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Hartford Flying High with Pilots

National convention returning because city has everything it needs

Brad Kane

June 13, 2011

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association loves Hartford.

The national organization usually moves around the country for its annual convention — alternating coasts, a different region each time, trying to maximize contact with its more than 400,000 members, who are mostly recreational fliers.

Yet, this fall the AOPA will revisit Hartford for the second time in five years.

“We make them feel very welcome, and they also love the fact that we have Brainard airport right here for their use,” said Michael Van Parys, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Once they do get here, they realize their attendance always goes up because of the location.”

Hartford has everything the AOPA needs for its convention, and the organization had such a positive turnout from its Hartford event in 2007 that the organizers wanted to come back as soon as possible, said Andrea Berry, AOPA director of outreach and events.

“The way they developed the (Connecticut Convention Center), it just makes it easy to put on a show,” Berry said.

The AOPA annual meeting is exactly the type of event the Connecticut Convention Center sought to attract when it opened in 2005, said Mike Costelli, the property’s general manager.

AOPA uses a lot of venues other than the convention center; leaves time in its schedule so attendees can visit restaurants and attractions around the city; and the total spend per attendee is very high, Costelli said.

Having them return for a second time is a huge win for the Connecticut Convention Center.

“It certainly benefits a lot of vendors other than us,” Costelli said.

When searching for an event, AOPA needs a city to have three things: more than 5,000 hotel rooms, a convention center and a general aviation airport.

“There are a limited number of cities that meet our requirements,” Berry said.

With the Connecticut Convention Center, its many hotels and Hartford-Brainard Airport centrally located, Hartford had everything AOPA needed. Having one of the world’s largest airplane museums — New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks — makes the area very attractive to AOPA members, Berry said.

The Northeast also has a high percentage of AOPA members, so the convention tends to be well attended. More than 32,000 AOPA members live within 85 miles of Hartford.

When the event was held in Hartford in 2007, more than 9,700 people attended — the second highest turnout for an AOPA event in the Northeast, behind only a previous event in Atlantic City, which was aided by its gambling attractions, Berry said.

Not only is the Hartford event well attended, Berry said, but the AOPA got a very high satisfaction rating on the quality of the 2007 convention.

Costelli said the Connecticut Convention Center strives to provide a high level of service to its customers and keep the convention space very clean, in the hopes that an event will make a return trip in following years.

The layout of the Connecticut Convention Center also makes putting on the AOPA event very easy, Berry said.

With the convention center divided up into levels — show floor on the ground level; ballroom and breakout rooms on the upper floors — a large, multi-faceted event such as the AOPA’s is organized very easily. Because of the close proximity of the breakout rooms to the ballroom, participants can take part in multiple seminars without excessive walking, Costelli said.

Seminars and information sessions are playing an increasing role in the AOPA event, which is officially called the AOPA Aviation Summit.

The organization first started an annual meeting in the 1950s, when it was more of a party. When the event came to Hartford in 2007, it was called the AOPA Expo, focused more on showcasing the private aviation industry.

Starting in 2009, the event changed to discuss important trends and concerns about the overall health of the industry.

“We make a much more concerted effort to invite members of Congress and important government officials,” Berry said.

The keynote speakers at this year’s Hartford event include Randy Babbitt, Federal Aviation Administration administrator, and Louis Chênevert, chairman and CEO of Hartford conglomerate United Technologies Corp. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also will be in attendance.

The AOPA Aviation Summit runs Sept. 22-24 and will use the entire convention center for its many programs. The organizations will hold several events around central Connecticut as well, including at Hartford-Brainard Airport and the New England Air Museum.

The Airportfest portion of the event will feature flight simulators and offer discount trips for wannabe pilots to go up with an instructor.

“There’s going to be plenty of opportunity if you are interested in flying, to learn how to do just that,” Berry said.

The convention center staff will be working hard to make sure AOPA wants to come back to Hartford a third time, Costelli said.

“You can have very nice things to offer, but if you don’t provide a certain level of service, then people won’t be coming back,” Costelli said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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