Outgoing AOPA president Phil Boyer has been chosen to receive this year’s NBAA Meritorious Service Award. “Phil is among the most respected, knowledgeable and effective figures in the history of general aviation, and it is an honor for NBAA to pay tribute to him with our association’s highest honor,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “His contributions have greatly benefited us all, and we thank him for his many years of leadership and service.”
On January 1 Boyer will hand over the reins of the 414,000-member general aviation pilots organization after 18 years at the helm.
“[The award] has a special meaning to me because I think it shows the change in general aviation in the last two decades,” Boyer said.
“AOPA used to be thought of as the baseball-cap [wearing] J-3 drivers on the airport who had little or nothing in common with business or corporate aviation. ,” He said, “However, it’s all under one umbrella, and I think it shows where aviation has come from and that general aviation now is a definite cross between what we think of as the largest corporate aircraft down to that same Piper Cub. It’s all one homogenous kind of group.”
Among the many causes he championed over his nearly two-decade tenure, Boyer is noted for working with the FAA to ensure the certification of GPS use for general aviation; playing a vital role in the passage of 1994’s General Aviation Revitalization Act, which greatly reduced the number of frivolous lawsuits faced by aviation manufacturers; and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, reassuring and educating lawmakers about the safety of general aviation, spearheading the creation of AOPA’s Airport Watch program to report safety concerns at the nations 19,000 landing facilities.
Pilot and News Broadcaster
When Boyer began his career as a broadcast journalist nearly 50 years ago, he never imagined he would one day retire as the head of one of the most influential aviation organizations in the country, he said.
Earning his pilot certification as a hobby in 1967, Boyer soon found a practical use for it. As a news director for a television station in Sacramento, Calif., Boyer worked out an arrangement with his employers to fly news crews to breaking stories in an airplane the station rented. Since he did not hold a commercial license, Boyer could not be paid for his piloting duties, so the station gave him additional rental time instead.
As he moved up the television news management ranks to the network level, Boyer eventually purchased his own Beech Baron and joined AOPA.
As head of ABC’s new business development division during the late 1980s, he oversaw and hosted ABC’s Wide World of Flying, a video magazine devoted to general aviation for pilots and aviation enthusiasts, which exposed him to the aviation industry. By the end of that decade, when AOPA head John Baker decided to retire, a recruiting firm hired by the organization selected Boyer as the top candidate to replace him.
Hobby Becomes a Business
AOPA eventually convinced him to leave his network executive position, and he took over as head of the association on Jan. 1, 1991. According to Boyer, to justify leaving the network job, he told himself he had the opportunity to turn his hobby into a business. “I said, if I don’t screw this up I can stay till I retire. This would be my last job.” He added, “I’ve never looked back because there’s never been any time to look back.”
Boyer credits his success at AOPA to listening to his constituents and never forgetting that his job was to serve them. As a result, during his tenure the association saw an increase in the number of memberships and renewals. He cites his experience as a member of AOPA for allowing him to understand what was important to his constituents.
“I think a lot of people recognize that my aviation background was not climbing the steps of Capitol Hill or working for a manufacturer,” Boyer said. “My aviation background was that of a typical AOPA member, so it allowed me to relate. It allowed me to think and to craft my questions and try to guide policy as thinking strictly as a member rather than as a member of this closed aviation society we often get into when we spend too much time in an industry.”