by Mark R. Baker
President & CEO Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Published in Midwest Flyer – Dec 2016/Jan 2017
It’s a little hard for me to believe that our third year of AOPA Fly-Ins is behind us. These events are so fun and exciting for us that they just seem to “fly” by.
We started these fly-ins so we could meet more of our members. We wanted to come to you, to see the places where you fly, and learn more about the issues that matter to you. We didn’t want you to have to take time away from work and family or travel halfway across the country to get to know your association in person. We wanted to bring AOPA to you.
And boy have you responded. Not only have we met more than 44,000 of you in the past three years, almost three-quarters of our fly-in attendees say they’d never been to an AOPA event before. That means we’re seeing members—including thousands of folks who have been members for years or decades—for the very first time. And that feels really good. You shouldn’t have to live near our Maryland headquarters to feel a personal connection to our team and the work we do on your behalf.
We also wanted our fly-ins to be fun. Of course there’s always room for serious learning—and we do offer great seminars on important safety and educational topics—but there’s also room just to hang out with other pilots, bring the kids and let them get an up-close look at airplanes, enjoy some food and music, and get ideas for your next flying adventure.
One of the best things about our fly-ins is the number of pilots who actually fly there, whether from a few miles or a few states away. One fly-in last year brought in more than 650 aircraft, and so far over the course of 16 fly-ins, we’ve landed 6,026 aircraft. The number of people who turn out to volunteer for these events is another highlight for me. These are AOPA members who spend a few hours or a couple of days doing everything from setting up tables and chairs, to cooking and serving pancakes, to marshaling aircraft and parking cars. We average between 250 and 300 volunteers at every fly-in and I’m not exaggerating when I say we truly couldn’t do it without them.
Our fly-ins have even had a tangible effect on getting more pilots into the air. I can’t tell you how many folks stop me to say they’ve attended a free Rusty Pilots seminar at one of our fly-ins after years or decades out of the cockpit and now they’re back in the air and thrilled to be flying again.
Planning is well under way for 2017, when we’ll host four new fly-ins at four new locations. We’ll announce the locations very soon and we’ll unveil some enhancements for next year’s events at the same time. Stay tuned, it’s going to be another great year!