Become an ambassador for GA

Spreading goodwill to your community will return it to your airport

April 26, 2012

Ambassador

Oceano Airport. Photo by Jolie Lucas.

Let’s face it: As pilots we need to become ambassadors for general aviation. If we don’t who will? The media often portrays the GA pilot population as privileged, elitist, and rich. Most of us know that is simply not the case. We have actively made choices to support our passion, perhaps forgoing a new SUV for a vintage Piper, Beech, or Cessna.

We all can do something to help promote GA and serve our communities by creating charitable events at our airports, or adding a charitable element to an existing aviation event.

Here are some tips for creating a charitable event or helping an existing cause.

  • Identify community need: Look around your community and identify what community groups or causes need help. Possibilities include a local food bank, humane society, Girl Scouts, elementary school, community service group, or charity.
  • Contact community leads: Once you identify the need, locate community leaders in that area. A quick trip to their website will provide you with initial contact information. You also can see what standing events or fundraisers they might have. Contact the community leaders and let them know you would like to be of service.
  • Offer your airport as a way to meet needs: Many charities need a venue for their event. Why not offer your airport? For example, if you identify that the local food bank needs more donations, you might offer to have a drive-in, walk-in, or fly-in food drive at your airport. This sort of coordination with other local charities helps to increase visibility for them and for your airport. It feels good to help others, and in turn, we put a compassionate human face on GA.
  • Work with the owner of your airport: A city, municipality, county, or airport district might own your airport. As the lead person, you will have to coordinate your efforts with the owner of your airport. An airport owner can have justifiable concerns about liability or risk. Risk is something we know about as pilots. When we fly, we mitigate risk. We have recurrent training, good maintenance, and an emergency plan. You can do the same for your events, to lessen risk. Life is risky but we cannot let fear of risk stop us from having fun times at our airports. AOPA offers a wonderful resource on having an event at your airport.
  • Publicize the event through community service groups, news, and social media: Publicize your event in multiple ways. Do not forget your local television and radio stations, including public radio. Websites, forums, type clubs, and email listservs are also a great way to spread the word. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are very helpful too. In a way, the Internet has made the world a smaller place. Add to that an airplane, and pilots might be able to attend an event in a neighboring state, if they know about it.
  • Be enthusiastic, it is contagious: A positive attitude will serve you well in adding service to your event. There are always those who say, “That can’t be done,” but pilots know different. Pilots are can-do people. Remember, we are the face of GA.

Create a charitable event

When it comes to creating a charitable event from scratch, look at a need in your community and then target the event toward it. An example of this is the LoPresti Aviation First Saturday.

First Saturday LoPresti First Saturday. Photo by David LoPresti.

LoPresti Aviation traces the origins of its LoPresti First Saturday events, which began in 1999, to company founder LeRoy (Roy) LoPresti’s lifelong love of aviation. LoPresti “hung around airports and airplanes every chance he got” as a child, according to the LoPresti website. However, after 9/11, the airport culture changed. The LoPrestis decided they needed to re-invigorate the airport and invite the community to attend.

“We were sitting inside the fence [of the airport] talking about the people outside of the fence,” said David LoPresti, son of Roy; First Saturdays bring pilots and the community together for breakfast, an interesting topic, and a guest speaker. “Since 2004 First Saturday has focused on kids and military, helping such charities as Operation Hope, Food Bank, Cookies for Soldiers, Boy Scouts, Special Equestrians, Young Eagles, and Cystic Fibrosis. Any income we generate goes to a charity or a worthy cause. In this way, we get to give back to the community and provide a place for pilots to gather. Best of all we get to do what Roy wanted most ... to share the dream of flight.”

The LoPresti First Saturday, scheduled for May 5, will host Patty Wagstaff, an inductee to the National Aviation Hall of Fame known for her thrilling low-level aerobatic routines.

Add a charitable component to an existing event

Nearly every airport has some sort of aviation event. See what is working at your home aerodrome and suggest a charitable element to enhance it. As an example, Oceano Airport Celebration: A Salute to Veterans has always been the second Saturday in May. A successful small community fly-in at the beach: Who could ask for more?

Ambassador Military care packages arrive. Photo by Jolie Lucas.

This year in partnership with Arbiter Systems Troop Support, Friends of Oceano Airport is collecting items for military care packages. The program was started by Arbiter Systems employee Cathy Baker, who lost her son in Iraq. Arbiter Systems pays the postage of the more than 10,000 care packages mailed to date. We have contacted local veterans’ service organizations, service clubs, and visiting pilots to let them know to bring items for troops serving overseas. We have already received several hundred items through the generosity of the pilot community. For more information, watch this video trailer.

We can all do something to make a difference in our communities. Why not use your love of flight, airport, or airplane to help the cause? Whether it is creating an event or adding to an event, get involved; give your passion to a worthy cause. You will be tired! However, it is a good tired. Welcome to being an ambassador for GA.

Jolie Lucas is a private pilot and aircraft owner who co-founded two aviation service groups, the Friends of Oceano Airport and the Mooney Ambassadors . She and her husband Mitch Latting give presentations on promoting general aviation across the country.