Nestled in the foothills of the California’s Sierra Mountains is Columbia Airport O22. Boasting a beautifully manicured grass strip, fly-in campground, and an asphalt strip, Columbia is a picturesque fly-in destination in California. Columbia is an old gold mining town and is actually a state park. The town is within walking distance from the airport. Annually the airport hosts the Father’s Day Fly-In, I believe next year is the 47th annual. This popular weekend event has activities and accommodations for all ages. From the flour bombing and spot-landing contest to the tours of the air attack fire base, aircraft displays and an air show, a good time is had by all.
As those of us who put on airport events know, these events do not just magically happen. As Jim Thomas the airport manager of Columbia is keenly aware there is more gold in Columbia than what tourists in town are panning for. The true gold is the team of volunteers who assemble starting on Tuesday or Wednesday to make the Father’s Day Fly-In a safe, enjoyable and memorable experience for the thousands who attend. My husband Mitch and I have been volunteers at Columbia for the past five years. As with the other volunteers, we donate our time, fuel to get there. I commend Jim and his team for helping the volunteers to feel valued and respected. The volunteer experience starts with a warm greeting followed by a detailed meeting and distribution of our colorful volunteer t-shirts. We are able to sign up for duties that match our skill set. During our time as volunteers we receive snacks, water, pop and lunch at no cost. The free t-shirt and meals are a way that the airport manager helps the volunteers to feel noticed, nurtured and appreciated. At the end of the weekend we are all dog-tired. But it is a happy tired. Jim and I both know volunteers are the extended family of airports and aviation events.
Recently I was at an airport on the coast of California whose tower was threatened in the sequestration. After landing and heading to the airport restaurant I saw a sign that said ‘Help us save our control tower. Please get busy doing touch and goes.”
I thought this was a novel way to get attention to their plight. Since the California Pilots Association annual convention California Dreamin’ is coming up on October 18-19 and the mission of CalPilots is to save airports and inspire the love of flight, I decided to go to the flight school next to the restaurant to ask them to post a notice. I headed to the FBO and was met by a young girl at the counter. I introduced myself as the vice-president of Cal Pilots and asked if we could put up a post card to advertise our free aviation event. “I am sorry it is against our policy to post things.” I asked to speak with the manager, “I am sorry they are too busy to talk to you.” Then in exasperation I asked where I could post a notice. “I don’t know” was her response. I just shook my head and left.
You might ask what this has to do with volunteers. The short answer is that we all must band together to protect our airports, and inspire the love of flight. We can do that by helping each other with advocacy and promotion of events at our airports. Our fun events, like California Dreamin’ at San Luis Obispo airport, make them a good neighbor. When we bring the community to our events, such as the balloon glow or wine tasting, or burger fry and dance then we have won two battles. First we have invited everyone from our community we demystify the airport and make it an approachable place. Secondly we spark the ember of flight and of being a pilot.
The old saying is: if we aren’t part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Let’s all be part of the solution. Check out your “policies” and make sure that they are friendly and inclusive. We don’t need anyone thinking that aviation is an all male rich person’s club. Recognize the folks who volunteer at airports not for any monetary gain, but for the love of aviation, thank them for truly being golden.
The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.