Flight Path

Providing Value to All AIAA Members


It’s no secret that AIAA, along with other associations and societies, is facing issues with maintaining and building our membership base. To reverse the steady decline in AIAA membership, we need to focus relentlessly on the value proposition to our membership, and then on getting the word out about that value.

AIAA has long been the largest and most influential technical society for the aerospace industry. But what AIAA should be is the professional society for the aerospace community, encompassing everyone needed to design, build, and fly aircraft and spacecraft. That certainly means engineers, but also managers, designers, fabricators, business and technology professionals, and communications, marketing, and legal experts—just to name a few.

We also must provide value to the organizations for which our members work. AIAA counts nearly 100 corporate members, but that number should be higher. As a CEO and an engineer, I am keenly aware of the value AIAA provides my company and the industry. Unfortunately, many leaders are not. We need to amplify our message to executives and management—that AIAA provides incredible opportunities for talent development through our myriad committees, sections, and student branches, as well as talent acquisition via the students and professionals who attend AIAA forums and events.

For the past year, the AIAA Board of Trustees and I have been working with representatives of key corporate members to develop a set of recommendations that can help guide us. As a result of these conversations, I wanted to share some of my key takeaways:

Talent acquisition and talent development are the hallmarks of AIAA’s value to our corporate members. Recruiting, developing, and retaining the world’s most skilled and motivated workforce is a priority for every company. AIAA supports the aerospace workforce of today and tomorrow with networking opportunities through section activities, AIAA forums, technical and integration and outreach committees, “Meet the Employer” events, the Diversity Scholars Program, and many others.

Senior leadership participation is key. Senior leaders lead by example. Being an active and visible participant in AIAA programs and activities sends a clear message to employees and the industry that professional workforce development is an important goal. AIAA in return recognizes and embraces this participation, including through our member advancement program and honors and awards.

Designate clear organizational points of contact. Each organization should designate a clear point of contact empowered to speak for that organization—an AIAA ambassador if you will. AIAA leadership will meet regularly with organizational points of contact. Organizations that have implemented this strategy have reported greater information sharing, improved member communication, and progress toward defining and growing value to individual and corporate members.

Companies could “sponsor” AIAA membership for young professionals. Studies have shown that the first five years are the most critical phase of an engineer’s career. AIAA has a strong cadre of student branches, which draws many people into AIAA, but that membership drops dramatically once people join the aerospace workforce. Many young professionals—even those who were student members—tell us that with all their other life expenses, AIAA dues don’t make the budget. AIAA has reduced dues for student-to-professional transition but sometimes even that is too much. So, what if organizations paid for AIAA membership for each of their new aerospace-related hires for the first five years of their career? It would keep these professionals in AIAA and expose them to all the Institute has to offer. I think it could be a game changer.

Set an overall membership target for organizations. Today, most of our large corporate members have well under five percent of their engineering workforce enrolled as AIAA members. I believe we should target something closer to 10–20 percent of each corporate member’s engineering workforce belonging to AIAA by the end of 2020.

Encourage young professionals (YPs) to join technical and integration and outreach committees. Once someone joins AIAA we need them to get involved. Active participation of YPs in technical committees (TC) and integration and outreach committees (IOC) is essential for the long-term relevance and viability of AIAA, and I encourage all employers to support this. AIAA has recently removed numerical limits on the number of participants in any TC or IOC partly because we found that these limits served to discourage young professionals.

At AIAA, we are working to review and improve our programs and our membership structure to meet the needs of the aerospace industry and our members—individual and corporate. AIAA staff and volunteer leaders are actively engaged in making AIAA THE professional society for the aerospace community. Please contact Dan Dumbacher at Daniel.Dumbacher@aiaa.org and me at jslangford@aiaa.org with your ideas, comments, and feedback. ★

Providing Value to All AIAA Members