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Birthdays and bucket listsBirthdays and bucket lists

Birthdays and bucket lists—these are some of the paths for flight schools to get free advertising. 

We’ve often recommended ways to find free advertising for your flight school via the local news media. Most recently Ed Helmick gave you some very good advice in the Jan. 9 Flight School Business article, “Finding Free Advertising.”

Lately I’ve noticed a trend of local news items about senior citizens taking to the skies, whether to celebrate a milestone birthday, or just because it’s something they always wanted to do.

In Batavia, New York, an assisted living center and a local flight instructor teamed up to give two senior residents a flying lesson. The feel-good story aired on a local TV news station, with a perfect sound bite from one of the two seniors: “It’s something I think everyone should do.” Flight instructor Pete Lockner got a nice on-camera moment talking about the rewards of sharing general aviation with the public.

Then there’s Evelyn Jansma, whose grandchildren contacted Michigan Balloon Adventures to get her a hot-air balloon ride for her 100th birthday.

“When I told them the ride was a birthday present for my grandma, who was turning 100, they offered to give her the ride for free,” Terry Visser told the Detroit Free Press. Jansma’s ride yielded stories in the newspaper and local TV, and a funny quote from the balloon pilot that her next free ride would be on her 110th birthday.

In Jakarta, India, a 102-year-old took a helicopter ride—her first ever flight. I especially like this one because the family said she couldn’t handle the security lines and long waits associated with commercial air travel, but they could drive her directly to the helicopter waiting on the ramp. (Score another point for general aviation!) Vithabai Patil said she’s ready to try a seaplane ride next.

The next time someone calls you for an introductory flight, dig a little deeper and find out the occasion behind it. If the caller is willing to share details, there’s your opportunity to get some local coverage of a special birthday, a bucket list item, or a marriage proposal. It’s up to you to determine if the opportunity merits a freebie, as Michigan Balloon Adventures did. No one expects you to give away your business, but occasionally that type of gesture can earn lots of goodwill in the community—not to mention the free exposure. 

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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