Rally GA: Come one, come all

Community events that make your airport a good neighbor

October 1, 2011

The pilots based at Oceano County Airport (L52) in Oceano, California, know they need to “make it happen” when it comes to promoting local airports. When a local developer raised a threat of airport closure in 2010, we formed Friends of Oceano Airport to highlight the valuable aspects of this beachfront facility. We held numerous events and went to many public meetings, and the threat appears to have lessened significantly.

If your airport is threatened or could be threatened, you need to bring the fun back to your airport and demonstrate to your community that airports make good neighbors.

Boots on the ground

When we talk about community outreach—fun ways to get folks out to your airport—we aren’t reinventing the wheel. While some of our ideas are new, there are many tried-and-true elements. What we hope is the older ideas haven’t become tired and true.

Does your local airport have a Celebration Day, Airport Day, or open house? Have you thought about helping to volunteer versus just attending? If there is no event, why not look into having a “Good Neighbor Day” or Airport Day? (See “ Talk Up Your Airport.”)

Toys for Tots events generate lots of goodwill. Contact your local T4T/Marine Corps representatives and talk with them about the idea. Folks can drive in, walk in, or fly in with new, unwrapped toys. Our annual Oceano Airport Toys for Tots event is held the first Saturday in December. In 2010, we invited a Model A car club that displayed about a dozen cars; their members also brought toys. We collected 13 boxes of toys and several hundred dollars in donations that helped our local kids directly. Each received three toys under the tree instead of two.

Fly-in movie night. Fly in, walk in, drive in—it doesn’t matter! If you have a hangar, campground, or open area, you can make a theater. I suggest the event be free of charge. Offer hot dogs, beverages, popcorn, and s’mores on a donation basis. Show a family-friendly movie that has an aviation theme.

Young Aviator Camp. Approach your local YMCA, parks and recreation department, or Boys and Girls Club and ask about putting on a day camp for children. Teach them about general aviation, the fundamentals of flight, mechanics, how to become a pilot, careers in aviation, aerodynamics, air traffic control, navigation, and charts.

4-H Aero, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts. Boy and Girl Scouts have merit badges in aviation. Host a daylong workshop to help the kids earn their badges.

Learn to Fly Day. Patterned after the highly successful EAA Young Eagles program, Learn to Fly Day aims to give the experience of flight to adults.

Emergency responder appreciation event. Each of our communities has unsung heroes. Why not have a pancake breakfast, spaghetti feed, or burger fry and invite your local ambulance, search and rescue, law enforcement pilots, life flight, firefighters, and other emergency responders? You could enlist the help of the local Rotary, Lions Club, American Legion, Masons, or Elks Club.

School assemblies. Elementary schools have requirements about science education. Aviation falls into that category. Talk to your local principal about doing a fundamentals of flight presentation. You could have radio-controlled models to illustrate lift, thrust, drag, and gravity. End your presentation by explaining that the children and their parents can come to your airport.

Type club fly-in. Most type associations have an annual meeting or a convention; some even have regional events. If you welcome clubs and associations to your airport, they will come.

Service club speaker. Approach your local service club or chamber of commerce about using you as a speaker. This is a perfect opportunity to talk with a captive audience about the value of general aviation and general aviation airports. Make your speech fast-paced, positive, and fun. Use multimedia to your best advantage.

Getting to know your local media

Talk up your airport
When it comes to promoting your airport, are you speaking a foreign language to nonpilots? Learn how to get your message across with AOPA's resources.

  • AOPA's Complete Guide to Holding an Open House
  • It's Your Airport (an informational brochure on communicating your airport's value to the community)
  • AOPA's Talking Guide to Reporters
  • AOPA's Public Relations Plan for Airports

—Jill W. Tallman

Get to know your local radio personalities, TV reporters, and newspaper writers. They would like to have fun too. Perhaps offer to take them for an airplane ride, or invite them to an event taking place at the airport. Write a letter to the editor letting readers know exactly what GA is.

Public service announcements are another way to get the public’s attention. Many TV stations allow the running of spots shorter than a minute for free.

We created colorful “protest” signs: “I Love My Airport,” “Future Pilot,” “Keep Our Airport Open,” “Future Flight Nurse,” “Future News Copter Pilot,” “Future Airplane Mechanic.” These happy signs are an attention grabber, especially when held by a child. We have put them on display at our events and we use them at public meetings if an airport or its value is being questioned.

Become the living definition of GA

In order to promote general aviation, we need to define it effectively for the nonflying public. It is important to be positive and focus on the ways that GA helps our communities and our citizens. Even those folks who do not wish to become pilots would benefit from knowing how GA affects them on a daily basis.

“That’ll never happen here” is something that we hear a lot. Whether “that” is an airport closure, runway closure, or flight restriction, we need to be on guard for apathy in our pilot population. What is the opposite of apathy? Passion. Mobilize volunteers, organize, and overcome apathy. Make a commitment today to inspire the love of flight.

Jolie Lucas and her husband, Mitch Latting, co-founded the Mooney Ambassadors and Friends of Oceano Airport. Lucas is the 2010 recipient of AOPA’s Joseph Crotti Award for service to general aviation for her work to protect the airport.