|PHOTO BY STEFAN SEVILLE
A Young Eagles program for adults and a national network of flying clubs were among the plans EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower shared with fellow members at the Meet Rod Hightower forum yesterday.
In announcing the adult eagles program (name TBD, but among the contenders: Gray Eagles, Bald Eagles, and Old Buzzards), Hightower noted that at 25 out of 26 of his recent Grassroots Pilot Tour stops. Introducing the plan to establish flying clubs that provide more pilots and potential pilots with access to more aircraft at a more affordable cost, model he had seen work well in Europe.
Hightower didn’t offer operational details on the adult phase of the program, but he said those are not the only enhancements in store for the Young Eagles, which has provided 1.6 million youngsters with their first flight in a general aviation aircraft. Henceforth, the program’s objective will include “bringing the 77,000 Young Eagles we fly each year through certification,” Hightower said. “We have not paid a lot of attention to that in the past. Now we will focus attention on helping them all the way through [pilot] certification.”
Introducing the plan to establish flying clubs that provide more pilots and potential pilots with access to more aircraft at a more affordable cost, Hightower said he had seen their success firsthand during four years he lived in Europe.
“I love to plagiarize ideas that work,” he said. “To me it looks like a good model.”
The first step in the three-phase rollout Hightower envisions is to create a flying club at EAA’s Oshkosh headquarters. “We have a bunch of airplanes. Let’s put them into a flying club,” he said. “Establish a safety management system (SMS) for the operation, and maintain the operation. We’re in the process of doing that.”
Sean Elliott, EAA director of flight operations, is in charge of the program at headquarters, which is expected to be operational by this fall. “Then we’ll run it to see how it goes,” Hightower said. “Once we understand how it works and how we would replicate it in the commercial market [phase two], phase three would be wider distribution.”
Hightower noted many of the EAA’s 900 chapters would be potential candidates for establishing flying clubs.
Hightower also announced EAA Sport Aviation magazine, traditionally only available to members, is being distributed through selected pilot shops “to see what happens and learn. It’s an important opportunity to expand, to take our world-class magazine out to the marketplace. We have found out the types of buyer picking up the magazine are new entrants and enthusiasts.”
After opening the floor to questions Hightower was asked about the state of the EAA’s finances and whether they are affected by excessive rains.
“Last year it had a tremendous impact, not because of attendance, but all the expense leading up to AirVenture: pumps, dump trucks, backhoes, all kinds of things.”
Hightower said those expenses totaled $400,000, and in the intervening year the EAA spent $500,000 on improving drainage on the site, but affirmed the organization is financially sound. He said its $35 million annual budget comes in equal parts from membership dues, AirVenture, associated partnerships and sponsorships, and philanthropic donations.