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Wed, Feb 01, 2012

The Business Side Of A Successful Fly-In

Palatka, FL, Event Shows How To Do Things Right

By Dave Juwel

Having recently attended the 2012 LSA Expo where the new management is quickly turning it into a profit machine for the organizing body (at the expense of the vendors and general public), I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the Kay Larkin airport (28J) in Palatka, Florida executed their fly-in. I spoke with John Youell, the Airport Manager, and heard some refreshing things. As a dedicated professional in the field of aviation, John understands that something needs to be done to stop the attrition in General Aviation. 

So he decided to develop a “Community Open House.”

I understood what John was trying to say because in my experienced opinion, a typical fly-in is an event for pilots and their aircraft to come together and contemplate their flying navels, to which the general public is occasionally invited as a roped off spectator. This is one small part of why there is such a large vacant gap of aviators behind the baby boomers.

To revitalize General Aviation, John felt that we didn’t need more emphasis on people already in aviation. We need more emphasis on people that are not currently aviators. And he is right. There are thousands of people that, at some point in their life, might have wished they could fly.  We simply need to attract them to an event where we can either rekindle or initiate that desire.

That’s why John decided to put on a “Community” event dedicated to the general public. To better benefit the growth of general aviation, John wishes that AOPA would change the title and emphasis of their fly-in’s. I agree with John. We need to stop making fly-in’s an introspective event and make them more of an ambiversion event where camaraderie is developed between the pilots and the general public.

John set up the community event by getting corporate sponsors to either pay the expenses, volunteer their manpower, or provide free or discounted products. Every kind of aviator and aircraft, who were based within a reasonable range, were invited to the show. He combined it with an antique auto show.
When the aviators showed up, they found a well-organized event being conducted with a strong emphasis on safety (John was particularly focused on that). Some of the more exotic hardware received free fuel and everyone else had theirs discounted.

When the public showed up, they had free run of the place (restricted only by safety rules), the opportunity to touch the aircraft and talk with the pilots, and watch a constant parade of fly-bys and taxiing aircraft. They also received a free meal including cotton candy for the kids (They requested an unspecified donation to a particular charity for the meal, but it wasn’t an obligation.) No parking fees! No event fees! And a limited number of vendor booths! Rides in a variety of aircraft were given at a discounted rate. Everyone, regardless of their economic status, was able to attend and enjoy this event. Whole families came out because they could afford to.

And it worked.

Everywhere I went, I constantly saw “civvies” talking and fellowshipping with “flight suits.” It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. There was a tremendous amount of sensory stimulation occurring and everyone loved it, aviators and non-aviators alike. I applaud all those involved. Perhaps the success of this event will encourage others to follow suit. (Aerial photo provided by Key Larkin airport)




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