AOPA's birthplace, Wings Field, which has in recent years emerged from the darkness of a questionable future, celebrated its new vitality on Saturday, September 8, by adding a festive "airport support" community celebration to its yearly exhibition of vintage aircraft and classic automobiles. An estimated 4,000 local residents attended, many with children.
The event, titled "Vintage Aircraft Day and Classic Car Show and Celebration of the New Runway-Taxiways at Wings Field," also showcased recent improvements to the airport. It was sponsored by Wings Field Aviation, Inc., the fixed-base operator at the field, and designed to maintain good relations with airport neighbors.
"It's entirely appropriate that AOPA's birthplace should set such a high standard for events to build community support," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, who spent the day at the event explaining the value of GA airports, both for recreational pilots and for business travelers. "But the key point here is that any GA airport in this country could—and should—be doing the same."
Boyer pointed out that AOPA has always supported efforts by local pilots to build community support their local airport, and that help now available includes expertise in FAA rules, aviation law, and land-use matters, along with fact-filled manuals, promotional brochures, and videos. Those AOPA resources are available to any local pilot or support group willing to use them, and Wings Field pilots used many of those resources to help stage the weekend event.
The event included a display of new Cessna aircraft for sale, demonstrating for the nonpilot public the renewed vitality of general aviation. The new aircraft nestled amid some four dozen unusual and historic aircraft including a 1931 Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogyro and an enormous Russian biplane, a single radial-engined Antonov AN-2.
Interspersed with the aircraft on the ramp were some 85 classic automobiles. Adding to the festival atmosphere were food and beverage vendors dishing up hot dogs, hamburgers, and soft drinks.
The celebration of renewed vitality at Wings Field was particularly sweet for AOPA, since the association itself was founded at the airport in 1939. The airport had been established 10 years earlier and for the first 40 years of its life bustled with growth and activity.
But like many privately owned, public-use airports around the country, Wings Field began a long, slow slide in activity after the post-World War II boom in general aviation. At the same time, increased residential construction near the airport brought new neighbors, some of whom started complaining about aircraft noise and worrying about potential safety problems—the same issues that have resulted in airport closures in many communities throughout the country in recent years.
In the late 1990s, however, pilots based at the airport formed Wings Field Preservation Associates LP, a nonprofit corporation, and purchased the airport from the aging owner. Since that time, the group has upgraded facilities, improved maintenance, and installed new equipment.
The associates even managed to obtain an FAA grant of $3.4 million for the airport improvements, including the badly needed extension of the single runway from 2,625 feet to 3,700 feet. Together with added taxiways, the improvements added a safety margin for aircraft taking off and landing at Wings Field. Such FAA grants to privately owned airports—even those open to public use—are extremely rare.
Throughout the process, the group has used AOPA expertise and materials to promote Wings Field and quiet neighbors' concerns over noise and safety.
"It was visionaries at Wings Field who founded AOPA some 62 years ago, and it's visionaries at that same airport today who are ensuring a bright future for it," said Boyer. "That same bright future can be available for your airport, as well— if you're willing to invest the time to build local support before it's needed."
Listed below are some of the AOPA airport support resources available to pilots or support groups. Many are available on the Web. Printed copies are available by calling 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association was incorporated in 1939 by five prominent Philadelphia businessmen, including Wings Field founder J. Story Smith. Since then, AOPA has not deviated from its charter to help the nation's pilots keep general aviation flying safe, fun, and affordable. The association now represents some 370,000 pilots, well over half of all active pilots.