Does anyone not believe a vibrant aviation ecosystem starts at the airport? If our airports cease to exist, aviation ceases to exist. It really is that simple.
Like too many airports around the country, Arcadia Airport (X06) in Arcadia, Florida, was struggling after years of neglect. The Arcadia City Council established the Arcadia Airport Advisory Committee. It was the early 2010s.
The Advisory Committee restarted FAA and Florida Department of Transportation funding and grant programs. However, several of the committee members quickly learned the challenges and limitations of working with a political system. A new way to get things done was needed.
Want to be Friends?
Four of the six members of the Advisory Committee turned those challenges and limitations into an opportunity. On Sept. 28, 2012, Friends of the Arcadia Airport (FOAA) was born. The non-profit corporation exists “to support our airport and aviation-related events that will help to bring attention to what the airport has to offer.”
Like any project worthwhile, FOAA had its work cut out.
“We had a lot of opposition to anything we tried to do in the first two years,” said FOAA President George Chase. “But four years in, we have turned things around and the airport is growing.”
Turning headwinds into tailwinds didn’t happen overnight though. The FOAA stays connected and communicates. It works with city and county leaders to the benefit of all. That’s the key.
Want to go camping?
A turning point for the FOAA came when Jack Tyler, a member of the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF), contacted George “looking for a place to have a gathering in southwest Florida and did I know of any place that might be conducive.”
FOAA was already in existence, so George said, “Yeah, right here in Arcadia.”
The FOAA invited the RAF to camp at the airport during the town’s rodeo weekend. About 10 to 12 planes flew in, camped, went to the rodeo and enjoyed the town.
That weekend was a light bulb moment for FOAA. While it wasn’t clear sailing from there on, the end result is a permanent campground FOAA calls Aviation City. The name pays homage to days gone by.
Today, Aviation City features a 20-foot by 30-foot pilot shelter with picnic tables and a circular fire pit and BBQ grills. Electricity, running water and portable restrooms are also on site.
In its first year, Aviation City – according to the county tourism department – hosted 340 visitor nights on the campsite.
“If one airplane flies in and they spend four nights, that’s four visitor nights,” George explained. “We had 340 visitors nights our first year October through April. Pretty damn impressive.”
Aviation City is for aviation groups only.
“No civilians,” said George, with a smile in his voice.
FOAA will supply transportation to local attractions and support groups anyway they can. Campers must register.
Let’s go flying
As OpenAirplane founder Rod Rakic said in a forum at AirVenture some years back, “there isn’t a problem in aviation that can’t be solved by more flying.”
As luck would have it, the FOAA has three upcoming three-day weekend fly-in/camp-outs already scheduled: Nov. 11-13, 2016, Feb. 17-19, 2017, and the Fourth Annual Rodeo Weekend Fly-In is March 10-12, 2017.
A little help…
The FOAA cut its own path with this project.
“All the little things we learned along the way FOAA documented,” said George. “And we’ll share it.”
Just contact the FOAA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The good — and ongoing — work that is happening at X06 will go a long way to preserving that airport and benefiting the community for years to come.