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Weird and Wondrous Airport Passport Programs

Been There, Stamped That

Virginia Department of Aviation (DOAV) has made a grand showing at 2023’s SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida. The organization’s public relations and education specialist Anthony Sotelo and his team have used the expo—the Sunshine State’s largest, best attended convention—to increase awareness of Virginia’s rich aviation history and current aerospace assets.

After the longstanding and beloved tradition of conventions, Mr. Sotelo and company went about the business of promoting their cause with swag, to include surfeits of branded pencils, 2023-2024 calendars, rubber airplanes, and luggage tags and stickers sporting the slogan Virginia Is For Flying Lovers. The DOAV contingent also had what can and ought only be described as The Stamp.

The Virginia DOAV operates an Ambassador Passport Program, an initiative by which anyone, pilot and non-pilot alike, who visits the entirety of Virginia’s 65 public-use airports and attends requisite safety seminars and a fly-in becomes eligible to earn three levels of Virginia DOAV branded awards.

First-level awards consist of a baseball cap and lapel pin. The second-level award is a stylish flight/overnight bag. The third-and-final level award is a fitted leather jacket which recipients can have embroidered with the slogan of their choice—e.g., call sign, aircraft registration number, social-security number, I ♥ Buttigieg, etc.

The DOAV staff, as previously stated, has provisioned itself with The Stamp, and can immediately validate SUN ‘n FUN attendees’ passport booklets—which can be picked up at the DOAV’s on-site mobile-unit.

On 31 March 2023, an aviator hailing from Manassas, Virginia and currently enrolled at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s (ERAU) Florida campus excitedly collected his passport booklet and first stamp.

Manassas was the site of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run. Conversely, Embry Riddle’s Florida campus was the site of a great deal of partying involving school co-founder and celebrated barnstormer John Paul Riddle and his good friend, aerospace magnate and storied weirdo, Howard Hughes.

Pilots perusing this article at SUN ‘n FUN are cordially invited by Mr. Sotelo and his team to point their aircraft north at the show’s conclusion and make the five-hundred-plus-mile journey to Virginia for purpose of visiting any of the state’s public use airports and picking up their own Ambassador passports. Avid flyers can earn the “multi- state” patch after completing the Maryland and North Carolina programs.

Several U.S. states operate Ambassador passport programs in which pilots are encouraged to participate.

The state of Virginia is home to 438 airports, 65 of which are open to the public. The state’s shortest improved runway—2004-feet by fifty-feet—is at Eagles Nest Airport (W13). Virginia’s most interesting runway—reportedly, and for reasons unknown—is located on Falwell Airport (W24).



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