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Selections from our new product launch series”

January 12, 2015


     I've been received a lot of questions regarding how Operation: Fly North Carolina was set-up and established. For those not aware of the program the basic concept is to; fly to airports, visit aviation museums and attend safety seminars earning prizes along the way. It seems appropriate, not to mention more efficient, to share some of my experience from concept to application. It's best to begin...well, at the beginning.

       Operation: Fly NC was officially kicked-off on May 1, 2009, but the planning started well before that date. The program started due to the following question posed by pilots that attended pilot safety programs I conduct as an Aviation Safety Specialist. Pilots would ask, “Why doesn’t North Carolina have an airport visitation program like Virginia?” As the old expression says, “Copying is the sincerest form of flattery,” and the spark that started Operation: Fly NC was born.

     Dr. David Malin, 1st OP: Fly NC Gold Level Award Winner

   The planning phase for putting the infrastructure together had one basic premise: Make Operation: Fly NC similar to Virginia’s Ambassador program while maintaining our unique creativity in the process. This would allow pilots form both states to easily transition from program to program. Within the last couple of years I'm happy to say that Maryland and South Carolina (and a couple of others) have started their own. I've also consulted with several “movers and shakers” from other states about getting into the game so to speak.

     Question: “Can just a regular pilot start an airport visitation program?” Absolutely, while Virginia's is sponsored by the state, Maryland and South Carolina's is run by pilot groups. Here in North Carolina Operation: Fly NC began on the state level but transitioned to the airport association in the state. I volunteer my time running the program and coordinate with the airport association for the issuance of prizes, a pretty good deal. However, I would suggest finding the “mover's and shakers,” governmental aviation agencies and pilot groups to see if someone else has been working on a similar project. The easiest way to find “mover's and shakers” is to watch for names that come up frequently with regards to fly-in's and safety events. Also, ask well established pilots and airport managers who they recommend contacting.

      If someone else says they have been working on starting an airport visitation program don't fret, there may be a way to team up on the project. Be sure to watch out for that person or organization that says, “Yeah, we already thought of that and are putting something into place,” but have nothing to show. This happens on occasion due to ego and other factors but the bottom line is that if they haven't produced then it's fair game, common sense will guide you well. Enough of the negative rant, let us move on.

What’s in a name?

     While many states have elected to adopt the “Ambassador” title from the trailblazers in Virginia, we desired to come up with our own unique “take” on the program. After much discussion the planning team outlined the major resources for which North Carolina is known. The answer was the vast investment that most all branches of the military has in our state, not to mention the pride recreational pilots have for the significant work they do around the world. With almost all branches of the armed services represented we decided that “Operation” would best signify the mission and mission objectives. However, as new states came on-board, like Maryland and South Carolina, they elected to stick with the Ambassador title. I can see the benefit of consistency in a name especially as several pilots have completed multiple states. While I'm happy with the name we selected it is a decision that needs due consideration.

WHY an Airport Visitation Program?

     It might seem overly simplistic but it is important to know why such a program is necessary by answering the question WHY? Many pilots might say, “I want to see who can be the first to fly to all the airports in my state,” which is a good goal but not a very good “WHY” such as necessary when pitching the idea to sponsors and the like. For us the overall objectives of is to promote;

  • Flight Proficiency

  • Education

  • Tourism

           TC on Short final Piedmont Triad International Airport (KGSO) Greensboro, NC    

      It's a fact that most pilots fly an average of 50 hours a year, that's just a little over four hours a month. As aviation fuel prices went up I could see that figure going down as pilots tightened their flying budget. As a participating pilot said, “Operation: Fly NC gives me an excuse to fly.” Innovative programs such as this is indeed a reason to fly and ultimately increases safety through proficiency.

As pilots fly to airports there is an opportunity for education through aviation museum visits and pilot safety seminars that are core requirements of the program. Museums are a great opporunity for pilots to learn more about aviation in the state along with other colorful historical facts. If you don't have any aviation musuems in your state, pick another option such as airshows and fly-in's. Pilot safety seminars further encourage pilot engagement that goes hand-in-hand with flying proficiency. While we enjoy meeting the pilots through our live events we have responded to customer demand by allowing credit for the many quality on-line safety courses.

     Operation: Fly NC is the ultimate “WIN-WIN” for airports, the tourism industry and pilots by promoting aviation activity. Through tourism the airport gains by having additional traffic, fuel sales, tie-down fees, rental car purchases not to mention the gains in accommodations and dining for the local area. 

     Stay tuned next week for more insight on picking participating airports and what it takes to set-up the behind the scenes logistics to a successful airport visitation program. Part of successfully starting this project is to stay engaged in the progress and have therefore have a few questions that can be answered on our facebook page (link). I will post this article in a special posting.

Action Items (post your answers on our facebook page ~ link):

1- Pick a title, or possible titled for your states airport visitation program.

2 – As far as you know has anyone in your state started a program? What are the obstacles you see in developing an airport visitation program?

3 – What are your reasons for starting such a program (your WHY)?

Airport Visitation Articles:

About the author:

TC Freeman has been flying since he was a teenager and is now an aviation speaker and author. Being employed as an Aviation Safety Specialist for state government, he has a passion for spreading the thrill of flying just for the fun of it via the website,

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