One by one, in a seemingly endless stream of landings, almost 300 planes had descended upon the Santa Fe Regional Airport by Friday afternoon. They were parked on nearly every available hard surface, which seems likely to include, airport managers and controllers suspect, the facility's secondary runway.

Not to worry; the city has been planning to host the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association fly-in event for a year now.

The two-day gathering is expected to attract 400 planes or more, and likely thousands of people to the airport. Most of the events are free to the public, and a barn-dance-style "hangar party" is planned for Friday evening (tickets to that are available at the door).

Adam Bentley hoists his son, Jonathan, to look at a Mooney Acclaim plane.
Adam Bentley hoists his son, Jonathan, to look at a Mooney Acclaim plane. | Matt Grubs

SFR chatted with AOPA President Mark Baker about the event and the state of affairs for aviation.

SFR: Why is general aviation important? Mark Baker: There are 200,000 general aviation planes in this country and just 10,000 commercial airplanes. Even when you look at passenger rides ... general aviation accounts for 20 percent of the total number. And they can access 5,000 airports versus about 400 commercial airports. ... There are also millions of people who are going to be needed to fill jobs in aviation that will be created over the next 20 years.

You're a pilot. What got you into flying? I consider myself lucky, I grew up in a place where I could ride my bike to the local airport and I got excited. ... You could touch [general aviation] prior to 9/11. ... Over my life, I've flown all types of aircraft, sometimes for business and also for recreation.

Volunteers help park a plane at the AOPA fly-in.
Volunteers help park a plane at the AOPA fly-in. | Matt Grubs

Why did AOPA choose Santa Fe for a fly-in? It’s a fun, grassroots kind of event. We’ve never held one in New Mexcio. The Santa Fe one will probably be our second busiest [of four]. We'll see pilots from California, the Midwest, and obviously places that are closer. There’s a lot going on. In Missoula [for the last fly-in] we had 3,000-4,000 people and estimates were for about $700,000 in direct impact.

What can someone who's not a pilot can take away from the fly-in if they go? There are an awful lot of people who say they want to be a pilot but don't know how. Saturday morning at 10 o’clock there's a free seminar called "You Can Be a Pilot." It’s not physically or mentally beyond the average person’s capability. And when you take into account things like flying clubs ... it's something you can do.

AOPA Fly-In Santa Fe Regional Airport Friday-Saturday 9 am-4 pm

Learn how to become a pilot at a free Saturday morning seminar.
Learn how to become a pilot at a free Saturday morning seminar. | Matt Grubs