Be-A-Pilot not dead, just a little pale

 - May 27, 2008, 10:58 AM

With apologies to Mark Twain, recent rumors of the impending demise of the Be-A-Pilot program have been greatly exaggerated.

Hal Shevers, founder and CEO of Sporty’s Pilot Shop and a major contributor to the industry’s learn-to-fly promotion, caused a stir late last year when he vowed to sharply curtail his Batavia, Ohio-based company’s longstanding financial commitment to the program. Sporty’s has contributed more than $700,000 over the past several years.

Shevers was frustrated because just four donors–Sporty’s, Cessna, Honeywell and AOPA–were providing 50 percent of the funding for Be-A-Pilot. “I’m just ticked off that other people have not bellied up to the bar,” he told AIN. “Hey, I’m swimming with some big fish there. I’m way over my head paying $175,000.”

As current chairman of Be-A-Pilot, Shevers admitted that part of the fault probably is with the organization itself. He argued that many potential contributors have not been solicited to make contributions. “I’m a firm believer in the program,” he said. At a meeting of the Be-A-Pilot board of trustees held early last month at Sporty’s, he presented a check for $43,750 for his firm’s fourth-quarter donation for 2001. He said that if the program can raise $2.5 million this year–up from $1.5 million in 2001–and fixed costs  remain at $500,000, it will be able to double the amount of advertising.

“I think we can do it,” Shevers said. “I’m going to give it a try; I’m going to make a call to a couple of people I know who I’m sure would like to give more money and just haven’t been asked.”

Drew Steketee, president and CEO of Be-A-Pilot, said early last month the organization raised about $1.4 million for last year, but he expected more money to come in, in part because “basic member” donors ($5,000 to $24,000) were not asked to make their contributions until the end of the year. “It’s been a funny year for fund-raising,” he said, “because we said to the industry, ‘We’re not going to ask you for a dime until we’ve proved to you that this is the new Be-A-Pilot.’”

According to Steketee, the group has one year’s budget in the bank, and at last month’s meeting the staff presented a proposal for expansion of the program, with an eye to going full-tilt year-round. “The TV advertising has always been the core of the program, and that runs only in the summertime flying season between April and September,” he said.

Through mid-November, the Be-A-Pilot program had generated 31,000 leads, compared with 35,000 in 2000. But he admitted that last year will not equal it because of September 11 and to some degree because of the economy. For the first six months of this year, leads were up 10 percent over the previous year.

Steketee said that 12 board members attended last month’s meeting at Sporty’s–including New Piper Aircraft and Raytheon Aircraft, both of which  had cut back on contributions to Be-A-Pilot–and the staff was given approval to expand the program.