November 26, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
Joe Ricci, the co-owner of Massachusetts-based Pilgrim Aviation, was looking for an outside-the-box way to publicize his flight school and scenic flights. So he decided to take a fully operational Cessna 150 and place it inside Hanover Mall to educate the public about general aviation—and even tempt some to take flying lessons.
The idea came about after Ricci and his partner discussed how to teach the public about GA. “We both have successful businesses outside of aviation and started Plymouth because we both have a love for GA,” he said. “General aviation has this sleepy mentality, no one markets it and we turned that around with this promotion. The plan was to find new ways to bring people to the school and get them in the air by thinking outside the box.”
When Ricci and his partner first approached mall management about bringing in the Cessna 150, they understandably thought they were crazy. “But once we explained what we wanted to do and showed how we could make it work, they were open to the idea,” he said. “After that, they said they’d build a stage to put the aircraft on.”
The big draw for the mall is that patrons want to know how the aircraft got into the mall, said Ricci. “We bought the 150 in Peoria, Ill., and had a custom trailer built to bring it to Plymouth,” he said. “We brought it back to our maintenance facility at Yankee Aviation, drained the fuel, and disassembled the plane. We reassembled it in the mall.” He declined to say how much it cost for the promotion, saying it was “substantial.”
Pilgrim Aviation has one to three pilots at the aircraft when the mall is open, said Ricci. “We have all our brochures for flight training and scenic flights. Our pilots interact with mall customers, and there’s a nice information kiosk in front of the plane,” he said. “We’ve already had to print more brochures because we’ve run out and it isn’t even Black Friday yet.”
Pilgrim Aviation offers a free ground school to bring people in, and so far, three people have signed up, said Ricci. “No one can figure out how we got it in there. That’s the first question they ask and that starts the conversation,” he said. “They are enamored that plane is in the mall. It’s a great icebreaker.”
The way to measure the program’s success is in getting more people interested in GA, said Ricci. “We’re not looking at it for sales, but as a way to get the Pilgrim brand out to the general public,” he said. “We also want to show them the safety of GA aircraft, get them to do a demo flight or free sessions on our Redbird LD simulator.
“We’ve had a lot of great reactions to the plane from the mall, customers, and the media,” said Ricci. “We now have other malls who want to bring it to their malls.” The Cessna will be in the mall through the holidays.
AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.
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