|Rod Hightower welcomed the Bonanza pilots, including Bill Stanek, as they arrived to the North 40.
PHOTO BY BRADY LANE
EAA’s new president and CEO said the past year has been one of learning.
“This year has gone by very quickly,” Rod Hightower said Sunday, almost one year after being introduced to the aviation community at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010.
“It’s been a year of learning about the organization and getting introduced to the industry and trade associations. But most importantly, it’s been a year of getting out there and being introduced to the members, listening to their concerns, and having an open dialogue.”
Hightower flew his T-6 on most of the grassroots pilot tours—26 since January.
“It’s a wonderful way to connect with our chapters, members, and fellow aviators,” he said, noting that they invited all pilots within a 50-mile radius to each of the tour stops.
Usually 125-250 pilots attended each stop, including 15-20 non-EAA members. “That night, on the spot, about half of the non-members join EAA,” Hightower said. “They tell me the same thing everywhere I go—they’ve known about EAA all of their lives, but they just didn’t know what we do.”
As a 20-plus year member himself, Hightower said even he was surprised to learn the breadth and depth of EAA’s involvement.
“I didn’t fully appreciate or understand just how involved EAA was and the impact it has in the aviation field.”
Hightower said EAA’s biggest challenge, however, will be creating the next generation of aviators. And he’s not just talking about youth.
“Out of 24 of the 26 grassroots tour spots, I had aviators come up to me after the meeting—both men and women in their 40s and 50s—who said, ‘I have always wanted to learn how to fly as a child.’ But now that their children are out of college and are self-sustaining, they are finally realizing their dream. They finally have the time and money—they’ve always had the desire.”
Hightower said when he talks about creating the next generation of aviators he’s talking about making aviation more accessible to everyone.
But how do you do that?
The answer lies in EAA’s Young Eagles program, he said. The program provides free airplane rides to youth ages 8-17, and then follows up by offering free online flight training through Sporty’s Pilot Shop and $300,000 in flight-training scholarships.
EAA members provided free flights to 77,000 youth in 2010, he said, but he noted that many more people 18 and up are also interested in aviation but aren’t being reached by EAA’s efforts.
“That (next) group is the logical step to introduce aviation to,” he said, adding that EAA may need to help get people all the way through certification.
EAA’s second challenge is highlighting the benefits aviation offers the country.
“Today, aviation is under attack, even from our own president. ... Aviation has played a critical role in this great economic experience known as free enterprise. But our regulators don’t understand the value of aviation.”
But he’s confident EAA is up to the challenge, in part because of its staff.
“We have a terrific staff in EAA that gets less recognition of the capabilities and skills than they should,” he said.
“But EAA couldn’t do what it does year-round and have the impact on aviation that it does without the staff.”
Where to find Hightower
11:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. – Rod Hightower Interview by EAA Radio Live, Welcome Center.*
12 - 12:30 p.m. – Q&A With Rod Hightower, Welcome Center
7:30-8 p.m. – President’s Awards, Theater in the Woods
11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. – Meet Rod Hightower, Forum Pavilion 7
2-3 p.m. – Stronger Together, Welcome Center
*EAA Radio is on AM 1210 and 93.3 FM, and is live streamed at www.EAARadio.net.