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New flying club the latest addition at thriving Florida airportNew flying club the latest addition at thriving Florida airport

Editor's note: This article was updated Sept. 30 to correctly identify Friends of Arcadia Airport as the host of a planned monthly pancake breakfast to begin in October. AOPA regrets the error.

A new flying club in Florida helped a rusty pilot return to active status on the club’s very first flight when the group’s president completed a flight review in its leased Cessna 172.

Don Morley stands with Aviation City Flyers flying club’s leased Cessna 172. Photo by Mark Biagoli.

The debut flight of the Aviation City Flying Club from Arcadia Municipal Airport, with President Don Morley in the left seat, was the latest in a series of developments putting the airport on the map as a general aviation destination and reinforcing the airport community’s reputation as strong GA advocates.

Even before the half-dozen charter members of the flying club had organized as a flying club with help from AOPA, the welcome mat was out for visitors to the airport. For more than a year, a nonprofit group, the Friends of Arcadia Airport, has been operating a one-of-a-kind, on-airport camping facility featuring a 20-by-30-foot pilot shelter set in a live oak grove, available to visitors for a fee and by reservation (see the group’s website for details). The group designed, funded, and built the “fly in, camp out” facility, which has been visited by pilots from such organizations as the Recreational Aviation Foundation and the Millennial Wings of the Florida Aero Club of Fort Lauderdale.

Unlike many Florida airports, nontowered Arcadia Municipal in DeSoto County is not located in busy airspace. Visiting pilots are drawn to its one paved runway, one grass runway, open spaces, and mom-and-pop atmosphere—but that’s just the beginning of the appeal, say the airport’s friends. Attractions available to groups and individual visitors who have flown in include a popular rodeo, and a river-canoeing expedition operation, as well as in-town activities.

That message must be getting around, as there were more than 200 individual overnight stays in the facility’s first full operating year, says the friends organization (noting that it is unaware of any other on-airport camping facility in the eastern part of the country).

With the airport drawing visitors to Arcadia, population about 7,700, local businesses have begun to see GA’s local base as an economic-development asset for the city, said George Chase, president of the Friends of Arcadia Airport group and AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer for the airport.

The airport friends’ group, which named the camping facility “Aviation City” to preserve the name bestowed on the city of Arcadia in recognition of its historical role training military pilots after World War I, has helped foster business, working out arrangements for several local organizations to provide ground transportation bringing visiting aviators into town, he said.

Now those visitors also can network with members of the new flying club, who are eager to share their story with others who might want to start a club of their own, said Morley. Beginning in October, Friends of Arcadia Airport plans to host a monthly pancake breakfast, with donations accepted from guests who can fly in, park their aircraft, and talk about starting a flying club.

The club’s members also will be making educational connections, “reaching out to the community and some of the local school systems to interest people in flying.”

Visitors curious about the flying club’s beginnings will learn that the Aviation City Flying Club got its start with help from You Can Fly, AOPA’s project to support flying clubs, flight schools, and others who work to make flying accessible and affordable.

Jamie Beckett, AOPA’s You Can Fly Ambassador for Florida, met some of Arcadia’s pilots at the Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-in and Expo in April 2015, kept in touch, and accepted their invitation to come to Arcadia this year—which he did, in one of the program’s bright yellow, fully refurbished Reimagined Cessna 152s—to present a seminar about flying clubs. It was a successful get-together that “pulled people in from all over the state,” he said.

In an arrangement that Beckett describes as “a great symbiotic relationship between people in the community who wanted to fly,” the flying club-in-development moved forward, working out the lease of a Cessna 172 from a local pilot who is a member of the Friends of Arcadia Airport organization.

Leasing the aircraft has given club members opportunities to expand their outbound horizons, putting destinations on Florida’s east and west coasts in easy reach. The aircraft cuts down travel time significantly, for example, to West Palm Beach—a two-and-a-half hour trek by road that includes a circumnavigation of Lake Okeechobee but only a 40-minute flight in the Skyhawk, Beckett said.

“And this all came together in just a few months,” he said. “It’s just a match made in heaven.”

Chase, the leader of the four-year-old Friends of Arcadia Airport group, emphasizes the “ripple effect” that local airport advocacy has had, both in terms of economic benefits and in having “gained the respect of both county and city officials, and the public” for the pilot community.

Next, he says, is to share the winning formula with other GA communities.

“Now we just need to get the word out that this type of thing can be great for airports of all sizes,” he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: You Can Fly, Airport Advocacy, Flying Club

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