"Adam Smith " Avstry #11

Adam tells us about the AOPA's Center to Advance the Pilot Community, as well as his time directing the EAA AirVenture Museum, and flying in Scotland.

Published Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2012

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Show Notes

J.R. Warmkessel: Welcome Adam. I always actually like to start these conversations by talking about your pilot's licenses, so maybe you could tell me what license you actually hold, and then we can talk about how you got them.

Adam Smith: Well, I'm very happy to talk about my pilot's licenses because I just got a new one last week. Last Wednesday I got my instrument rating. I've been working on that all summer. But basically, I am a private pilot with an instrument rating I've flown a lot of tailwheel and I've done some aerobatic flying and things like that. I may be slightly unusual in the fact that I've gone through the private pilot checkride on both sides of the Atlantic. I learned to fly in Scotland and then when I moved to America it just made sense to go through the same process again because it got me out of a lot of difficult recurrency stuff.

J.R. Warmkessel: Congratulations on your new certificate. That's always a badge of honor. The instrument is a very challenging credential to get.

Adam Smith: I certainly found it that way. For me it was something that I wanted to do as part of a sort of a longer mission I'm on to get my CFI rating. I got my real start in aviation in Scotland when someone who's become a very good friend offered to teach me to fly for free. You know, Jim gave me an amazing gift there. It's come to be a huge part of my life and my passion and a little while ago I was thinking, you know, I should pay that gift forward. I'd like to teach someone to fly for free. And so if I'm ever going to do that I need to get my instrument, my commercial, and my CFI, so getting my instrument was actually the first step on that journey for me. But actually, now that I've gone through it, I think it's actually turning out to be a lot more useful than just a stepping stone to a CFI. I really appreciate the dimension that it's brought to my flying, the sort of precision and the sort of thinking ahead element to it, so it's nice to have that extra capability I get.

J.R. Warmkessel: Let me take us back to the beginning. Tell us about getting your license in Scotland and how that whole thing came about.

Adam Smith: My life and aviation did not collide until my mid-twenties. When I was growing up it just never crossed my mind to be a pilot. In fact, my grandmother used to make us promise never to do dangerous things and she would sort of make her grandchildren sort of faithfully promise that we would never rock climb or we would never own a motorcycle. And I don't think it ever crossed my grandmother's mind that I would fly, because she would definitely have made me promise never to do it. Growing up in Britain, aviation is a very distant thing for most people. There was no local airports for general aviation, and you don't see airplanes overhead, you don't know any pilots. It was just a thing that didn't even cross my consciousness I guess. And basically my whole life I have been passionate about history. I pursued a path through school, history was always my favorite subject and I studied a degree in modern history in England, and then I did a degree in museum studies in Scotland. And basically all of my early jobs were in museums. So I did a coal mining museum, and a farming museum, and golf museum in St. Andrews. And then one day I got a job running the National Museum of Aviation in Scotland. It's a lovely museum if you ever go over there. It's about 25 miles to the east of Edinburgh, based on an old World War I and World War II airfield. So basically this love of history that I had led me to a job in an aircraft museum and that's where the intersection of aviation and my life came into being. Because suddenly I found myself surrounded by a very noticeable passion and a group of people that were very deeply embedded in the history and culture of aviation. You know, it was very striking, and even things like taking children around the aviation museum. It's actually very hard to get kids interested in Victorian farming methods and things like that. And I did notice when I started taking kids through the aircraft museum it was quite special because you had their attention and they were very engaged and interested in what you were doing. So I think I knew instantly that I was involved in something that was quite attractive to me, attractive to my spirit. So I started hanging out with airplane people, learning their language and things like that. And that basically led to this conversation that I already referred to, in 1997. And I can date it pretty precisely because I was drowning my sorrows after some trouble with a woman and my friend Jim sort of said, I'm going to cheer you up, my friend, and teach you to fly for nothing. The deal was I bought a share in a Piper L4 which was painted in World War II markings. A lot of Americans don't know this, but over in Britain, and I think across Europe, the shared ownership of airplanes is much more prevalent than it is in the United States. If you were to pick up a British aviation magazine you'll tend to find more ads for shares in airplanes than you will find for whole airplanes. And so I bought into this co-group, relatively affordable, you're a one-fifth owner so there's an equity stake you buy and then the costs of hangarage and insurance and things are spread between five people. It's purely a coping strategy that's evolved to deal with the high cost of aviation over there. Even today it is, as a rule of thumb, about four times more expensive to fly in Britain than it is in America. I got into this group and I learned to fly. I guess interestingly, one of the advantages of a good aircraft group or flying club is you get sort of community aspect or the social environment. All the people that were in our airplane group became good friends and we would socialize together, and I actually ended up marrying one of them. So for me, I bought an airplane and ended up getting a wife out of the deal as well. Janet and I have got a shared passion for aviation. At the time she was an airline pilot for British Midland flying out of Edinburgh, and then she came over to America with me in 2001 when we came to live in Oshkosh.

J.R. Warmkessel: Take us back to the museum. Give us a little flavor of if we were visiting that museum, maybe when you were there, maybe not today, but what would we have seen, what kind of exhibits did they have? What really sticks out in your mind?

Adam Smith: Well, compared to a lot of museums, the first thing that hits you is the landscape in which the museum is located. GARBLED 600 military airfields built in Great Britain for World War II. This particular one where the museum is located is called East Fortune and it is the best preserved of all 600 of those airfields. It's actually been designated as an ancient monument so it actually has the same classification as amazing things like Stonehenge or Westminster Abbey or whatever. And so the government actually scheduled a couple of airfields in Britain to be preserved as accurately as possible as representative of how they would have been in wartime. So when you drive into East Fortune, it feels like you've gone onto a military base and you can see all the different buildings that comprised the heart of a World War II airfield. Of course, there were four big aircraft hangars and eventually you'll get inside and see the aircraft collection, which is, it's a nice collection. There's about 70 or 80 airplanes in there. And it's one of those aircraft museums that are quite comprehensive, in the sense that it's not solely on military aircraft or civil aircraft or whatever, it's got a good blend of both and tries to show every dimension of aviation, so there are some real gems in the collection. One of the oldest aircraft in the world is in there. It's a glider built by an Englishman who flew in Scotland called Percy Pilcher in 1896. Having an original aircraft that is from 1896 is really special. And then the collection kind of goes through the history of aviation, and has some real strengths in World War II. There's an original Spitfire and a Messerschmidt 163 rocket plane, which are both very special parts of the collection. And then basically go on through the jet age, and there are even some large outdoor airplanes, a Vulcan bomber being one of the most distinctive, and a de Havilland Comet airliner. Since I left they did also acquire one of the Concordes, so that's been a big boost to that museum. I remember when I worked there we used to do the calculations to figure out if we could fit a Concorde in the biggest hangar and things like that. So I was thrilled when they got one, and it was a huge logistical exercise, there are some photographs of it being taken to the museum in Scotland. They had to bring it by barge from London up the coastline, and then there was a whole expedition, they had to bring the aircraft over land. And it cost, I guess in dollars, several million dollars to do it. They've got a wonderful airplane there now.

J.R. Warmkessel: Fascinating. That reminds me of the Endeavor last flight was just a few days ago here in California. I didn't see it but apparently they took a parade of Endeavor down the road and they cut down a number of trees getting the Endeavor from the airport to the museum that's going to be its final resting place.

Adam Smith: I'm really impressed by the plans they've got for Endeavor actually. I went to a museum conference earlier in the year and I got a good briefing on the plans that each of the museums have for the shuttles. I think visually the most impressive is going to be Endeavor, displayed in the vertical position on the classic stack of the fuel tank and the external boosters. I can't wait to see that when they get the exhibit finished.

J.R. Warmkessel: Really looking forward to it as well. Tell me a little bit about getting that pilot's license. When you learned to fly, what was it like?

Adam Smith: What was it like? First of all, learning to fly in Scotland is, I think anyone who learns to fly has got the classic problem of you got, all these things have got to go in place for it even to happen. You've got to get the weather, and the flight instructor and the airplane and you all in one place in order to even go flying. In Scotland the weather is a much more significant factor than it is over here in America. You know, I used to fly in conditions that you didn't think anything of at the time but now it's like, wow. They used to send me up on solo flights in very low overcasts and things like that, just because if you didn't you would never fly, you know. I guess another little reflection on flight training, just to give your listeners some perspective on flying in Britain and some of the challenges over there, when you're flying around the pattern, doing pattern work, or over there you would call it circuits, just think how many touch and goes you do as you're learning to fly.

When you learn to fly in Britain, every time your wheels touch the ground you're going to get charged a landing fee, and that really racks up when you're in the flight training phase. I really appreciate America. I can't think of a single place in the last 12 years that I was even charged a landing fee anywhere, but I can't think of a single airport I ever landed at in Britain that I didn't get charged a landing fee. Little things like that stick in your mind very firmly. I've never met a pilot yet who couldn't remember his or her solo flight in great detail. In fact, it's something we've been talking about here in the office recently because I've got this theory that, although the government kind of tells us when we've become a pilot by the issuance of a certificate, I think that internally, for me certainly, when I soloed, that was the point when I thought, "I am a pilot," because I can now do this myself. And I think that solo is one of the most powerful experiences that human beings can ever have. And, I don't know. I can't remember my first kiss as vividly as I can remember my first solo, you know, and I think that is one of the more, as we start to think about, you know, how do we improve aviation? And how do we bring more people into it? We've got to focus on the positives, and we do have a really amazing thing there that maybe we could make a little bit more out of.

J.R. Warmkessel: So tell me about your solo. Give me the details.

Adam Smith: I suppose it was, you know, a regular solo for as much as I understand these things, being around the circuit for awhile, and then the famous moment comes when your instructor gets out and...

J.R. Warmkessel: Where was it?

Adam Smith: It was at a place called Cumbernauld in Scotland. It's sort of situated sort of mid way between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Relatively modern air field. I think I read recently that since World War II there have only been two absolutely new, certified airports in the whole country and Cumbernauld is one of them, and it's situated right...the runway is parallel to the Antonine Wall, which is an old Roman wall that was built to keep the marauding Scots out of England a couple thousand years ago. And so I was flying out of Cumbernauld. I was taking off to the west and I think, like most solo pilots, you immediately notice the airplane's more responsive because the instructor's weight isn't in it. I do remember singing as I flew around my first pattern. I don't know why. I think I was just really happy. I think I just sort of talked to myself the whole way around, and I have no real recollection of my landing or anything like that other than just a feeling of elation about the whole experience.

J.R. Warmkessel: So in America, the kind of the tradition is three takeoffs and landings for a solo. Is that as well?

Adam Smith: Yeah, I think I did do three on the same day. Yeah, but this tradition you have in America of cutting the shirttail off is I think uniquely American. I certainly never came across that in Britain. It was a surprise to me when I came over here and learned about it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Did they have any interesting traditions for the first solo in Scotland?

Adam Smith: I don't think so. My memento of solo that I still have proudly on my bookshelf at home is, I have engraved silver tankard that was giving to me by PFA chapter. PFA, as it used to be called, was the popular flying association, although they changed their name a few years ago and are now called the Light Aircraft Association in Britain, and it's a similar organization--the EAA--except much smaller. But they sort of encourage people to build their own airplanes, and they have a chapter network. They're actually called Struts, but it's the same concept. So that community of people got me this lovely silver tankard and engraved it with all the details of my first flight.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's really excellent. So then you said you moved to American. You went to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Adam Smith: Yeah, so as I said earlier, you know, I knew nothing about aviation and then I came into it. And suddenly there's this place you start hearing about that you've never heard of before and it's called Oshkosh. And it kind of, it sounds funny, you know. It rhymes and even in Britain Oshkosh truly is a mecca for aviation. Everyone knows about it. If you've never been to Oshkosh, you intend to go at some point in your life. people talk about it a lot and many people each year make the pilgrimage. And I think, particularly when you're in a country where aviation is quite a challenging thing to get involved with, Oshkosh, it almost represents literally heaven on earth. It's an amazingly free country where aviation is so vibrant and so strong, and you can see it all in one place and meet all the wonderful people. So Oshkosh has got a great reputation. People talk very highly of the museum and etcetera. And then in the year 2000 I got a grant from the National Museums of Scotland to visit America for the first time, and I toured around the country and visited some of the great aviation museums in America. I finished up the whole thing in Washington, D.C. at the air and space museum and timed it to coincide with a museum conference that's organized there each year. So I spoke at the museum conference about our work in Scotland with the Museum of Flight, and a couple of weeks later I got an email from EAA saying words to the effect, you know, "We've heard your presentation and we're really impressed by what you're doing. We have a vacancy as a museum director. Would you be interested in the opportunity?" And, first of all, I never thought that i would go and work in America. That sounds like something that's just off the charts of my mind, but, hey, this place is in Oshkosh so maybe I could get a free trip to Oshkosh out of the deal for an interview, you know. So I came over.

J.R. Warmkessel: Twist your arm a little bit.

Adam Smith: Yeah. I came over, and, of course, you know, was really impressed by EAA and the organization and the facility and things like that. The first time around I didn't accept the job. I really didn't...there was some, just a whole set of circumstances that caused me to think, you know, I didn't want to do it. Probably the most important being that I thought my mother would kill me if I went to live in America. So, I turned the job down and went along my merry way, and then I talked to my mother about it and said, oh, you know, this thing had come up in America and I turned it down. And she was like, "Oh, you fool. Why did you do that? I always thought that America would be perfect for you, and you should've gone," and that really surprised me. So I guess this thing was in the back of my mind, and then a few months later EAA got back in touch and kind of said, "Hey, we've been continuing to look and we can't find anyone. Is there any way you would reconsider?" So what I did was, I took a vacation and actually went to stay in Oshkosh for a couple of weeks just so I could get more acclimatized to the whole environment, and at the end of those two weeks I took the job.

J.R. Warmkessel: That must've been the summer time.

Adam Smith: Actually it was the fall. You know, they got a lovely...of course in Britain we would call it the autumn. They get, you know, lovely colors in the trees and they made sure I went flying, and hunting, and all those good Wisconsin things. So, yeah, but no one mentioned the winter, and I actually arrived right in the middle of the winter. That was January, and I'll never forget my first day at work at EAA because I decided somewhat foolishly that I would walk to work because it's what you do when you're British. You try and walk around. I remember getting halfway to work and being feeling like, "I have never been this cold in my entire life," you know. So, anyway, that's something you get used to and, you know, eventually I got acclimatized to the winter weather. They even got me ice fishing last winter.

J.R. Warmkessel: Oh, wow. So now most people probably don't even know that there is a museum at Oshkosh.

Adam Smith: Oh, interesting, because as I say, even in Scotland, people would talk about the EAA museum as being, you know, a great resource and so clean and well presented. It is, I think the EAA museum is pretty unique in the whole world in the sense of the subject range that it covers. You know, because I'm interested in museums, and history, and aircraft and stuff, something that I've sort of studied, and it's fascinating to me just how many aircraft museums there are. There are probably at least 2,000 of them in the world and a good 600 or so in North America, which is really remarkable. I can't think of any other subject where there's that many museums around something in that short period of time because aviation is still only 109 years old, and we got 2,000 museums all about it. And I think it tells you something about aviation and the kind of amazing artifacts that it throws up and the kind of experiences that aviation stimulates. But, as I was saying, I think the EAA museum is sort of unique amongst them in the sense that it really covers very well what I call the personal experience of aviation and the difference that ordinary people have been able to make on the course of aviation. And of course it starts with the Wright brothers who, two relatively ordinary guys who did an extremely extraordinary thing. They invented the airplane. EAA likes to claim the Wright brothers as their, you know, although the organization wasn't invented, the Wright brothers really represent the spirit of the organization and the way they took a hold of the problem and solved it and advanced mankind. I think you can see that through the history of aviation through people like Lindberg and so on, and even today when, for me, when you look at a guy like Burt Rutan and what he's done in his life and career. I think it's the same story, not because he had enormous resources, but because he had a vision and a dream and that sort of "get up and go" desire to do something. In his own way I think Burt Rutan has changed the world, particularly as we think about space travel.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yeah, without a question. So, looking back at your time at the museum, you know, if you had to highlight the one thing you were most proud of about that time or the achievement that you had there, what would you say that really sticks out in your mind?

Adam Smith: That's a good question because, you know, I ended up doing a lot of different things at EAA, but I never stopped doing the museum. That was something I did for the whole 11 years that I was there. During an 11-year run you do a lot of things in terms of events and activities and exhibits. I think for me, probably the best exhibit we did, although the exhibit that I'm the more proud of would be SpaceShipOne because, as I just said, for me, it actually represented a very important lesson, which is that, even 100 years after the Wright brothers, it's still possible for relatively ordinary, average people to do an incredible thing through aviation. And it also opened some really good horizons for the EAA museum, actually, because when you can call yourself sort of an air and space museum, that helps a lot in attracting school visits and things like that. What we did with the SpaceShipOne exhibit was, for the original SpaceShipOne--the actual aircraft that flew in space--went to where it belongs, to the National Aerospace Museum. But we wanted to cover the story at EAA, so I called Mike Melvill at Scaled Composites, and Mike of course is well known for being the person who flew SpaceShipOne into space on two of its three space flights. I explained to Mike that we had this idea that we would like to build a very accurate reproduction of SpaceShipOne, and with it we had this idea that we could demonstrate the feather, which is the breakthrough technology that Burt Rutan invented. If you're familiar with it, the whole aircraft pivots for reentry and completely changes its configuration and then when the aircraft has reentered the atmosphere, it goes back into a more traditional aircraft configuration. So we thought we could see a way to demonstrate this for museum visitors, and I should be able to do something that the Smithsonian couldn't do with the original because it was the original. So I was chatting with Mike about it and he said, "The problem with this, Adam, is that there's just no way you could ever afford to pay what it would cost to do this." He said, "But let me think about it and I'll get back to you." Well, it couldn't have been more than about five minutes before the phone rang again and Mike said, "We just had a talk, and basically the managers at Scaled Composites have volunteered to work on this project, and we think that we can make all the parts for a very accurate reproduction of SpaceShipOne. And if you can help us with some of the material costs and agree to put the parts together in Oshkosh, then we can make this happen." So that's exactly what transpired, and there was one day we received sort of essentially the world's largest plastic model aircraft kit in Oshkosh and put it together, and it was a very proud when we built the exhibit there. It was a very proud day when Burt Rutan declared that the reproduction was so accurate that he was going to call it SpaceShipOne serial number two. We worked really hard. I think we took about 3,000 photographs of the original SpaceShipOne and tried to replicate every last detail of it. In fact, the museum exhibit staff were very proud of that work, and they were once installing a line of screws on the replica and the line was crooked and they was, like, "We don't want to install a crooked lines of screws," but because it was like that on the original, we decided to keep it that way on the reproduction. So, yeah, it's a good feeling to see that exhibit in operation because we're demonstrating something that's the essence of SpaceShipOne and why it was a real breakthrough and we can do that in a way that, you know, there are a few other replicas of the aircraft around, but none of them can do what the EAA one can do. So probably just stand out as being one of the more fun projects to work on in my time there.

J.R. Warmkessel: And I also understand that you were somewhat involved in Oshkosh AirVenture.

Adam Smith: Well, yes, eventually. Yeah. You know, I came over exclusively to run the museum, but in my 11 years at EAA I did end up wearing a whole bunch of other hats as well. I did the aircraft operations. It was always a lot of fun to work on the B-17 program and things like that. Did youth education, working with the air academy and the Young Eagles program, chapter program, and the magazines, but it certainly was a lot of fun to work on AirVenture as well. And from 2004 onwards I was responsible for what we call features and attractions. So every year putting together the program of, you know, interesting and hopefully exciting things that would attract people to the event. So basically, you know, all year round you've got your radar on for, you know, things that you want to invite to the event and we had a real stroke of luck the first year that I was running that program because it was the year that SpaceShipOne and White Knight were able to stop at Oshkosh on the way to the Smithsonian. So that got our program of features and attractions really on a great footing, and we were able to do some fun things over the years bringing in the AirBus A-380 for the first time, or the Boeing 787, or, you know, starting to do the program of the flying movie theater, the outdoor theater, and concerts, and things like that. The Night Air Show was a big plus for us as well. The first time we did that it was really amazing and that's become I think sort of a permanent fixture of the event now. But all the time, what you're trying to do with AirVenture is, you know, manage the culture as well and make sure that the different areas of the grounds, the homebuilders, and the warbirds, and vintage, and the ultralights have all got something that's of interest to those communities. I think probably that, you know, as long as I live the enduring memory of Oshkosh will be the people. That event is I think the big secret of Oshkosh. Actually, it's not really run by the EAA staff. You know, when I was in Scotland, I used to run an air show and it used to almost kill me--the stress, and the work, and, you know, it was really, really hard work. And when I came to AirVenture I thought, well, you know, this is the biggest air show in the world. It's going to be incredible, so I sort of steeled myself for this traumatic experience that I was expecting as a member of staff, and I remember the first year I was, like, "Wow, the staff aren't really doing anything here. It's all being done by the volunteers." And I think it really is a sight to behold, how Oshkosh comes together so smoothly, and I think it's a real credit to the volunteers. There are probably maybe about 50 different areas of the event that each has a chairman. Each of those areas is run impeccably well, and it just seems to work together. And, you know, that's something that'll stick with me, just the quality of the people. Sometimes, you know, I've observed this a lot at Oshkosh. There are people who I see might have quite an ordinary day job, or their Oshkosh job is the sort of main thing in their life. You know, they put thousands of hours of time into it because they believe in it, and, you know, it is one of the things that makes it all possible. I think without the volunteers it just couldn't run.

J.R. Warmkessel: One of the things that always impressed me, is that, anyone who ever asks me, I say, you can go to the show and it's a week long but you're not going to see all of it. In fact, you're probably not going to see most of it. There's so much to see.

Adam Smith: Yeah, I think Oshkosh is one of those things that's kind of rare, actually, in the modern world, which is that I've never met anybody for whom it didn't exceed their expectations. Now usually when something's been built up, and built up, and built up, you know, and you've heard so much about it, well, you know, often it can be a little bit underwhelming when you actually get there. But I think Oshkosh is one of those experiences that truly is just completely multi sensory overload and I think one of the reasons it is so big is that you never see it all. You just come back next year to see the bits you missed the previous year, and then you realize there's, you know, there's bits that you missed. And, hey, I worked there for 11 events and I was still discovering things that I didn't even know existed, you know, in the 11th year.

J.R. Warmkessel: It's pretty amazing. Now I understand that you've actually left EAA and gone onto another organization.

Adam Smith: I have. My run at EAA came to an end in January and I took a little sabbatical, which was really good for me. I got my body and spirit healthy, and as we discussed earlier I got my instrument rating and flown the length and the breadth of the country. I think I've put about 125 hours on my Cessna 180 this year so far, and by and large had a fun time. But there comes a point where I guess you got to start--you got to pay the bills, right? So actually over the summer I started doing a little bit of consulting work with AOPA and really got intrigued by the organization and in particular the people that were here. Curiously, although I'd worked for EAA for a long time, I hadn't really had a lot of exposure to AOPA's people. I've been a member and, you know, received the magazines and, you know, heard the leadership speak and that kind stuff, but when I started coming here over the summer months it was really striking to meet the staff and, wow, there are some awesome people here with, you know, really incredible passion for aviation and knowledge. And that's just something that I feel very attracted to. So I was enjoying the consulting work, and I guess eventually that led to a situation where I was offered and accepted a full-time position. So I'm actually in the process of relocating from Oshkosh to Fredrick, and there's obviously a lot to do there. But having moved from Scotland to America, it's probably not as bas as that, and being in the job about three weeks now and just starting to get my head around it, it certainly is a something of a daunting job that I have got I think. Essentially what AOPA has done here is established a new unit in the organization called the Center to Advance the Pilot Community, and the reason the center has been established is because there is a growing concern about the decline in general aviation in America. When we look at official statistics, they show us that for the past 30 years there's just been a slow erosion in the number of pilots in the U.S.A, the number of hours flown, etcetera. And I think, you know, any of us that fly, we can sort of see it with our eyes as well and our own experiences that the airports seem a little bit quieter. And particularly the past three or four years when the economy's not been in great shape, and it seems to have accelerated a little bit. So I think, you know, there's been a lot of dialogue on this subject for a number of years as people have started to feel the decline, and AOPA has decided to do with the board of trustees is really get serious about this problem because if we don't then that's a pretty scary prospect. And, you know, I feel particularly motivated because of my experiences flying in the UK because in some ways it's like the nightmare scenario of what aviation might becomes like in America if we don't, you know, arrest the decline. The few pilots you have, the less flying there is, the less people are out to sustain the infrastructure and so then costs starts raising and it just all becomes a vicious circle or a death spiral. I don't want to get, like, overly negative about it. I actually don't believe that all hope is lost here in America, and it certainly is in way, way better shape than the aviation experience in Europe. And so we're starting to get to grips with, "OK. If we've had this 30-year slow decline, what are we going to do about it? How do we stop this? And how do we start to think about getting some growth into aviation?" So that's been occupying my mind for three weeks and will for the next several years that we'll be working as hard as we can on that subject. Some of my initial thoughts are, obviously when we talk about decline in aviation the conversation usually gets quite quickly towards cost and complexity of flying, and I think something we need to be sort of eternally vigilant about, I mean, there are some aspects about the cost of flying that even a large organization like AOPA just, you know, can't affect the global price of gasoline or the global economy, or whatever. But I think the better work that an organization like AOPA can do on cost and complexity is at the government level. And obviously there is a real strength here in the organization to keep the government off our backs and to work as hard as we can to keep new regulations from being onerous and new costs, and user fees, and taxes, and things like that, and that is something that is completely absent from Britain. When the government wants to come up with a new tax on aviation, it just does it, and there is no lobby group that is large enough or effective enough to do anything about it. And so, you know, the most basic level, AOPA needs to stay strong in that area and I'm sure will be. Now if we get really good at the government side, we can actually start, you know, knocking down a few barriers that exist right now. And I think a good example of that is the third class medical petition that's underway right now. If we can get rid of the third class medical, then we've achieved that sort of rare but precious thing, which we've eliminated a hurdle or a barrier and made it fundamentally just that little bit easier to participate. And I think as we move into future years, we will be also looking for opportunities like that to, you know, to sort of get on the offensive rather than always being on the defensive. And, actually, just my recent experience doing the instrument rating I think is a good, you know, gave me some thoughts about one dimension of that, which is that I thought that the written exam for the instrument rating was really frustrating. I don't mind hard work and I don't mind studying and preparing, but when so much of the information is just patently useless, and I will never need it or use it because it's just antiquated, it does get frustrating. And so, you know, things like that really do matter when you think about the experience of people, and if I feel like I'm on a mission to do anything with the new center, it's to try and get aviation thinking about the experience of our customers, particularly the people who are coming into aviation for the first time, because I think any business on any level that loses touch with it's customers is heading for trouble. I'm not sure aviation, from top to bottom at the moment, gets a passing grade on that. So I will, you know, I do feel very motivated to try and encourage the aviation community to sort of stop this navel-gazing and always looking at our selves and wringing our hands and stuff like that. We've really got to think about how the outside world is seeing or what their needs, and interests, and goals are and how we can connect the amazing experience that aviation has got to offer with the outside world. If we don't then there's going to be other leisure industries, or sports, or, you know, there's plenty of other people that are competing for time and dollars. And if we want aviation to be strong we have to be at least as good as our competitors.

J.R. Warmkessel: Have you thought about maybe what the pilot population could do to help encourage new people coming and learning to fly? Have you given that any thought yet?

Adam Smith: I actually do think that there is absolutely now way the AOPA can solve this problem alone. You know, I think AOPA can bring some resources to bear and to, you know, do the best job that it can do, but if we're going to get aviation turned around, it's going to take all the organizations and all the good people out there, you know, and their best efforts too. So I think one of the strongest things, one of the strongest assets that we've got to work with, is the aviation community. I sort of developed this theory that, when I was working at EAA, that there's a few thousand people in aviation here in America that are just awesome people and that they seem to be the sort of lifeblood of aviation. These are the people you'll find in leadership roles at flying clubs, and EAA chapters, and volunteering, and flying kids, and just being good citizens of aviation. And I think that engaging with that group of people is going to be a smart move in getting the best out of their energy and their ideas. And in some ways, there have been quite a lot of studies done about churches, actually, and how successful churches grow and operate, and it's the same kind of thought process of, there is usually a set of advocates that believe very, very strongly in the mission of the church. And if you can engage them and get them and their passions pointed in the same direction, you can often achieve amazing things. So I'm sort of thinking about the world in that way and looking for those opportunities to do things. And I suppose, you know, I think I did sort of obliquely mention the EAA Young Eagles program there, which, you know, I've worked with for a long time, and it's a great example of where I think people can make a difference. And I absolutely, even though I'm working for AOPA now, I absolutely support Young Eagles and encourage every AOPA member to join EAA and get up there flying Young Eagles because I suppose, in some way the great secret of Young Eagles is it might not actually be about the kids. You know, I suppose the stated mission of Young Eagles is to get young people in the air, give them a great experience, you know, get them enthusiastic about aviation, and hopefully, you know, in a few decades time that will bear fruit, and I think there's definitely that element of Young Eagles. And I think anyone that's flown Young Eagles, you know that you've made a difference sometimes in the way that a young person thinks about things, but I think Young Eagles is equally important, and even just in the basically giving pilots something to do with their airplane. You know, one of the areas that I'm very interested in is not just how we bring people into aviation, it's also how we stop them leaving, and there's an old adage in business. It's a lot cheaper to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one, and I think that really applies to aviation. So there seems to be a reasonable amount of focus on how do you bring people into aviation, but I've never heard anyone talking about, why are we letting thousands of people who have valid medicals and the time and money to fly, why are we allowing them to leave? I think aviation is one of those things that is kind of quite easy to fall out of. You maybe lose your currency in flying and you lose that confidence to fly, or something like a medical or a biannual flight review gets in the way and you never get around to it because you're busy, or whatever, and suddenly someone's not flying. And one of the things I want to do is kind of try and understand that a little bit more, and, you know, and try and prevent it or maybe put some programs in place that are specifically designed at bringing someone back in on a path back in to aviation after they've fallen out of it. But back to Young Eagles, you know, I think one of the things that it's doing there is it's actually giving people a reason to fly. It's given them a good community-oriented thing, and it's also great PR. There is nothing like a Young Eagles rally for creating a positive image of aviation in your local community. You're clearly giving something back to young families, and, you know, I think that can do no harm whatsoever.

J.R. Warmkessel: I agree 100 percent. In fat, my EAA, which is chapter 119, has flown over 4,000 children.

Adam Smith: Excellent.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yeah, pretty proud of that. Well, I think it's been about an hour and I should probably let you go. Any closing thoughts?

Adam Smith: I would certainly, if anyone is listening to the podcast and wants to get in touch, I would like to...if I can read out my email address. It's, and I would always be delighted to hear from anyone that's got thoughts and ideas about what we're trying to do with the pilot population in particular. I never believe that I've got a monopoly on good ideas. If anyone's got any thoughts they'd like to share, I would certainly welcome those.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well, Adam. Thank you so much for your time, and I really enjoyed this fantastic conversation.

Adam Smith: All right. Well, thanks, James, and keep up the good work.

J.R. Warmkessel: I'll do my best. You have a nice day.

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Show Notes