Nearly 900 people converged on Chatham Municipal Airport in Massachusetts on June 13, and there may have been more had the weather forecast not been quite so iffy in the days before. Children and adults got an up-close look at all sorts of aircraft, classic cars, antique fire engines, and police cars. There were rides, too, both on the ground and in the air along with food and plenty of ice cream to go around.
“It’s all intermixed,” said Tim Howard, the airport manager who also runs the FBO and maintenance shop, and offers scenic rides in Cessna Skyhawks and a Waco YMF-5C that stayed busy during the airport open house/fly-in/community day. “People seem to love that.”
Howard said it was the second time they’ve run the event, and there is no question it will be back next year.
“We don’t have a choice whether we’re doing it or not,” Howard said. “Pretty much, the community demands it.”
Not long ago, the community was demanding something entirely different. In 2012, complaints from a handful of neighbors about the noise created by a local skydiving operator sparked a battle between the town and the operator, with the airport caught in the middle. Residents complained about noise, including the audible expletives uttered by some skydivers high above. The town refused to renew the lease for Skydive Cape Cod, prompting the FAA to intervene. The situation is edging toward resolution, according to local media.
“I flew in not totally knowing what to expect for attendance given the recent turbulence so it was great to see so many residents and their children come out to support the airport, learn about aviation (including use of Mass DOT’s mobile flight simulators) while enjoying chili dogs and cheese burgers on a lovely Saturday on the Cape,” AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins reported. “Nothing builds community support as well as opening up and welcoming it in.”
Howard said he was pleasantly surprised to receive a laudatory email soon after the event, directly from the chairman of the town board of selectmen.
“We’re really making some good inroads with them, showing the value of the airport and the employment it brings, the services it provides,” Howard said.
Local police and firefighters were among the many public service agencies with displays and vehicles at the airport June 13, along with aircraft and operators who work with the fishing industry and wildlife management agencies. Chatham is used as an operating base for these missions, along with shark spotters who work with the Discovery Channel.
“We do provide jobs year-round,” Howard noted. The open house is an opportunity to showcase that, and part of a larger strategy undertaken to help local residents understand all that the airport does for the community. Howard has engaged with the local chamber of commerce, and added airport representation in the annual Fourth of July parade.
“I definitely feel like we’ve made some positive impact,” Howard said.
Howard said the Waco YMF-5C biplane purchased in the spring was on the flight line, having been restored just in time. Reduced-price rides in the Waco and three Cessna Skyhawks provided another attraction for many, the aircraft running throughout the day.
“We did great with that,” Howard said. Local pilots stepped up as well to show their skills in a flour drop contest that helped raise $800 for Angel Flight, and was another favorite of the many children in attendance.
“Kids want to see the planes fly,” Howard said. “The whole thing is really geared for the kids.”