. Its a great aircraft to introduce someone to flying, or a great first-time aircraft for someone making the transition from renting to owning. It would be a shame next year to see it go to a Bonanza owner whose been flying for thirty years.

Oh, btw the full article on AOPA's website is here, it's a pretty funny story about how they surprised the winner.


  1. You can change the rules, I suppose, but then it wouldn't be a random drawing. Last year's winner was a great story.

  2. That's true, and I'm not really suggesting that AOPA get rid of the sweepstakes or change the rules so it'll go to more 'deserving' pilots.

    AOPA is offering the sweepstakes incentive for one big reason, to get new members and to keep existing ones.

    What bothers me is that AOPA is trying to make the sweepstakes about more than keeping membership numbers up; it's about reviving GA with new pilots. Which is really setting a lot of people up for disappointment.

    I also have a side issue with AOPA offering airplanes with different values from year to year. The Cirrus is worth over 350K. The Archer last year might be worth a little over 100K with the upgrades. The REMOS this year will be 149K. At least Sporty's offers the same Cessna 172 Skyhawk year after year.

  3. when I heard AOPA was giving away an SR22, I told my wife, there is no way these guys are going to give this plane to any entry level pilot.

    My exact words "who ever wins this year will most definitely be a career pilot"

    I'm not convinced this was a random drawing.

    owell whatever

  4. AOPA has just about driven me off as a member. I've flown on and off for the past 23 years, giving it up to start a family and make a career change for about 15 years. I've finally scratched together enough to rent a couple of hours a month on my civil servant salary, only to see month after month articles about a Pilatus, or a corporate jet, or whatever half million dollar plus aircraft they are featuring this month. I don't stand a chance of winning the sweep plane, it's rigged every year. The little guy who once hung out at the airport outside town, doing a few turns in the pattern and enjoying companionship with other pilots, is being driven off by elitists. Time to sink my $39 dues into something else.

  5. Amen to Pat's article and the other anonymous posters. As a working 30-something, I have been busting my butt for years to change careers and become a pilot. Like many other new pilots, I joined AOPA thinking it would be advantageous to my career. I was wrong. They started Project Pilot, and I signed up, only to find that you had to be selected for it in some nepotistic fashion, in other words, you already had to be an insider to participate - didn't really understand that one. Also, AOPA events are mainly for old, wealthy aircraft owners and retired military and commercial pilots who just want to sit around and complain about the local FBO's coffee. I have met very few working pilots at these events, and even less who are interested in adding newer members, or helping a newcomer. Unfortunately, most of the people involved are there for their own self-serving purposes, whether it is to complain, or meet the local FAA people so they can try and suck up to them.

    As for the sweeps, they are rigged. I am sorry, but the girl that won last year was a statistical improbability, and nothing more than a ploy to draw some more membership over from the 99's. This will be my last year with them. I swear they turn around and spend most of my $39 membership on postage to solicit me for money. The only thing I get from them other than their tired-old repetitive magazine that documents the rich lifestyles of Schiff and Machado that most of us will never be able to achieve, is a weekly envelope telling me how I need to send money to fight for my right to fly. They are worse than the NRA about this.

    They have also somehow (probably with our membership $$) duped the typically reclusive Harrison Ford into running a PR campaign for them, (again to drive membership). Either that, or they are the fools, and he is just looking for some free and easy PR for himself.

    I too was soured to see the FedEx captain win the sweeps. If he was really the altruistic soul that all pilots are (yeah right), he would donate his old 180 as the next project plane. You cannot fly two planes at once.

    In short, AOPA does not really want to bring newcomers to GA. That would only saturate their favorite pastime with more people. AOPA just wants more subscribers to fund their enterprise. They play off of the dreams of young people by making them believe that they too can learn to fly and maybe be an airline captain, or fly in the Reno Races, or go to space with Richard Branson. -please.

    Here's the news kids: With no college, I have worked hard for many years, and now make nearly six figures. I decided three years ago to become a professional pilot. I never imagined how expensive it would be, nor how competitive. It is not cheap, not easy, and no one is going to give you any help, especially AOPA. Flying is simply for the wealthy and privileged. Anyone that tells you otherwise is wrong, or wants to profit from your efforts. So far, my efforts have left me nearly broke, and very discouraged. If I had not invested so much already, I would have stopped several flight hours back. My advice to any aspiring pilots is to talk to a working one first, rather than let AOPA get you hyped up with false impressions, and their BS sweepstakes.

    I would give my name, but it would likely destroy my career, since this stuff is like the 500# gorilla in the room that most pilots are afraid to talk about.

  6. Wow, I got a lot of really great comments on this post. While my views are a little bit more forgiving towards the AOPA, there is some definite anger there about what the organization represents. AOPA gives off that "rich guy flying planes" vibe sometimes, especially with the highlighted aircraft they promote in their mag (although they have embraced LSA's, especially in the Flight Training magazine).

    I'm going to post another follow up post and lay out my feelings around this, there is a divide I think between pilots in their mid-thirties and under (like myself and the commenter above) who fly with limited resources and limited access and the GA pilots who are richer, older, or who are more self-absorbed and less interested in helping younger people fly.

    Thanks to everyone whose posted, I'm really amazed, especially by the last commenter. I hope we can really start a conversation around the 500 lb gorilla and get this out in the open.