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Selections from our new product launch series”


     In “Part 1” of “The Creation of an Airport Visitation Program” we discussed the conceptual phase of the program. To me personally, it is nice to know that Operation: Fly NC has a bigger mission than simply visiting airports. The mission of flight proficiency, education and tourism makes for a great elevator speech when speaking to potential donors, more on this later. To recap Operation: Fly NC requires airport visitation, museum tours and safety seminar attendance to complete the three levels (Bronze, Silver and Gold). To receive an award (and prize) the levels require the following:

*Gold Level: Fly to all 81 airports, attend four pilot safety seminars and visit four museums

*Silver Level: Fly to 60 airports, attend three safety seminars and visit three museums

*Bronze Level: Fly to 30 airports, attend one safety seminar and visit one museum

     Just to clarify, the levels build upon one another and are not cumulative. For example, pilots only have to attend a total of four safety seminars, not eight. Some states set up sections to their state and limit pilots as to how many out of each section a pilot can obtain credit. This seemed a bit too cumbersome to manage logistically and I figured the simpler the better (no offense to other states, we just don't have the staff to audit booklets this closely).

     Each airport is provided with a rubber stamp that has the specific identifier for the airport. Since stamps are easy to lose our stamps are in a clear plastic pencil box with instructions for use included (self-inking stamps are harder to use than you might think). In addition to the airport identifier, the stamps incorporate a logo, in our case the airport association logo. Keep in mind that logos are valuable property when it comes to sponsorships. Imagine, as a business or organization, having the entire booklet covered with your logo as the pilot progresses through the various levels. That's powerful! 

     One important consideration is the type of airport that will be asked to be included as an official airport visitation site. Publicly-owned, public-use airports are the easiest to include because they are public facilities that are open to the public. The next are privately owned-public use fields that are privately owned but open to public. Occasionally, privately-owned airports are hesitant about a perceived spike of traffic an airport visitation program would bring into the airport. Other private strips see it as a great way to bring positive activity to the airport. Lastly, there are privately-owned, private-use airport that are, you guessed it, privately owned and restricted for private use. These airport owners can elect to give special permission for pilots to use the airport. We have one airport in the program that is “private-private,” as we call it, but has a special agreement to use the airport for our purpose. The airport changed from public to private but wanted to encourage airport activity through the Operation: Fly NC program. This special vocabulary of airport types (Private-Private, Public-Public, etc.) was confusing and required a bit of study before understanding the concept.

     Who can participate? All pilots, sport/recreational and above, can participate in the program. One interesting note is that pilots can team up and fly together to earn awards. Initially, the program was open to pilots and non-pilots alike but we were concerned about the strain that could place on the budget for the program and wanted to keep the program aviation specific. The point of the program was to get pilots flying regularly and keeping their knowledge skills up through safety seminars. Asking a non-pilot to attend an aviation safety seminar was simply outside the scope of what we were trying to accomplish.

Attending fly-in's, like this one at Morganton, NC (KMRN), is a great way to collect stamps.

     Can student pilots participate? Sadly, no. We had to make the hard decision as far as who to include and the determination was made that students have “bigger fish to fry” learning how to fly. Additionally, one of the missions is to promote flight proficiency and student pilots are typically flying regularly and therefore are not the pilots we are trying to encourage to stay proficient by flying more. The best part for student pilots is that Operation: Fly NC gives them something to work toward after earning an FAA license (certificate).

     How we picked the airports was based on the basic question, “What types of airports are best suited for the average pilot?” North Carolina has diverse types of airports ranging from rural grass strips to busy international airports; all suitable, but some more challenging than others. One little known fact is that due to insurance limitations many flight schools only allow flights into airports that are paved with a minimum of 3,000 feet of runway available. While not all 3,000-foot runways are created equal, such as with altitude and surrounding terrain, this makes for a good, rough guide on picking suitable airports. Other airports might be busier than a pilot would be comfortable and, as a result, there is an option of driving to the airports instead of flying.

     Speaking of airports, I received a call from a tail-dragger pilot that wondered if we could start a program that consisted of only grass runways. I thought this was a great idea and encouraged him to set-up his own grass strip visitation program. Our staff only has the time to handle Operation: Fly NC in its present form. The point is that there are positive spin-off programs.

  Piedmont Aero Club group trip to collect OP: Fly NC stamps (KFQD)

     Why museum visits? It's simply a fact that my state has several great aviation museums, not to mention the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hills. Keeping with the education and tourism theme visiting museums seemed to be a natural extension of what we were trying to accomplish. If your state doesn't have aviation museums, or just a couple, there are still some options. Other states require airshow and/or fly-in attendance. Perhaps there are several restaurants located on or near airports. Don't forget about sponsorship opportunities that exist with restaurants. Lastly, if your state only has a couple of airshows, fly-ins and restaurants consider a combination of visits, such as a requirement for attending three airshows/fly-ins and dining at two restaurants. The best advice is to think about all of the resources your state has to offer.

    In my opinion safety seminars are an important component to the mission of an airport visitation program. Going beyond the scope of airport visitation, safety seminars help pilots stay engaged in a “safety culture.” I might be biased in my opinion since my passion for aviation is in the numerous safety seminars I present. Originally, pilots were required to attend seminars in-person to earn credit but that has since been changed. Due to the availability of great online courses offered through the AOPA Air Safety Institute ( it was an easy decision to allow credit for these courses. The way I see it, the important thing is that pilots are getting safety training. We address this in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the web site by stating, “While we would like to have the opportunity to meet pilots at one of our live events it is permissible to complete an online course to meet the safety seminar requirement for the program.”

     As you can see, setting up an airport visitation program requires some careful consideration but it entirely “do-able.” Your homework assignment is to answer the following questions:

Action Items: Post your responses on our Facebook page,

1- Evaluate and post how many possible airports can be included in your states airport visitation program.

2 – What types of activities besides airport visitations do you see as beneficial to a program?

3 – With the provided information are there any obstacles you see in the creation of a similar program?


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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