We’ve poked at this topic a few times before in Club Connector, but with flying season just around the corner, it’s a good time to revisit this important opportunity for flying clubs to connect with and involve the “local community”.
We put “local community” in quotes, as this term can mean different things to different people. Do we mean the local airport community? The wider community around the airport? The city…? The county…? Well…yes to all of the above!
Before we look at different levels and opportunities with “the community”, we should ask why? Why would we want to take the time and effort to be neighborly and inclusive? Well, we can look at this in two main ways, one selfish, and the other selfless.
On the selfish side, flying clubs need members, and “the community” is the source of those members. Whether you are thinking of expanding your club, decide to keep a waiting list or just need to top-up to your membership limit, you’ll want to be in touch with aviation-minded people within, say, 45-minutes’ drive from the airport. Knowing these people, and perhaps more importantly, being known by these people, makes recruitment much easier especially if you are known as a “good club”. Now, this could take us off on a long cross-country diversion if we were to dig into what makes a club good, and even more, what makes a good club great, so we will leave that for another edition of Club Connector.
On the selfless side, the AOPA Flying Clubs Team strongly believe that flying clubs have a wonderful opportunity to be leading ambassadors for not just their club and their airport, but also for general aviation as a whole. In fact, we’ll take it a step further and suggest that clubs share in the responsibility to introduce and involve non-aviators in the activities of aviation, the joys of flying, the importance of general aviation to our communities and the economic impact our airports have on surrounding areas.
Before we move to looking at some specific ideas and examples, we’ll make an obvious statement, but one that sometimes, in the excitement of the moment, may get overlooked:
“Involve the airport manager in all events that will involve ‘the public’ descending on airport property”.
As well as extending the obvious courtesy to the operator of the airport, it is important to discuss things like safety, security, access, adherence to rules and regulations, and so on.
The Airport Community
Invite other airport tenants to your club meetings and cook-outs. Not just immediate hangar neighbors but extend the invitation to airport management and staff, ATC personnel, maintenance shop staff, the FBO (including line and fuel-truck crew), and so on. Don’t forget your local EAA chapter, Pilot Associations, and if you are located at a big airport, invite the fire and rescue team and local airport police—one day you may be glad that you did!
Of course, you don’t have to invite them all at the same time, so spread it around—they will appreciate it. Also, if you anticipate a big turnout, hold the meeting at the public facing side of the airport, and not at your hangar. This will make it much easier to control “the crowds”. Remember, visitors may not understand airport protocols, let alone rules and regulations.
When opening-up your club meetings to non-members, be sure to run a professional meeting, hold it to time and limit pontification, waffling and rambling. The idea is to grab people’s interest and support, not to bore them with all the dirty laundry!
A really wonderful way to involve local pilots and those interested in aviation is to invite them to your regular safety meetings. We introduced the idea of WINGS for Clubs back in 2020, when we encouraged all flying clubs to embrace the FAA Safety Team’s (FAASTeam) WINGS program as their pathway to proficiency and lower insurance premiums.
Does it work? Absolutely, on both counts. Proficient pilots have fewer accidents, so the club makes fewer claims. Bundle members’ WINGS transcripts with the insurance renewal and you will see a discount. Steve’s club did this in 2020 and saw a 20% reduction in insurance premiums—and all members feel really good about their enhanced skills and proficiency.
Work with a local FAASTeam Representative or even better, have your safety officer or an interested member sign-up to become a rep—talk to the FAASTeam Program Manager at your local FSDO to learn about the training and responsibilities. Have your rep advertise the safety meeting using the FAA email system and invite pilots within, say, 50 miles of your airport. Don’t forget to invite other clubs in your area—you can find them using the AOPA Flying Club Finder. If the rep utilizes the FAASTeam Topic of the Month, there will always be new material to present, and it is all done for you, including PowerPoint slides and speaker’s notes. In this way, you always have interesting safety topics for your members, you’ll be doing a service to other local pilots, you’ll become known as a safety-conscious flying club and the club is likely to see lower insurance premiums. What’s not to love about this!
A word of advice here. Hold the safety segment of your monthly club meeting at the start of the club meeting, when everyone is fresh, attentive, and ready to participate. Remember that you can close the public part of your meeting at any time to discuss club business, with members only.
More information on WINGS for Clubs can be found in the references at the end of this article. Feel free to contact Steve or Drew at [email protected] for even more ideas and to hear how they run their clubs’ safety meetings.
If you decide to go ahead with any event, be sure to involve all club members and not just the existing board. Designate a small committee to plan and run things which will report back to the membership. This has the side effect of getting more people involved in the running of the club and may identify the next set of board members.
The Surrounding Community
Businesses and residents in the areas immediately surrounding the airport will have seen us buzzing around—and they will definitely have opinions, even though many have no idea what we are doing. Many will have seen the hyped-up and mostly incorrect news reports of airplanes falling out the sky near airports, so there is an opportunity to put our side of the story—one of training and safety, as well as how airport provide business opportunities and support the local economy.
Along with the airport manager and other tenants, help to organize an airport open day—perhaps make it an annual event. This doesn’t have to be a huge production and it doesn’t have to be an “air show” (which requires whole different level of organization) but could consist of some open hangars with tables for flight schools, other airport businesses and clubs to show off their wares. Add some interesting aircraft in a “static display”, a couple of seminars (for example, a WINGS seminar), and off you go. For more talks, representation and so on, invite the tower staff, representatives from your FSDO. Add an invitation to your local AOPA Ambassador and/or Regional Manager and your friendly Flying Clubs Team, and you’ll have an enjoyable, interesting and informative event.
City and County Community
This takes us bit further afield than the airport, and presents more opportunities to educate, inform and share with the wider community.
Schools are always looking for speakers, particularly for seniors who are starting to consider career options. Have a word with the career counselor at your local school/district and ask to be included on the agenda for career day presentations. The idea is to open-up the world of aviation to young people who might not have thought about our industry. Remember, it is not all about being a pilot. Want to be a software engineer? Great, join Garmin, Foreflight or others to blend a career with the interest in aviation. Want to be a mechanic? Great, it doesn’t have to be cars or trucks, it could be airplanes! You don’t have to be an aviation career guru to put on such a presentation and most of us know enough about the opportunities that abound for people of any age. You’ll find some ideas here—but create and localize your presentation to actual career opportunities at your airport. There is nothing quite like a real job posting to get people thinking!
Many schools and colleges have extracurricular clubs where students meet and learn about different interests, like chess, cricket and quilting. If they have an aviation club, your club members could become regular guest attendees and could also adopt the students as social members of your flying club. If an aviation club doesn’t exist, help start one!
We are seeing a surge of interest in such school aviation/aeronautics clubs as the AOPA High School Curriculum gets adopted at more and more high schools across the country. You can see if a school near you is using the curriculum, here. If so, give them a call and offer to be a guest speaker, and/or to help out with the practical lab sessions. Be sure to work closely with school staff to ensure that you are following all required visitor protocols.
Other youth organizations will also love you for contacting them and offering to provide presentation, seminars, and of course the ultimate…airplane rides. The BSA is always looking for people to help with the Aviation Merit Badge, so contact your local troop. Offer your time to the local EAA Chapter to help out with Young Eagle Rallies and the like. Words of advice here, let the Chapter organize and run the event as they have easy access to insurance, certificates, and other goodies like membership benefits, pilot courses, and so on.
Other opportunities include working with non-profit organizations that provide scholarships to aspiring pilots—most would be delighted if you offer to join their scholarship review committee to help ensure that the scholarships go to the most deserving applicants. Also, there are many non-profit public benefit organizations that need the services of volunteer pilots—see the references at the end of this article for more ideas on this worthwhile activity.
Don’t forget other community-based locations, like libraries, youth clubs and the like. Again, this is an opportunity to reach members of the community that otherwise would not get exposed to our sport and industry.
Another thought on this thread. Whenever there is a change in the town/city/county elected officials, ask for a slot on the agenda of their public meetings. In this way, we can all be preemptive in educating the officials on the value of our airports—value in terms of revenues, sales tax, and the big swayer, jobs. Getting ahead of this early in the term of an administration may save reactive scrambles, later.
Finally…discuss the idea of a “no empty seat” policy with club members. Rather than just burning holes in the sky on your own, offer a ride to club social members, friends, family, coworkers, and others. Perhaps the club could keep a list of people who would love to have a ride, so all you have to do is call them.
As mentioned at the start of this article, we have worked on the topic of community involvement in other articles, so here are links to some related articles.
As always, fly lots and fly safely.