The initial purpose of the Alberta Air Tour was to be able to gather like-minded aviation enthusiasts to visit local general aviation airports in and around the Edmonton region. The purpose for the visit was not only to be “fun” for the aviators on the tour, but to help bring some of the joy of flight into the local communities. In short, to promote not only aviation, but to educate, interact, and promote the reason for having the local airports remain active.
At the time, local communities had little options for social gathering or local community events, but following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, larger open-air gatherings were permitted. This allowed community members, business owners, chambers of commerce, tourism, and not-for-profit groups to have a venue in which not only to engage local members of the community, but visitors from across the province who were part of the tour. The event and the venue, also allowed for the engagement of local elected officials to “come to the airport” and see what a viable asset that they had or could have if appropriately supported.
The pictures and videos gathered by the attendees, the airport operators, and the aviators were made available to the town/county to assist in future promotions of their airports as well as the communities themselves. We allowed for some friendly competition between the airports that were chosen on the route so that it would encourage not only participation, but to facilitate the ability for each community to put their best foot forward.
The interaction by the participants in the air tour with the public at the event is paramount for continued success. Not only for the events, but for the purpose of having the general aviation industry remain healthy in the province. All too often the aviation community is seen as selfish, elitist and arrogant or more worrisome, at the decision makers tables when it comes to funding of local airports. Dispelling this bias is dependant on not only being visible, but by being interactive. These interactions should include but not be limited to “showing the aircraft”, “stump speeches”, engaging in advance with local leadership, and “being gracious guests” at the airports and the community itself. The value proposition must be in the best interest of the community, whereby it is a low-cost, grassroots, feel good event.
“Western hospitality” has been and will be in full measure at the events and locations when we are considerate of the potential stigmas that we have as aviation enthusiasts. If the Alberta Air Tour group loses sight of the stigmas, or the reason for the tour in the first place, we may end up causing more harm than good to the long-term stability, or openness that we have garnered during the first two seasons of the event. It should also be considered that now post-pandemic, that there are many other open-air events or options for people to attend. As such, scheduling and integration into the local communities will become more complex going forward. Dates, locations and timing will require further consideration.
Given the purpose, and mission statement for the tour, it has been useful to have an airport that needs some “TLC” on each of the tours, as well as the “all star” airports. In Alberta we are fortunate to have some of the most pristine countryside and we are also fortunate to have small airports that have been built in the past to allow access to these areas and small towns. The problem we are facing in the province, however, is the lack of understanding the “need” to have these airports remain active in many communities. Our air tour to date, has reinforced these needs for ongoing support or for improvement at these locations. Giving elected officials a reason for funding the airports and to learn from other municipalities where they have tracked costs and revenues from their airports will remain a key objective of our air tour if we as aviators are going to be able to utilize the infrastructure that we currently have at our disposal.
The Alberta Air Tours have been recognized and given an award for innovation from the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association for the above noted reasons. Innovation, engagement, giving back to local communities and promotion of aviation / aerospace through community engagement. The Alberta Air Tour concept has something special indeed and we could make a lasting impression for many Albertans of the positive benefits as well as dispel the stigmas surrounding our community.