It’s a classic general-aviation-versus-the-airlines scenario: A businessman and his friend need to fly from Columbia, S.C., to Orlando, Fla., for a 9 a.m. business meeting. Two tickets for the airlines would be pricey, they’d have to fly down the night before, and they’d have to connect through a major hub. By opting to travel by a small GA airplane, the two leave early the morning of the meeting for a direct, two-hour flight—and they save some money in the process.
Merrill Donahoo, South Carolina’s General Aviation Ambassador, shares that personal success story in presentations throughout the state to civic organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. The big win—in Donahoo’s case saving money and increasing productivity by traveling GA—is luring others in South Carolina to their local airports to see if learning to fly could benefit them as well.
Donahoo, who flew in the U.S. Navy in the early 1970s and is a retired businessman, said he realized the advantage of using small aircraft to “enhance your productivity” in the business world. Now, he targets groups who have the time and means to learn to fly and can use it to their advantage in their businesses.
“The key is that we’re reaching people who have not been reached before,” said Donahoo. “We’re reaching people who have the money, the time, the expertise, and also the need to use the small plane in the business.”
He visited AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md., March 29 to share his efforts to bring more people into the aviation community. Meeting with Adam Smith, AOPA senior vice president of the Center to Advance the Pilot Community, Donahoo said that in addition to emphasizing the productivity savings that GA can offer a business, he talks to groups about GA safety, career options, and learning to fly. He said that audience members often approach him after his presentations to say they plan to set up an introductory flight for themselves, a spouse, a family member, or a friend. He also has written articles and opinion pieces for mainstream publications in the state.
Donahoo’s efforts are supported by the South Carolina Department of Aviation Commission of Aeronautics, and are an example of one of the many ways the Center to Advance the Pilot Community hopes to inspire people nationwide to learn to fly. Donahoo said he hopes other states will adopt a similar program to help boost the pilot population.
“I commend you and the state of South Carolina on what you are doing here,” Smith said. “I think you are pioneering an idea that has got a lot of merit that could easily be replicated at other places around the country.”