Airport, pilots association begin planning for thousands at national fly-in event

Mike Woods with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and other organization team members met at Missoula International Airport on Tuesday to begin planning next year’s regional fly-in event. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The nation’s largest aviation organization and its sortie of private pilots will converge on Missoula next summer for its fly-in, an event that’s expected to draw several hundred aircraft and thousands of new visitors to the Garden City.

Missoula International Airport met Tuesday with members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to begin planning the event that chooses a handful of regional location each year to play host.

For the Pacific Northwest, that location will be Missoula.

“We’re coming to Missoula to basically have a party,” said AOPA team member Chris Eads. “We put out a request for proposals to airports all over the United States and Missoula put in a proposal. We’ve had proposals from 95 airports all around the country and have had 20 of these fly-ins so far, so the competition is pretty stiff.”

The events represent something of a coming-together for aviation enthusiasts while bringing pilots to different regions of the country, where they’re encouraged to explore. The most recent events saw an average attendance of more than 6,000 people.

Successful events see the most engagement from the community, Eads said.

“The research we’ve done, we estimate about $680,000 in direct economic impact,” said Eads. “Upwards of 80 percent of our attendees will engage with the restaurants and hotels and shop in the area. We go through a lot of effort to go tell folks what else there is to go and do in town.”

Roughly 20 community members were on hand for Tuesday’s inaugural planning session, including the Missoula Chamber of Commerce, Destination Missoula and other tourism officials. It also saw representatives from local airlines, air traffic control and local aviation firms.

Cris Jensen, director of Missoula International Airport, said the airport has pursued the event for the past four years. Planning started months ago once the airport learned that AOPA had accepted its proposal.

“Those are the kinds of challenges we like – too many airplanes, too many cars and too many people,” Jensen said. “Those are things we’ll work through as a group. The best-case scenario is that we have more airplanes than we know what to do with. I’d love to see that, because it means we’ve had a successful event.”

The Missoula fly-in is scheduled for June 15-16 of next year. It’s followed with a September event in Santa Fe, and October events in Carbondale, Illinois, and Gulf Shores, Alabama.

“We go all over the country and hold these events where people fly in from around the region to come spend a couple days with us, enjoying our camaraderie and friendship, and seeing a beautiful area and a new community they’ll hopefully want to come back and see again,” said Eads.