For those of you fortunate enough to experience Sun ‘n Fun, you may have noticed the You Can Fly Pavilion outside of the AOPA Activity Tent. Throughout the week, flying club members from across the nation swung by to visit with AOPA’s You Can Fly team.
You Can Fly serves as the umbrella for many of our activities designed to get people flying and keep them flying, things like support for flying clubs and flight schools, the Rusty Pilots program to get lapsed pilots back in the air, and our Reimagined Aircraft initiative.
Programs like these are important, but it takes people to make them happen. So in addition to headquarters staff dedicated to assist flying clubs and flight schools (like myself), we’ve deployed a small group of AOPA Ambassadors to bring these programs to life on a very grassroots level.
Although he’s only been on the job a few weeks, AOPA’s Ambassador in Florida, Jamie Beckett, worked with me and others here at AOPA’s headquarters in Frederick, MD to make a big difference for pilots in one Florida community. He started by creating a seminar called “Maximum Fun, Minimum Cost—How to Start and Operate a Flying Club.” In March, he delivered it to a group of pilots that had been struggling for more than two years to put a club together. Since then he’s met several more times with the group to provide guidance and assistance.
By the end of April, the new “Central Flying Club” was well on the way to formal incorporation. Over the course of just a few weeks, the You Can Fly team has helped 15 pilots fulfill their dreams of launching a flying club. It’s a lot of work, but the rewards go well beyond the official opening of the club. The benefits will extend for years as these pilots fly more, put GA aircraft to good use, share the fun with family and friends, and perhaps serve as a resource for others looking to follow their lead.
But helping flying clubs get started or expand isn’t the only way the You Can Fly staff can make a meaningful difference. Flight Training is an inevitable entry point into general aviation. Our team will play a role in helping flight schools help their students. Working with school managers, we can offer promotional ideas, research data, marketing tools, and more. And perhaps best of all, we can connect flight schools with others in their area and nationwide, so they can share information about what works and what doesn’t, share ideas, and explore new ways to serve their students.
Rusty Pilots represent the segment of the pilot population who are no longer active. Changes in airspace, aircraft, and regulation can be intimidating for those who have been out of the loop. The Rusty Pilot program is designed to acclimate lapsed pilots to those changes and help get them back into the left seat. AOPA is partnering with flying clubs and flight schools that want to host a Rusty Pilots event. The half-day program is free to both students and the host organization, and participants can get a signoff for the ground school portion of the flight review.
We’re just at the beginning of a long and exciting adventure with You Can Fly and the ambassadors and staff who make it work. We won’t turn around decades of declines in the GA pilot population overnight. This is a long term effort that, we hope, will gradually build momentum and help change the prospects for general aviation. It will require commitment, dedication, and something very few pilots have—patience. But I believe it can make a real difference for the future of GA, and so far, we’re off to a great start.
If you haven’t yet met AOPA’s You Can Fly team, visit our tent at the AOPA Regional Fly-Ins or at AirVenture. If you see someone at your airport flying a bright yellow Reimagined Cessna 150 or 152, it just might be a member of AOPA’s You Can Fly staff.
And most importantly, if you’re a club in need of AOPA’s help, we always encourage you to contact us in person, by email ([email protected]), or phone at 1-800-USA-AOPA.