From Connecticut to California, from the Oklahoma heartland to Florida’s Gulf coast, general aviation pilots connected with thousands of their closest friends—and GA made new friends along the way—during the fourth year of AOPA Fly-Ins in 2017.
Starting off with a fly-in at Camarillo, California, in April, and concluding with a conclave in Tampa, Florida, in October, AOPA Fly-Ins featuring a new two-day format, with more educational workshops and fly-outs to places of local interest, “were a real hit” with the aviation community, participant surveys show.
A key aim of the fly-ins is to bring pilots together to share their passion and learn together in a social atmosphere—and if member feedback is an indication, that objective was met and exceeded.
“I felt very welcomed and ‘part of the family’—this was the first wholly AOPA event I have attended and I was extremely impressed. Staff were warm and inviting and volunteers super friendly and helpful,” a pilot commented.
A longtime AOPA member wrote to express appreciation for opportunities to make personal connections in the world of GA. “The value added to my membership is because of face to face with AOPA reps" as well as with industry personnel "that online or on the phone can't match.”
The educational opportunities provided by AOPA Air Safety Institute seminars and the newly added workshops were a consistently big draw, with more than 30 percent of those surveyed rating the activities as their No. 1 reason to attend a fly-in—a result that “tremendously exceeded expectations,” Eads said.
Many praised the fly-ins for the opportunities for individual contact with AOPA leadership, with two-thirds of survey respondents saying the fly-ins enhanced their sense of the value they receive from their AOPA membership.
Attendance, spurred in some instances by significant local media attention, was strong at the individual fly-ins, and became record-setting at the Norman, Oklahoma, fly-in, which was held at the University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport in conjunction with the airport’s eleventh annual aviation festival.
One local newspaper headlined its story: “OU Aviation Festival goes big with regional fly-in."
Of the attendance at that event, “3,000 were members of the general public coming out to explore aviation,” noted Eads, adding that OU’s Sooner Air Academy provided special activities for young people during the joint event.
Overall, the 2017 fly-ins drew just under 25,000 people, and 1,733 aircraft, to the four fly-in airports.
Participants also gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the fly-outs that offered pilots a chance to visit selected destinations by relatively short flights, and immediately apply learning gained at fly-in educational sessions—as those who tackled overwater flying to the Bahamas enjoyed following the Tampa fly-in. Other excursions from Tampa included touring Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach, and a Tampa-area visit to MacDill Air Force Base.
AOPA plans to offer more excursions modeled on the success of those activities and others from 2017, such as the fly-out from Groton, Connecticut, to Rhode Island’s Newport State Airport for a day of cruising on the water and touring The Breakers, the most famous of Newport’s mansions. The fly-out was arranged in partnership with the Cessna Pilots Society.
As the 2018 AOPA Fly-Ins continue to expand the areas of the country where AOPA has brought GA pilots together, look for extended hours of exhibits and activities on the fly-ins’ opening Fridays, along with exciting new fly-out opportunities and other new features, Eads said.
Responses to date demonstrate that the AOPA Fly-Ins provide a real opportunity for the extended family of AOPA members to have fun together, share their ideas, and become ambassadors for GA with the public, he said.
Or, as one 2017 participant summed up the experience: “The AOPA Fly-in gave me an opportunity to go on a ‘mission’ doing something I love and meet with other pilots, a sense of community.”