Dave Calderwood


With Dave Calderwood


Flying, food and fun – c’est magnifique!

When it comes to getting the public interested in GA, the French have got the right idea…

Our friends across the English Channel – yes, the French! – have some great ideas when it comes to promoting light aviation.

You might be surprised to hear that if you’ve ever been to a General Aviation airfield in France because the great majority are quiet places with apparently very little going on. Nice, but quiet. There are exceptions such as Gap Tallard* and Le Touquet but, as they say, that merely proves the rule.

But this May, as France woke up from two years of pandemic restrictions, 600 aero clubs around the country welcomed the general public to an Open Weekend.

‘Learn to fly. It’s not just a child’s dream’ was the slogan for the 14-15 May event. No doubt many of the aero clubs combined the opportunity with food because that is the national obsession.

Several years ago I blundered into a similar event at the little airfield of St Girons-Antichan, just north of the Pyrenees Mountains.

Within a few minutes I was welcomed as a potential new club member and offered a flight in the club’s Robin DR400… after the le maire, of course. After all, it was a local council-owned airfield.

The whole day was a jolly affair with plenty of local food on offer, and yes, I did become a member but that’s another story.

Tour aerien

Another way the French encourage new pilots is with the Tour Aérienne des Jeunes Pilotes. It’s an annual event organised by the FFA – Fédération Française Aéronautique – which ‘allows young pilots to meet, exchange and deepen their knowledge, while sharing their passion with the general public’.

This year 45 young pilots have been selected to fly around France, landing at civilian and military airfields, for 15 days during July.

It’s around 25-30 flying hours and ‘total immersion’ in aviation. You can imagine they come back much more experienced than when they left, and no doubt enthused for a career in the industry.

In fact, talk to many seasoned professionals in aviation in France and, yes, they flew the Tour Aérienne at some point in their past.

You might even think there’s a link between such an event and the enduring strength of the French aviation industry at all levels.

This year’s event is being held from 16-31 July, and will finish at the superbly located Aéroport Tarbes Lourdes Pyrénées, which just also happens to be the home of Daher-Socata Aircraft.

*Gap Tallard is an astonishing airfield in the French Alps where all kinds of aviation and air sports thrive side by side. Well worth a visit – and yes, there’s a terrific restaurant on the airfield.


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