Tullahoma Municipal Airport has been named one of three locations for the 2019 Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) fly-in, airport officials have announced.
The annual conventions, which are held in multiple places throughout the country, seek to connect aviation fans and friends through two days of seminars, pop-up shops, lectures and other activities about aviation.
Tullahoma will host thousands of planes and automobiles all day on Friday, Sept. 13 and Saturday, Sept. 14, according to the AOPA’s website.
According to Jon Glass, the manager of the airport, this will be Tullahoma’s second time hosting one of the AOPA Fly-Ins.
Tullahoma Airport Authority board member Karla Smith said Tullahoma is the first repeat hosting airport in the five-year history of the fly-ins.
“We’ve done these all over the country, and Tullahoma is the first one to be a repeat [host] for it,” she said.
Tullahoma previously hosted a fly-in during October 2015.
Smith added that more than 50 airports around the country sent in bids to be selected as a fly-in location, meaning Tullahoma’s selection was a high honor for the airport.
According to Smith, the skies will be filled with around 1,000 aircraft, and the roads will see 2,000 or more automobiles converge on Tullahoma during the event, which will feature a special aviators’ party and planning flying competitions.
The event coincides with the AOPA’s 80 anniversary, according to the news release on the fly-ins.
“The 2019 fly-ins are sure to be an unforgettable experience for all aviators, family and friends,” said Chris Eads, AOPA senior director of outreach and events. “We hope pilots and nonpilots from all over the United States join us as we celebrate 80 years or protecting the freedom to fly. There will definitely be something for everyone to enjoy.”
According to Glass, the event will completely transform the airport, with exhibit halls and tents set up on the runways and numerous vendors selling a wide variety of products to pilots and non-pilots alike.
All vendors will be aviation-related, Smith said, selling things like specialty headsets or promoting Angel flights. One vendor Smith mentioned would probably be in attendance was Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit organization that rescues animals and transports them to shelters and rescues around the country.
Additionally, she said, some universities that offer degrees in aviation would likely set up shop, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, MTSU and Southern Illinois University.
Being named a fly-in location not only brings name recognition to the airport. It also brings a large economic impact, according to Smith.
Glass agreed, saying the fuel sales alone would skyrocket.
“In a normal month, we probably sell about 4,000 gallons of [fuel],” he said. “We’ll probably get about 7 or 8,000 gallons in one day [during a fly-in].”
“Typically an AOPA Fly-in generates around $600,000 in economic impact for the local community,” Smith said.
AOPA statistics show around 70 percent of the fly-in guests will eat in local restaurants and around half of the guests will stay in local hotels, Smith said. She added that the area was already seeing hotel reservations since the word was released about Tullahoma being named a fly-in location.
“We’re trying to make this more of a destination,” Smith said of this year’s event, “get people out to fly [and] spend the night.”
There aren’t just immediate economic gains when a fly-in happens, Smith said.
After the 2015 event, there were many people who came back to the area following the fly-in because they hadn’t gotten to experience all Tullahoma and the surrounding area had to offer.
“We have seen … people are coming back to Tullahoma to do the things they weren’t able to do while they were here [for the fly-in],” she said.
The event is only two days long and is packed with activities and things to see, but Tullahoma is a large draw with the Beechcraft Heritage Museum alone, Smith said, so there will be repeat customers.
In being named a repeat location, Smith largely credited the support of Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee and the community at large.
“The airport here is a non-controlled airport [and has] amazing city support,” Smith said. “Lane Curlee was the first, and is still the only mayor, who came out and flipped pancakes and was our first volunteer, and they [AOPA officials and members] tell that story across the country about Tullahoma.”
Additionally, Smith and Glass said, during the 2015 fly-in, bad weather contributed to some reduction in attendance, but the airport still drew a large crowd.
“There was a rainstorm that Friday night, and we lost about half of our arrival window on Saturday morning because of bad weather,” Glass said.
Despite that, the event still turned out over 350 aircraft, he said, which indicated that the airport very well could have seen the anticipated 700-plus aircraft during the weekend had the weather been better.
“AOPA just loves this airport,” Smith said. “They love the community. The community support was like nothing they’d ever had before.”
For more information on the fly-ins, visit www.aopa.org.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.