Question of the Month: What can a club do to help with community awareness and outreach?

The AOPA Flying Clubs team is often asked questions like this – basically, how may flying clubs provide services to the community and how may this help with club membership and longevity?

There are many ways in which a flying club can reach out to their local community and at the same time, help inform the non-flying public about general aviation and the fantastic freedoms and fun that we enjoy.  As we have written about previously, many post 9/11 actions, while necessary for security and safety, had the consequences of limiting both actual and perceived public access to our airports.  The result is that many people – even those that live close by - may not know about the value of airports and the contributions they make to local economies. 

The physical fences around airports are clearly here to stay, but that doesn’t mean that we should keep out interested people.  Indeed, we must work harder to inform non-airport users of what happens there and to explain that airports and their activities are within reach.  We hope it is not too much of an overstatement to say that it is our obligation to inform non-aviators about the benefits of our airports, so that we may continue to protect our freedom to fly.

PrintA few years ago, the Blue Valley Flying Club based at Hebron Municipal Airport, Nebraska (KHJH), helped organize and run the state airshow and fly-in.  The airfield is only half a mile from a rural town of 1,500 people, where everyone knows each other.  The event was a great success, with more than 3,500 people attending.  There were two clear take-aways from the event.  Firstly, that everyone really enjoyed themselves and hoped it would be repeated, and secondly, the number of people who had never been to the airport before and didn't understand its importance to the local agricultural economy. Furthermore, the club picked up two new members from this event.

We see three broad ways to achieve awareness of our airports and to “give-back” to the community and at the same time, get the word out about your flying club:

1) Invite people to the airport to meet with club members and other airport operations

2) Reach out from the airport and meet with community groups

3) Provide services that benefit the public


Getting People to your Airport

There are several types of events that flying clubs can host and participate in.  These events help build the club's reputation at the airport, awareness within the community, and also create an opportunity for club members to spend time together and build camaraderie and friendships.  Non-aviators love going to airports and looking at airplanes - just look at the attendance, of all ages, at airshows and fly-ins.

Just a quick note of protocol and courtesy.  Ensure that you get approval from the airport operator for all events that involve “the public” on the airport.  In fact, we suggest you ask the airport authority secretary to include the event as an agenda item on the next airport authority meeting.  As the agenda should be publicly posted, this gives other airport tenants and members of the public the opportunity to attend the meeting to hear more about the planned event.

Events that could be marketed to the public include:

  • Open house/family day
    • This could be a small event at the club level or other tenants may be interested throwing-open their doors to turn it into a bigger shindig. Your hangar would be an ideal location for this – but do first check with the airport operator.  Invite club members and extended families. Don’t forget to invite people on your waiting list!  To see an example of how such a day can come together, read this month's Event Spotlight
  • Aviation movie night
    • These can be good fun, especially if the movie is presented in a hangar with some popcorn and drinks.  Be careful with movie copyrights as well as details such as emergency procedures.  We suggest you talk with the local Fire Marshall about seating, egress, etc.
  • Young Eagles (in cooperation with a local EAA chapter)
    • This is a wonderful way to get people out to the airport and to introduce them to aviation.  It is relatively easy to host a Young Eagles event, but again, follow protocol.  Let the FBO, local ATC tower, fire-rescue, etc. know about the event, as depending on the size there may be a significant increase in airport operations during the event.  Work the arrangements either directly with the EAA Young Eagles team, or, even better, if there is an EAA Chapter local to you, ask them to organize the event, with the club providing aircraft and pilots.  Either way, involve the EAA as they have special insurance for such events.  By the way, when working with any youth organization, expect to be asked to attend some sort of youth protection training.
  • Guest speakers
    • Opening-up club meetings to members of the public is an excellent and low-cost way to showcase your club and to let people know just how accessible general aviation really is.  Choose your topics wisely for these open meetings.  The idea is to illustrate how easy it is to be part of GA, and not to turn people away with detailed lectures on aerodynamics, or the gruesome details of a "crash".
  • Fly-ins
    • Many clubs host regular fly-ins, often in collaboration with the airport operator - again, don’t forget to get approval from airport management. These events typically involve breakfast, but the whole point is to get people together.  You can post your event on FBO notice boards, in the calendar section of state aeronautics department’s newsletter, and online sites such as Social Flight

      Some advice here – search around to see when other airports in your area are having events.   Many airports and clubs have been holding fly-ins for years and always on, say, the third Saturday of the month.  Be a good neighbor and pick another day/time!  On that topic, if you can’t find a free weekend to hold your event, team up with a club from an airport already planning an event and ask to have a table where you can display your banner.   One way to differentiate your event, or to be invited to  someone else's, is to provide presentation – perhaps a safety talk or some general interest topic.

One last point about events at the airport.  Depending on the size of the event, be prepared to plan for parking (car and plane), portable restrooms, food, trash bins, etc.  Organizing such events is really fun and rewarding and doesn’t take that much work – but do treat it seriously and plan ahead!

Community Outreach

Let’s now look at how a club and its members can reach out to the community.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Participate in existing events, such as school career days, the local county fair, have a float in the July 4th parade, etc.  As a flying club, you have just the same opportunity to display your wares and talents as does the synchronized-swimming team, so take full advantage of these opportunities.  Generally, other groups organize these events – all you have to do is attend!
  • Many middle and high schools offer extra-curricular “clubs” to their students.  If your local school doesn’t have an “aviation club”, think about starting one.  As you are aware, your club members have a wide scope of skills and talents that students would love to hear about.
  • On the topic of youngsters, Boy Scout troops often struggle to find suitably qualified people to help with the Aviation Merit badge.  Who better to do this than pilots with a plane and a hangar?  This gets the scouts interested in aviation, and has the pull-through of having parents, siblings and grandparents come along for interest.  Make sure you work this through the troop and ensure that qualified leaders are in attendance at all times.  Now, couple this event with Young Eagles and you could really get some activity going!

Public Benefit Flying

The third topic revolves around the provision of (volunteer) service and benefits.  There are many organizations that would love to have the patronage of a flying club, and there are some 60-plus groups that use public benefit flying as part of their operations.

Here is a definition of Public Benefit Flying from the Air Care Alliance (ACA) website:

“Using their own time and general aviation aircraft, pilot volunteers from the many public benefit flying organizations help hundreds of people each month. They and many other non-flying volunteers work to transport patients in need to facilities where they are able to receive medical attention they might otherwise have to do without. Many groups also play a significant role providing disaster and emergency relief, serving our veterans, flying for environmental support, transporting animals, taking youth on educational flights, or performing other community service missions.”

If you do decide to go down this path (see this month's Club Spotlight), be sure to read the AOPA Safety Advisor “Volunteer Pilots: Balancing Safety and Compassion” and understand the roles and responsibilities you will be undertaking.    AOPA’s Air Saffety Institute also offers an on-line course “Public Benefit Flying: Balancing Safety and Compassion, that gets into the details of volunteer flying.

It is also easy to find information about volunteer-based charitable transportation groups – in fact the ACA publishes a useful sortable on-line directory of such groups.  Further, AOPA colleague Jim Moore provided details about many organizations that could use your help in his 2015 article “A Day to Serve”.

As you’ll see from the above, a club and its members can do a great deal to involve and help its local community, as well as building awareness and understanding of airport operations and GA in particular. 

How about you discuss these and other opportunities at your next flying club meeting?

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