The first time Duke Tomlin took on the task of organizing the event where leaders of Maine aviation organizations could gather to plan for the coming year, he worried that no one would show up.
Determined to avoid that outcome, he followed up on initial email contacts with letters in the mail—and after that, phone calls.
Still, he worried that no one was coming.
"It turned out everyone was coming," he said in a phone interview.
That was seven years ago, and pilots from Maine and New England are still showing up in numbers for the annual Maine Aviation Forum, as evidenced by 50 pilots representing some 28 organizations trekking to the Maine coast for the 2014 edition of the forum, hosted by Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1434 of Belfast, Maine.
As in past years, the event was held in a perfect venue for a get-together of aviation neighbors: the Owls Head Transportation Museum, at the Knox County Regional Airport.
AOPA, recognizing that these are the gatherings that give general aviation its coherence and community, dispatched Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins to the Feb. 22 forum, were he reviewed recent state legislative efforts, gave an overview of the association’s federal initiatives, and urged the pilots to attend the AOPA Regional Fly-in set for July 12 in Plymouth, Mass., one of six such events planned around the country this year.
"It’s important for AOPA to participate in events like this, connecting with members and pilots,” Collins said. "On one hand, it serves an opportunity to network with local organizations and businesses and coordinate on legislative issues. On the other—of equal importance—it’s a chance to discuss with members first-hand how AOPA is working for them at the regional level to protect and improve the local and state aviation."
In 2013, he said, an AOPA-supported bill passed in Maine to protect and extend an exemption from sales and use taxes for aircraft and parts that otherwise would have expired under previous provisions.
Collins discussed AOPA’s work on the joint petition, with EAA, to the FAA seeking self-assessment for many pilots of common single-engine aircraft on the basis of their driver’s licenses in lieu of a third-class medial.
He explained how final approval by Congress, in November, of revised smaller-aircraft certification methods that can pave the way toward reduced flying costs.
The pilots were refreshed and fortified with coffee and pastries from Lisa Reece of the Maine Aeronautics Association and Charlie Gabelmann and members of EAA Chapter 87 of Brunswick, Maine, and lunch from Mike Watson’s "food crew" from Norridgewock’s EAA Chapter 736. Tomlin also expressed appreciation to Leroy Muise and Columbia Air Services of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Bar Harbor Airport for generously underwriting the cost of lunch.
Tomlin, a retired tugboat-company operator in coastal Belfast, knows about the impact of flying costs first-hand. A longtime Cessna Cardinal RG single owner, he eventually "downsized" and become one of three owners of a Piper J-3 Cub when his need for a cross-country traveling machine had diminished. The adaptation was "a perfect example" of how pilots cope with present high costs and still stay active in aviation, he said.
Although the future remains "a hard read" because of the costs, Tomlin senses cautious optimism among the pilot population.
On an entirely upbeat note, he added that getting people together while a harsh winter rules the roost reminded everyone of the packed aviation calendar of events that awaits this summer—for which there’s usually "a pretty darned good turnout."
Collins agrees with that formula.
"Every chance to get together is a chance to build community—and it’s that community which is vitally important to the health of the industry," he said. "Plus, it’s something every pilot can do to have fun and contribute—so gather on!"