• AOPA Australia is now headquartered in the Falcon Air hangar at Bankstown. (AOPA Australia)
    AOPA Australia is now headquartered in the Falcon Air hangar at Bankstown. (AOPA Australia)

In the true spirit of Mark Twain's legendary rejoinder, it seems the rumours of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia's death have been greatly exaggerated, despite the organisation booking an operating loss for 2019.

With the release last week of the long-delayed 2019 financial statement, the organisation appears to be on a reasonable footing, thwarting the expectations of some industry commentators who were predicting AOPA to be on its last legs financially.

Instead, the audited financial statement showed an operating loss of $34,620, much of which has been attributed to depreciation. The result shows improvement over the $54,000 loss booked for 2018.

The number of members was also down 13% from 3366 to 2930 and the surplus down to $89,000 from the $116,000 of 2018.

On the plus side, the balance sheet showed an end-of-year cash position of $75,700, a 32% increase over 2018.

AOPA's annual general meeting was originally scheduled for May, which meant the previous year's figures should have been available before that. The delay–attributed to COVID measures that hampered the auditing process–prevented a real picture of the finances from being made public until now.

AOPA Australia CEO Ben Morgan told Australian Flying that 2019 was a tough year for the organisation as it transited its publications from hard paper to digital formats to enable AOPA to concentrate more on advocacy.

"It was a very challenging year from a perspective that we had to face the reality that AOPA Australia is not a magazine company," he said. "The cost of producing a magazine in 2019 and beyond was no small figure [about net $40 kpa].

"The focus of the organisation has been on addressing the most urgent need for our members, which is the advocacy to try to bring forward the necessary changes that will reduce the hurdles and barriers of entry into general aviation, address the concerns around making flight training more deliverable by aero clubs and small organisations nations wide."

"Also, throughout the year, we sought to put ourselves in a position where we can advocate directly and firmly on behalf of our members on airport issues, leasing disputes and other matters where, if we succeed, we have a direct measurable and meaningful impact on helping aviation survive."

Morgan also said that AOPA battled with an industry that was in decline and the organisation was facing the same difficulties that plagued many companies within GA.

"We face an enourmous challenge with membership in Australia, in that there is a significant  number of people who are exiting because they just can't absorb the cost," he said. "It's not easy to overcome, because to grow AOPA we need to effectively win on these regulatory matters to get the general aviation repositioned so that we can move forward.

"We also deal with Australian apathy. Every single member of the Australian general aviation industry has benefitted from the tireless efforts of AOPA Australia, which has moved forward the medical reforms for RPL/PPL holders in this country. They've benefited from being able to get their medical issued on the same day; they've benefitted from getting the cost of that medical reduced.

"I would encourage everyone out there to get behind AOPA, because we're a great organisation."

For an organisation the size of AOPA, a 13% loss in members stands to have a large impact. The loss represents an income reduction of $41,000

"The loss of membership we experienced in 2019 unfortunately was directly related to members who simply wanted a magazine.," Morgan said. "AOPA is so much more than a magazine; a magazine cannot deliver medical reform, deliver Part 43 engineering reforms, make changes to the civil aviation act, prevent the closure of airports or over-turn fees and charges at Cootamundra Airport.

"What achieved these outcomes for the Australian aviation industry was the focused, determined and tireless advocacy driven by real human beings who make their lot in this world to get things done."

According to Morgan, the operating loss was inflated by accounting procedures.

"$20,000 of that operating loss is an on-paper depreciation figure. We have to depreciate the assets like good accounting practice dictates, which effectively reduced the operating profit of the organisation. If we were a for-profit organisation that would be a benefit, but because we're not-for-profit we don't pay company tax.

"In reality it was a net cash-operating loss of around $14,000 for the year and I think that's a fantastic recovery from the previous year."

The audited financial results also show:

  • $28,000 profit from the 2019 air safari to the Kimberley
  • $15,000 in donations and sponsorship
  • $18,000 in expenses for the members' coach
  • $142,000 in wages and salaries.

At the end of 2019, AOPA brought on board as treasurer Dr David Hooke, who immediately took oversight of the bookkeepping and accounting processes. Ben Morgan believes this has strengthened the governance of AOPA.

"David has done an enormous amount of work, especially throughout 2020 that has ensured AOPA governance and accounting standards are done at the highest levels. He's done a fantastic job in 2020 and we're confident the result for 2020 will be as close to break-even as possible."

AOPA Australia has recently moved into new headquarters in the FalconAir hangar at Bankstown, which is expected to save the association up to $21,000 annually. Morgan believes AOPA is in a good position now to go hard in the coming year.

"Look out 2021! Our board is already having a discussion about being out and about around Australia during the year. I'll be seeking to book engagements at every venue we can get to with the intention of getting amongst the GA industry to share with everyone the successes of AOPA over the past five years."

General aviation has suffered a crushing downturn in 2020, which is expected to impact all businesses and operations within the industry. All of this occurred after the AOPA books were closed for 2019, which means the next set of figures due to be released in 2021 may show a gloomier outcome.

AOPA Australia's AGM is scheduled for 22 December 2020 at 10.00 am at the FalconAir hangar, Cirrus Place, Bankstown Airport.

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