Investing in the Future with EAA Chairman/President Tom Poberezny
January 28, 2010 — This week, EAA Chairman/President Tom Poberezny had the opportunity to discuss some of EAA’s year-round programs and their importance in creating pathways to aviation participation. In this latest interview, Poberezny talks about the role of government advocacy, the success and promise of the Young Eagles program, the growth of EAA’s Oshkosh365 online community, and what EAA and the aviation community need to do to welcome more people into aviation.
EAA’s government advocacy program is a large year-round segment of EAA’s mission to preserve the privilege to fly, build, and enjoy aviation. Poberezny says that general aviation has to speak with a unified voice to meet the current threats to the aviation community.
“We try to stay out in front of issues so that they don’t become issues,” he said. “It complements well the relationships we have with many of the organizations that are based in Washington. As a field organization, we can bring valuable experience. We find that the people within these roles like at the FAA are also passionate about aviation and want to work with us to find solutions to the issues that we face.
“We have to show those in government and the general public what are we doing to self-police and self-educate and ensure that the privileges we have are maintained. We also need to advocate on the public relations front in terms of the media and informing them about our passion.”
Young Eagles is one of the touchstone educational programs that EAA provides to spur youth involvement in aviation. Poberezny says that the Young Eagles program is only the first step in a strategy to involve young people and sustain their interest in flying.
“Young Eagles is the most significant initiative in aviation history in terms of reaching out to kids,” Poberezny said. “Since the program began, over 1.5 million kids have been exposed to aviation through flights with our members. EAA and its partners have created several follow-on programs to sustain their engagement in aviation so that after that first flight and initial optimism, they don’t wait to return to it decades down the road.”
EAA’s chapter network is an essential part of the continuing outreach and encouragement. EAA is investing in chapters with a special emphasis in 2010 through the Chapter Leadership Academy and other programs to help chapters engage people in all demographics in both rural and urban areas.
Poberezny spoke enthusiastically about the key role that Oshkosh365 plays in bringing EAA members together year round, much like AirVenture does for one week a year.
“An important part of EAA’s culture is its sense of community,” he said. “When you come to Oshkosh it’s the planes, the people, and the relationships. What Oshkosh365 does is gives you that same experience you get for one week a year, 365 days a year. The site is an extension of AirVenture and EAA that gives people those pathways to participation that will engage and sustain involvement in aviation.”
Restocking the Pilot/Enthusiast Pipeline
The pilot population is down almost 200,000 from a high of 800,000 a quarter-century ago, as the flyers created by World War II training, the GI Bill, as well as the sheer numbers within the baby-boom generation start to dwindle. Poberezny says that the aviation community needs to vigorously promote participation and share their passion for flight with others.
“We’ve gone for decades without truly being proactive in engaging people to become pilots,” Poberezny said. “We need to create a communication and participation infrastructure that will generate and sustain new interest in aviation. The EAA membership is ready to accept the challenge of growing and building aviation’s future, not just through our youth initiatives, but through our chapters, our events, and through our publications, knowledge, and information.“If we can create the opportunity for 30,000 homebuilts to be built and flying and 10,000 more under construction, we can certainly create the environment that will engage more people in flying, in becoming a pilot, and toward the path of aircraft ownership."