AOPA's Advocacy "A Team" Will Not Include Av8rdan

10:04 AM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

I have always been extremely impressed with AOPA's Government Affairs team, along with their Regional Managers spread out across the USA. When it comes to staying on top of legislative issues facing general aviation, they are the "go to" people, and they've got our backs.
News came in recently that I was a finalist for their open Regional Manager position in the Northwest Mountain region, but was not the person chosen for the job. The man they hired has tremendous legislative affairs experience, and pilots in the Northwest will be well represented going forward.
It is no secret to people who have followed Airplanista from the beginning that I have always wanted to work for AOPA. They are a vital association that does exemplary work preserving our freedom to fly, and without them, the aviation family would be toast.
Through the interview process for the job, it allowed me to reflect a great deal on my own advocacy work, and I spent a lot of time looking back...and looking forward. Like other pilots, I possess the same gene for helping to improve the aviation community, and over the last 15 years, I have found great joy in telling the stories of anyone in GA that gives back more than they receive. Stories of these advocates and volunteers are literally endless, and not a day goes by that I do not stumble upon yet another incredible pilot or aviation enthusiast who is doing some extraordinary.
To see where my advocacy work is today, first you have to go back to the very beginning:
In 2002, I was a member of a small aviation club called Central Valley Aviation Association, based at Fresno (CA) Chandler Downtown Airport. This club had one purpose, and that was to get together once a month, have a brief meeting, and then hop in our planes and go "fly out" to eat somewhere. I thought we could do more, so I created the Welcome Sky Aviation Scholarship Program in the club, which stole the playbook from Robin Hood by asking the wealthier among us to chip in so we could award full-ride private pilot scholarships to the best and brightest 18-24 year-olds we could find. After lots of grass roots fund raising and plenty of arm-twisting, we raised enough cash and "in kind" donations from flight schools to pay for three new pilots to be trained. As far as I can tell, these three bright young pilots are still flying today.
Sure, it was only three pilots. But it was something. I moved away from the Fresno area in 2003, and the program eventually died. It has always been my dream to take it national, because I have proven that if you ask the right number of rich pilots to open their wallets or checkbooks for this very important cause...they will. But lack of time and career responsibilities have prevented me from really pushing this on a national level. Maybe when I retire...
These days, I write for five national aviation magazines, with a focus on telling as many "advocates and volunteer" stories as I can dig up. But I am only one guy, which was why I applied for the AOPA gig. To have the muscle (and yes, the resources) of such a prestigious association behind me, I know I could have done great things on a very large scale. Now, I will not get that chance to change all those lives that I might have touched.
Looking back on my recent advocacy work, I have been seeing clues that suggest some of it might have crept past its expiration date. Audience participation at this year's #Oshbash event at Oskhosh was dismal, about 30% of the previous two events, when it was standing room only. There was lots going on at AirVenture at the same date and time I scheduled #Oshbash, which drew away much of the crowd. But leading up to the event, Twitter buzz was almost non-existent, telling me loudly that people just are not that interested in my #Oshbash events any longer.
Readership on Airplanista has dropped in the past year, due in part to my editorial schedule being filled with so many paying magazine gigs. I am guilty of not keeping the blog fresh, and in the blogosphere, stale equals a loss of relevance. That is all on me.
So, where do I go from here? I could let the missed opportunity at AOPA get me down, or I can re-focus and push onward to the next big thing. As I pondered whether to crawl back under my rock never to be seen or heard from again, or remain straight-and-level in coordinated flight and keep doing what I've always done - writing interesting content about interesting aviation people - the choice was mine...
I guess I was looking for a sign. Which way to turn, what to do? It was then that I watched "Astronaut" Abby Harrison's TEDx Talk asking "What's YOUR Mars?" This 18-year-old brilliant young woman has set her goal to be the first astronaut on Mars, and after watching her talk and visiting her site,, there is zero doubt that if we get to Mars, she could be the first person stepping on the Red Planet. Abby's tagline is "Dream Big, Act Big and Inspire Others." That inspirational message is a now a big sign on my office wall, and she has convinced me that my "Mars" is to keep pushing forward, because when you ascend, you soar, but slip into a vicious, uncontrolled descent and eventually, you crash and burn.
That's the great thing about the advocacy work we all do...the outcome is really random, and you never know what life you will touch...or even change. This one future astronaut's drive and unwavering ambition has captured my attention, and her message screamed at me to keep going on my current trajectory, because just like the way her work inspired me, my work will inspire someone else...that's how this works.
So thanks Abby, you've touched my life, and I will pay that forward.

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