In a surprise move, Experimental Aircraft Association President and CEO Rod Hightower stepped down on Oct. 22 and newly elevated EAA Chairman Jack Pelton agreed to run the 175,000-member organization on an interim basis.
"I will be working closely with the EAA Board of Directors to ensure a seamless transition to a new leader," Pelton said. "The directors of EAA and I thank Rod for his service.”
Hightower was named to the top EAA job in 2010, the third president the organization based in Oshkosh, Wis., has had since it was formed by Paul H. Poberezny in 1953 to promote amateur-built aircraft.
Hightower introduced a number of changes at EAA’s flagship AirVenture, the world’s largest fly-in, this year that alienated some of organization’s core aircraft builders and volunteers. He also imposed a controversial shakeup early this year that eliminated the positions of about 30 veteran EAA staff members, and had a public split with Tom Poberezny, the former president (and son of EAA founder Paul Poberezny) that culminated in Tom Poberezny leaving the organization abruptly in 2011 at a hastily called news conference.
AOPA and EAA have been working together more closely than ever in recent years on projects such as a petition for a third class medical exemption that could allow U.S. pilots to fly a wide variety of single-engine aircraft under day-VFR conditions without FAA medical exams.
AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller praised Hightower for his cooperation and said Monday that coordination between the two organizations will continue.
"All of us at AOPA were saddened to learn of Rod Hightower's resignation as president of EAA,” Fuller said. “During his tenure AOPA and EAA enjoyed an unprecedented level of collaboration that has served members of both organizations well. Our associations have committed to working together to protect general aviation interests, promote GA safety, and grow the GA community in the United States.
“That commitment has been at the heart of the joint AOPA-EAA petition to expand the driver's license medical standard, now under review by the FAA. If approved, the petition will save many GA pilots the expense and hassle of obtaining a third-class medical certificate, while enhancing safety by providing recurrent training on medical self-certification to fly.
Pelton, a vintage aircraft pilot and owner, said EAA will focus on the core strengths that have helped the organization grow in size and influence.
"EAA, as all of aviation, faces many challenges with the continuing economic slump and the decrease in personal aviation participation,” he said in a written statement. “As an association we must remain focused on the original mission of our founder, Paul H. Poberezny, to welcome all members no matter what they fly, celebrate our volunteers, and treat our employees fairly."