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A Simple Guide to Aviation Citizenship

By Helen Woods

Helen Woods

Becoming a certificated pilot is all about earning the privileges to operate a flying machine, to “slip the surly bonds of earth” and experience the freedom of the birds, and to take your best friend out for the proverbial “$100 hamburger” in another state with only a short hop, right? Well, maybe at its most basic level, but being a pilot is really about much more. It’s about becoming a citizen of the worldwide aviation community.

Citizenship brings with it many rewards. A recent multi-state trip with a nonpilot friend involved several unplanned overnights at airports waiting for weather. My friend looked at me in amazement, as wherever we stopped, people opened up their airports, facilities, and lives to us. At one field, we found a beautiful campsite waiting for us to taxi our plane to. The manager greeted us at the site with a map of the town, keys to the courtesy car, and recommendations for the best places to eat. When the weather finally broke, she sent us on our way with parting gifts of local wild rice. Why? Because we were fellow citizens of the greater aviation community.

This sort of hospitality and camaraderie is prevalent wherever you should go and is one of the great rewards of aviation citizenship. With its rewards, citizenship does carry many responsibilities. Below I outline some of the many ways that you can uphold your responsibilities as an aviation citizen:

  1. Join and support. Pilots are represented by a variety of different groups such as EAA, National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), each standing for a different aspect of aviation. Identify the groups that represent your area of aviation, then join and support them.
  2. Write. There are numerous pilot publications, both electronic and print. Some are put out by various pilot groups while others are published independently. They’re all seeking submissions. Share what you’ve learned by writing and submitting it as an article to an appropriate publication.
  3. Travel. One of the best ways to expand your aviation knowledge is to travel and fly in different areas. While it may not always be feasible to do so in your aircraft, you can always pack your logbook in your suitcase when you go on business or vacation trips. Get checked out at the airport in the area you’re visiting, or if there isn’t time or an appropriate aircraft for a checkout at that field, do some dual in the area with a local flight instructor. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn.
  4. Read. I can’t stress how important it is to read and keep up with developments in your area of aviation. A great column in AVweb years ago mentioned a local pilot with whom none of the other pilots at the airport were willing to fly with unless they were in the front seat. One of the red flags the other pilots at the airport raised about this fellow was that he never read aviation publications or kept up with what was going on in his area of aviation.
  5. Network. Networking comes in many forms. There are numerous online chat lists and forums one can participate in such as Oshkosh365 and Sport Pilot Talk, and in-person networking is still alive and well. One of the most impressive aviation networking actions I’ve seen was from a local pilot, long retired and no longer actively flying. Not only does he still regularly attend seminars and introduce himself to others, but he passes out a business card. In the place on the card where most of us list our profession, he instead lists his wife’s name so people can properly introduce themselves when they call his house.
  6. FAA seminars. Speaking of seminars, have you signed up with the FAA Safety Team website at www.FAAsafety.gov? Every pilot should be signed up on this website as it’s the main way the FAA communicates with pilots. By signing up, you’ll receive notices of local safety seminars which you should make a point to attend.
  7. Expand your privileges. One of the best ways to keep learning is to add on additional ratings and privileges. Have you earned that tailwheel endorsement yet? How about a seaplane or gyroplane rating? There are always new levels of skill and fun to be had in aviation.
  8. Attend. In addition to local aviation seminars, there are countless air shows and fly-ins around the country, many of which sponsor aviation safety seminars. You’ll be astonished at how much you learn as well as how much fun you can have attending air shows and fly-ins.
  9. Volunteer. There are numerous volunteer opportunities in aviation. The aforementioned air shows and fly-ins are generally run by volunteers, and countless organizations such as Civil Air Patrol, Young Eagles, and Pilots N Paws all seek volunteers.
  10. Invite and mentor. It’s the obligation of all aviation citizens to invite nonpilots to join our community, and to mentor those who are struggling through the challenges of flight training. Fortunately, it’s a fun and rewarding obligation for all involved.

So I urge you to do your best to fulfill your responsibilities as an aviation citizen so that you, too, may reap the many rewards of citizenship.

Helen Woods is a NAFI-rated master flight instructor and chief flight instructor at Chesapeake Sport Pilot, located at the BayBridgeAirport in Stevensville, Maryland.

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