In the December 2012 issue, I commented on what renters had a right to expect at an FBO when they make the decision to exchange their money for flying time. The feedback I received ranged from recitations of unpleasant experiences at unscrupulous or indifferent FBOs to pilots trying to find the right place to rent. What struck me was that number of the pilots looking for a place to rent weren’t so much trying to find an FBO that had well-maintained airplanes with reasonably clean interiors as they wanted a place where they could not only fly, but spend time with others who shared their passion for the sky. They were in aviation for the fun of it, had a budget to pay for it and socializing with other pilots meant they flew more.
I also learned of an innovative few FBOs and flying clubs that reached out to the local pilot community and organized events. Gatherings included safety seminar evenings, fly outs for a morning or weekend, adult beverages in the hangar with the airplanes locked up or cook outs at the FBO. The pilots I spoke with—twice at dinners organized to get area pilots together—were unanimously in favor of the idea. I observed pilots encouraging student pilots to get their ratings, pilots clustered around iPads discussing aviation apps and pilots making flying plans with each other for an upcoming weekend.
I’m paying attention to organized social networking in aviation and may report on it in a future issue. My personal experience with semi-organized social networking—“Hey, I’ll meet you at…”—it is that it seems to work. A CFI friend has a standing reservation for a table at a restaurant once a month. He invites his students and other pilots to show up—no, he can’t afford to buy the dinners. It’s been going on for years. It may help student retention; he’s sure busy.
In a few days I’ll be going to Cadillac, Michigan, where, for the 15th successive year, a group of pilots and their families, from all over the country, get together to fly little airplanes off of lakes. In the summer the lakes are liquid; in the winter, frozen. It’s all because a cool FBO has a creative bent when it comes to marketing its vintage airplanes. Northwoods Aviation has a J-3 Cub and a Super Cub to which it attaches the appropriate landing gear for the season.
Over the course of a weekend, weather permitting, the group gets to do some non-plain-vanilla flying—the photo on this page of the Super Cub blasting off was taken by Hank Conrad at skiplane weekend a few years ago. The FBO makes a little money, local motels get a little extra business, and pilots, and those who might like to become pilots, get to fly historic airplanes in their natural habitat. Family members who aren’t sure flying is all that great get a weekend in a resort community with lots of things to do. Mom or Dad may be off flying, but the rest of the family is close by, having fun.
The group gets together for dinner Saturday night and maintains a tradition of no after-dinner speeches and limits business to whether it wants to do this again next year.
I’ve noticed that FBOs and flying clubs that are proactive do better than those who wait for business to walk in. It’s not that difficult to create a shared weekend to fly something a little interesting, not necessarily exotic, something to be proud of in the logbook, even for just an hour. Tied in with family activities during the day, an FBO might be able to create a profitable niche market with happy, return customers.