The airport restaurant is to general aviation what the yacht club is to sailing, or the country club is to golf — a gathering spot for friendship and conversation.
It is a place for a cup of coffee, a piece of pie or a pancake breakfast with a few fellow pilots to discuss your last landing, or while planning your next cross country.
That’s why, in October 2016, a small group of aviation industry professionals looking to increase overall general aviation activity in New England launched the New England Flying Gourmet Challenge.
The challenge, a joint marketing effort between eight airport restaurants in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, was kicked off with a goal to reintroduce New England pilots to the great airport restaurants in the area, while also building friendships between pilots from different airports.
The challenge consists of flying to each of eight restaurants: Hangar B (CQX), The Flight Deck (EEN), Nancy’s Airfield Café (6B6), 121 Restaurant (OXC), The Airport Grille (EWB), Papps Bar & Grille (BAF), Mid-Field Café (ASH), and White Cloud (ORE).
Pilots have a meal, post a picture on the challenge’s Facebook page, and get a sticker from each restaurant.
Upon completion, they receive an “I Completed The Challenge!” T-shirt, as well as entry to a raffle to win tickets to the Nashua Rock’N Rib Fest 2017 on Father’s Day weekend.
The Challenge was limited to off season to keep people flying year round, as summer is a popular time for aviation open houses, air shows and events, but there are typically very few organized winter aviation activities.
It was limited to eight restaurants with the theory of one a month. The organizers wanted to keep the challenge to a level where most general aviation pilots would feel they could accomplish the task.
The program has far exceeded the expectations of those involved, with more than 300 active participants from more than 60 different airports. By Dec. 23, 2016, six pilots had already completed the challenge.
The Facebook page is full of fun pictures of pilots, families and friends enjoying quality time together.
Pilots also are providing great feedback on the restaurants and the airports.
Based on the success of the program, it is likely there will be another challenge for 2017-2018, which may include switching out some of the restaurants to keep the program fresh and pilots engaged.