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60 Years of EAA: Leading in a New Era (1998-2012)

Aviation world sees EAA as unique resource

This is the fourth in a five-part series of articles highlighting EAA's history, in commemoration of the organization's 60th anniversary on January 26, 2013.

January 24, 2013 - EAA approached its 50th anniversary and the 21st century still firmly connected to its original mission of personal sport aviation, but the organization saw its role expanding as well. The needs of EAA members and the aviation community brought more demands on the organization, which had grown to include more than 160,000 members by 1998.

A major area of growth was in aviation advocacy, as EAA used its philosophy of collaborative work toward solutions for issues in new ways with the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, and Department of Transportation, as well as with aviation allies in Congress.

The events of September 11, 2001, also demanded EAA's higher commitment to maintain the rights and privileges of personal flight. A new agency, the Transportation Security Administration, added new regulations and threats to the freedom of flight. EAA and other aviation organizations such as AOPA, GAMA, NATA, and others fought to reopen the airspace after 9/11 and continue to be vigilant against overreaching restrictions on general aviation.

In 2004, EAA's 10-year effort to create a new, more affordable category of pilot certification and aircraft was successful with the new sport pilot and light-sport aircraft categories. Dozens of companies entered the marketplace, providing more choices for new aircraft than had been seen in decades.

EAA's annual fly-in convention in Oshkosh was also growing and evolving. The 1998 event brought a new name - AirVenture - and modernization plans for the now 30-year-old grounds. The return of Concorde for the fifth and final time in 1998 sparked a huge attendance increase, and special features such as the centennial of flight (2003), the arrival of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne (2005), and the Airbus A380 (2009) kept Oshkosh the epicenter of the aviation world each summer.

EAA's programming also engaged more members in activities than ever. More than 40,000 EAA members flew Young Eagles, as the program reached its original 1 million youth goal by late 2003 and topped 1.7 million by the end of 2012. Next steps for Young Eagles following their flights also emerged, created by EAA and in partnership with other aviation supporters. The Young Eagles program also was the genesis for an aviation mentoring program for adults named Eagle Flights that debuted in 2012. The tours of the B-17 bomber Aluminum Overcast and Ford Tri-Motor also provided EAA chapters with an opportunity to showcase unique airplanes in their hometowns.

The year 2003 was also significant as EAA was center-stage for the 100th anniversary of flight with its Countdown to Kitty Hawk program, which commissioned an exact reproduction of the Wright brothers' famous Flyer that toured the nation and attempted flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 2003.

Back in Oshkosh, EAA's facilities also grew. The Air Academy Lodge was added in 1998 for youth summer residence programs, while the Leadership Center offices and classrooms were an expansion of the EAA Aviation Center in 1999. In 2009, part of the museum was remodeled as the Founders' Wing. It included space for the increasing number of groups that used the facility for events, as well as a faithful re-creation of Paul and Audrey Poberezny's first EAA office from the 1950s. On the AirVenture grounds, new walkways, amenities, and drainage came in response to member and visitor demands.

EAA's leadership also underwent changes and by 2011, for the first time, did not include a member of the Poberezny family. Tom Poberezny retired from the EAA presidency in September 2010, with Rod Hightower serving as president/CEO until October 2012. As 2012 closed, EAA Chairman of the Board Jack Pelton was leading the organization in a time of transition.

Speaking of changes, the explosion of new technology also meant EAA could reach more flying enthusiasts wherever they were. For EAA's core aircraft-building members, it meant the introduction of SportAir Workshops to teach building skills, the Hints for Homebuilders online video series, and webinars that could reach thousands of people. It also meant a constantly evolving online presence and EAA outreach through social media such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Regardless of the leadership or the aircraft, EAA's mission of sharing knowledge and information between aviators has remained constant through the years. The number of channels has mushroomed over 60 years, however, which is a challenge, but also an opportunity that gives EAA the potential to reach more people than ever with the possibilities of flight and participation in the world of aviation.

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