First AOPA Regional Hits Critical Mass

The first in a series of grassroots gatherings a huge success.

The first in a series of fly-ins that AOPA is calling a “grassroots effort” took place in San Marcos, Texas, this past Saturday, and the results were beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

The event raised the question, “can a fly-in be too big,” and punctuated it with a big “yes.” This one came close. With “more than 2,500” in attendance — it was probably substantially more than that — and around 470 airplanes, the event drew more airplanes than AOPA’s national Summit held last fall in Fort Worth, Texas. The one-day event on Saturday featured forums, discussions, speakers and culminated with a town hall style meeting conducted by AOPA chief Mark Baker.

The event was held at San Marcos Municipal Airport (KHYI) and was hosted by Redbird’s SkyPort FBO and learning center there. It was a well-run event that featured a delicious barbecue lunch, free for AOPA members.

Had it not been for IFR conditions all morning on Saturday, the number of airplanes flying in easily could have exceeded 700 — the number that had signed up for the fly-in. The gray overcast did nothing to dampen spirits, however. The talks were jammed, with hundreds of pilots in attendance for each one. Rod Machado packed the main hall for his talk, and Sporty’s digital guru John Zimmerman did the same with his iPad aviation apps forum. There were aviation heavy hitters there, EAA head Jack Pelton, John and Martha King, Redbird’s Jerry Gregoire (who hosted the event), and Sporty’s founder and chairman Hal Shevers.

I had a chance to sit down with Mark Baker to discuss the event (among other topics). I asked him if he was afraid that he’d cancelled the annual nationwide AOPA Summit only to come up with an idea, regional fly-ins, that essentially created as many as six “Summits” a year. He smiled. The idea had clearly occurred to him already. He did express some surprise at the success of the gathering. I asked him if the organization planned to expand the event into at least a two-day show, a request made by many of the fly-in pilots there. He smiled and acknowledged that he was already involved in conversations about how to expand the event, at least a little.

The next AOPA regional is scheduled for Indianapolis, Indiana, on May 31, with additional gathering slated for Plymouth, Mass.; Spokane, Wash.; Chino, Calif.; and St. Simon’s, Ga., (November 8), with AOPAs 75th anniversary fly-in on October 4 in Frederick, Md., home of the organization.

View our photo gallery of the event here.

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