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.
A 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
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:
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!
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:
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?