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Fly Kansas Tour returning to Liberal PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 September 2017 12:31

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ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



Aviation is a major part of Kansas’s economy and history and thanks to the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), KDOT’s aviation department put together the Fly Kansas Tour, which made a stop in Liberal back in 2015. Next Thursday, the Liberal community will have the opportunity to see the tour come through again. 

“The purpose of this tour is actually a few things,” KDOT Aviation Director Merrill Atwater said. “One, we wanted to bring the pilot community together, and two, this allows us to do community outreach where we reach out to local students so we can make them aware of this field of work. What we’re really trying to accomplish is more awareness to aviation as a whole and make sure we reach out to communities and students because in this industry and what I call the skilled work force, there’s a lack of pilots and mechanics and some of those people, and it’s starting to become a bit of an issue. So we’re trying to raise that awareness so we can combat some of that.”

Liberal’s aviation history was only one of the reasons the community was selected as one of the 10 stops on the 3-day tour, Atwater said. 

“One, it’s a great aviation area. Two, Liberal has an incredible air museum, probably one of the best in the country and we have pilots with us, and they like to see planes,” Atwater said. “Liberal has such a rich aviation history there and a lot of people don’t realize that, so we also want to highlight the community and talk about how important that is for a national air system and what it can do and how it can play a role.”

The tour will be from Sept. 28 to Sept. 30 beginning in Wellington with stops in Liberal, Dodge City, Hays, Concordia, Atchison, Olathe, Pittsburg, Independence, Gardner and Benton. The Liberal stop will be Sept. 28, with the pilots getting in around noon. Overall, Atwater said, this year’s tour should be great for those who attend in the respective communities. 

“I think it’s going to be incredible. We have a total of 10 stops over three days beginning in Wellington and as of today, we have more than 50 pilots registered to take place, and that could easily change between now and the first day,” Atwater said. “It’s a great thing for Liberal because there will be all types of pilots flying all types of planes, which will be great to see.”

And with that many pilots participating in the tour, Atwater said it is a great feeling. 

“Aviation’s a unique industry, and it makes me very proud to know there are that many,” Atwater said. “Kansas has produced more than 73 percent of every general aviation aircraft in the world, and that’s the manufacturing and all of that. Kansas as a whole, with the economic input, and this ... it’s well more than $20 billion per year for the state. It’s one of the largest industries in the state, so it’s extremely important for us to do things like this because one, it’s a celebration of aviation history in all the communities we’re stopping.”

Overall, Atwater said, he is excited for this year’s tour. 

“I also enjoy engaging all the students who will be out there at all the stops,” Atwater said. “One year I think we had more than 1,000 students throughout the whole tour, and that’s so important because that’s how you get them excited about it. Every pilot has a story about why they became a pilot, whether it’s they visited an airport with their grandfather or they flew in a particularly cool aircraft. What’s also really cool is the only thing that limits you in this field is your imagination, which is really neat.”

The community is invited to see the many planes fly in next Thursday. 

“This always supports the local community, that’s a big part of what we do. Whenever you have something like this that highlights an asset in the community, that’s great,” Atwater said. “And another important thing is it’s exciting and fun, you’re never too late to become a pilot or imagine things. Our partnership for this is with the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education, so this is a great way to get some of the word out about what that organization does. They give scholarships for flying lessons and aviation events, so this also helps them do that, so I don’t foresee it going away anytime soon. It’s just great overall for everyone.” 

It will be a major benefit for people to see the airport and what the airport has to offer, Atwater said. 

“I would love to encourage everyone to join us, that’s the big thing,” Atwater said. “Come see your airport, come see this asset in the community, come meet the pilots and see the planes. These pilots are volunteering their time and energy to come do this, so it’s important to go and see them. The tour begins Sept. 20 and ends Sept. 30 and on the last day, they’ll be flying in a group of Cessna 190’s, which is pretty neat since those are rare.” 

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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