SocialFlight: Providing More Reasons to Fly

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SocialFlight, the free app that lets pilots know about aviation events has been upgraded to give pilots more reasons to fly, including points of interest within walking distance of airports.

A few years back, Jeff Simon’s passion for flying caused him to look for a way to do his part to energize general aviation—he wanted to help pilots fly more and more often. As he searched, he noted that his friends who were pilots seemed to always be looking for reasons to fly and he became aware that there were aviation events not far away that his friends didn’t know about. He reasoned that some sort of social media for pilots and people putting on aviation events might be a way to let pilots know about events that might be fun to fly to and help aviation event organizers get a larger turn out. Thus, two years ago at EAA’s AirVenture, SocialFlight was born.

Simon created an app that would run on the web, on any smartphone and any tablet and that, he hoped, would “shake people by the shoulder and say, ‘here’s what’s happening near you.’”

The free app appears to be reaching its goal—according to Simon, there are some 30,000 users and a survey taken at the last Triple Tree, South Carolina Fly-In revealed that half of the pilots who flew in had made use of SocialFlight at some time. 25 percent of those who flew in that day had done so because they learned of the event on SocialFlight. Informally, Simon reported that the feedback he is receiving from pilots is that they are flying more because of his app.

How It Works

Opening up SocialFlight brings up a Welcome page that sets out what’s new on the app. Clicking it off, a map page appears. The map page shows a gold circle over the location of every upcoming aviation event that has been listed by the organizer of the event. If the circle has a little airplane in it, the event is on an airport. If it has a red flag, it means that is a “featured” event or references a featured business on SocialFlight—more about that below. In addition, a banner at the bottom of the page directs users to on-line aviation events.

Clicking on the gold circle opens a pop up that gives information on the event and the airport as well as outlining nearby points of interest. The information about the event is put up by the event organizer. We’ve noted that some organizers seem to think giving very little information about the event will somehow attract pilots. After working with the SocialFlight website for several months, our suggestion is for the person who is describing his or her event on the site to “sell” the event—give more information, rather than less.

Once a pilot finds an event of interest, she or he can use the site to share info about the event with others and add it to a personal calendar. As a good social networking app, it allows a viewer to chat with others about the event.

A menu key on the upper right of the screen opens a drop-down menu that allows the user to add an event, create favorite events and go to a “my hangar” page, among other choices. It is also one of the routes to the help menu, which contains a number of clearly presented videos explaining how to use the site.

Points of Interest

Simon and his team recently put together and launched a major upgrade to SocialFlight—Points of Interest—aimed at providing more information to pilots and giving reasons to go flying beyond aviation-related events. Now a pilot can click on an airport icon (virtually all U.S. airports are depicted, public and private) and pull up initial information about the airport on a pop up. At the bottom, there are icons for points of interest within walking distance (our review didn’t find anything more than two miles away) of the airport—restaurants (for the $200 hamburger), motels, golf courses, amusements, transportation and others. Once the points of interest are listed, clicking on “Details” pulls up more information about the particular item—if it’s a restaurant, it goes to the Yelp page on it.

Another way to find out about points of interest is to zoom in on the map to something less than 100 miles across and then click on the points of interest button. That will result in a red flag being displayed on every airport icon that has an attraction within walking distance.

In looking at distances to points of interest, we noted that at Denver’s Centennial Airport, The Perfect Landing restaurant, which is on the airport, in FBO row and overlooks the ramp and runways—yet the app shows it as being 0.4 miles away from the airport. The same problem arose for The Aviator Bar and Grill at Denver’s Front Range Airport—it’s in the terminal but the app says it’s 0.8 miles away from the airport. We suspect that the algorithm used in the app may measure from the airport center point, and those airports are large. Simon told us that feedback from users will allow tweaks to the app to fix such little glitches.

Using the Points of Interest tab also flags featured business. Clicking on that business gives more information about it. According to the help video, some of those businesses will offer reduced price coupons to SocialFlight users.

Flight Planning

We like that the SocialFlight app can also be used for flight planning. The airport details page gives the current METAR and TAF, a direct link to all of the instrument approach charts and depicts the current NEXRAD radar. Highlighted links take the user to full on current weather charts, forecasts and radar for a complete self-briefing. The search function allows the user to find anything from airport details and data to the FARs.

According to Jeff Simon, the social side of the site has helped pilots connect with other pilots in the area. He gave the example of a new Aeronca Champ owner who put out the word on SocialFlight to pilots within 25 miles of him. He found a tailwheel instructor who owned a Champ—and who became his tailwheel instructor.

Some 30,000 people are now using SocialFlight, per Simon’s data, and the app is reaching more than 200,000 through companion websites. In the new upgrade users now have access to more than 100,000 points of interest in walking distance of an airport. Simon also indicated that SocialFlight also displays some 7500 aviation events a year. He said that more and more pilots are using SocialFlight to put the word out about events large and very small. He described how four pilots put out the word that they were going to be washing their airplanes on a Saturday, and invited anyone interested to come see the airplanes or bring their airplane in to wash it. People showed up. Simon pointed out that aviation events on social media don’t have to be big and formal, often simply putting out the word on SocialFlight that some pilots are getting together to do something around airplanes will have positive results—more pilots fly more and people who are interested in aviation will come out to learn more about it.

Rick Durden holds an ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation 500-series and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How To Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Volume I.