“I want to spend every day here!” cried a small boy as the fourth 2014 AOPA Regional Fly-In in Spokane, Washington, came to a close at Felts Field Aug. 16.
If AOPA is making a successful run at promoting a grassroots return to flying, it was certainly evident here. Children played on aviation-themed playground equipment, families marveled at the aircraft on display, and new and old friends enjoyed a beautiful day at the airport on a picture-perfect day.
“This is a great event and a great day,” said EAA Chapter 79 President Jack Hohner. “It shows that general aviation is alive and well and flourishing—especially in Spokane.”
More than 1,500 people attended the event with 244 aircraft flying in. The day before torrential rain held many back (those planning to camp fell from more than 50 to just 25), but clear skies heralded a spectacular day early Saturday morning.
What does an AOPA Regional Fly-In look like? Swarms of volunteers—160—and AOPA staff started early on Friday before the event. The airport was transformed in a matter of hours into a sea of tents, seating, artfully placed aircraft, and signage. In order to prepare for the pancake breakfast, massive amounts of food were purchased. Staff seek out wholesale stores to purchase the perishable items in bulk. For example, on Friday, staffers raced to a Cash and Carry and loaded an SUV with 25 pounds of sausage and 40 gallons of orange juice—and that’s just a fraction of the goods brought in for the event.
Signage, draping, generators, cording, umbrella stands—all of it arrives on pallets in a rental truck. Staffers and volunteers unwrap, assemble, and setup the tables, chairs, tents, displays, and booths for the event. When fly-in visitors arrive, a new city has risen at the airport.
Free lunch has a new meaning—it really does exist at an AOPA Fly-In. At Spokane, 10 food trucks offered terrific food specialties free to AOPA members. “I have to tell you, the food trucks were the best idea,” said one member. “We like good food here in the Pacific Northwest.”
The message of general aviation—the freedom to fly and AOPA’s mission to protect that—resonated in Spokane. AOPA President Mark Baker received great applause for his Pilot Town Hall in which he celebrated victories such as ending unnecessary customs and border patrol searches, reviving flying clubs, and forward-moving action on the AOPA/EAA third class medical reform effort.
Members sought out the petition for third class medical reform and signed it in record numbers. Baker said he was confident there would be more than 12,000 signatures by year-end.
“Upward of 1,000 signed the petition today,” said AOPA Alaska Regional Manager Tom George. “Most felt that reform is way overdue. We had many stories of pilots with medical conditions that allowed them to fly, but the cost of testing and delay in issuing certificates was keeping them from the freedom to fly.”
“I do believe we will see movement on third class medical reform by sometime next year,” said Baker. “AOPA is about you. We want to change the way we’re thinking about general aviation.”
More than 55 exhibitors displayed their products and aircraft on Saturday, and more than 127 lapsed pilots attended the Rusty Pilot program Friday night. AOPA’s 2014 Regional Fly-Ins are at the halfway point, and more than 8,000 members have attended. Next up is Chino, California, on Sept. 20, followed by Frederick, Maryland (AOPA’s Homecoming celebrating the associations seventy-fifth anniversary at headquarters), Oct. 4, and St. Simons Island, Georgia, on Nov. 8.