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Participant ... Yes, Co-Sponsor ... No

By Jerome Pendzick

Success and recognition are good things. Chapters have earned their recognition from being able to put on successful local fly-ins. Chapters have a lot going for them and sometimes these achievements and resources attract the attention of other organizations that may wish to tap into the resources of the Chapter to put on a larger event (airshow). This isn’t always a bad thing, however there are issues to be considered or concerned about if a Chapter become a partner or co-sponsor of an event.

Before we launch any further into this "white paper", it is important to clarify a couple of terms we will be frequently using. For the sake of this document, here are some definitions you will need at hand as you read on:

  • "Participant" means being an exhibitor or having a display area, or conducting an activity that would normally be done by a Chapter at a local Chapter fly-in, i.e. pancake breakfast, EAA membership information and recruitment display, Young Eagles, parking homebuilt aircraft in a designated area, youth aviation education (academy activities), flying start, and aircraft judging and awards.
  • "Co-sponsor" or "Partner" means being involved in the planning, sharing in the income or expenses or being paid to participate, promotion, and having any level of responsibility for a part or overall activities of an event. (We’ll use the term co-sponsor as a singular term throughout the remainder of this paper, just keep in mind it is referring to both terms.)

With our two main terms defined, we are ready to launch into the purpose of this document, which is to help Chapters understand what can or might happen when they are a participant verses being a co-sponsor. This is very important because each role has various levels of responsibility and risk exposure. Wait, hold-on, let’s stop for just one more definition; "risk exposure", which means the potential of being held legally responsible for injury or death to someone, damage to someone’s property, or fiduciary/financial loss. Now, let’s go on! As we started to say the purpose of this document is to help Chapters understand and recognize how they can enjoy being involved in local fly-ins and in some cases airshows without finding themselves going beyond their insurance or exposing themselves, their members and officers, and EAA to inappropriate risk exposure.

Chapters have a lot going for them. Chapters have knowledge and experience with fly-in and in some cases airshows. Chapters have various levels of financial resources and they also have a tremendous level of volunteer resources (members). Chapters also have a great insurance program that allows them to conduct as many fly-ins and Young Eagle rallies, as they like, without, in almost all cases, paying any additional premium. Chapters also have support available from the Chapter Office at EAA Headquarters, and possibly of greatest value, Chapters have name recognition, i.e. within the recreational aviation world everyone knows what EAA is, and on a local or regional basis aviation people know about the successes of the nearest local Chapter. (Face it, people involved in aviation have heard about EAA and they also know one of the things that make EAA different from any other aviation association or organization in the world is the Chapter family!) These are just some of the benefits, and benefits often times attracts attention in the form of another organization seeking help or assistance. This is okay, however becoming a co-sponsor does lead to added responsibilities.

We mentioned earlier local Chapter fly-ins. This is important, because Chapters have been successful at carving out a niche within recreational aviation by conducting local fly-ins. For years, on any Saturday or Sunday morning, noon, or evening, literally hundreds of local fly-ins are being safely put on by local Chapters. In addition, Chapters are the mainstay of the Young Eagles program with the greatest majority of Young Eagles earning their wings at a rally conducted by a local Chapter. All of these fun things Chapters are making happen, and they are safe and successful. Why? Because, Chapters have learned, through planning and experience, how to do these things right? This is a unique role, one that no other group of local aviation enthusiasts can claim.

Success and recognition are good things. Chapters have earned their recognition from being able to put on successful local fly-ins. As mentioned above, Chapters have a lot going for them and sometimes these benefits attract the attention of other organizations that may wish to tap into the resources of the Chapter. This isn’t always a bad thing, however there are issues to be concerned with if a Chapter becomes a partner or co-sponsor of an event.

Many times Chapters are invited to become a co-sponsor of a local airshow or other event. Being a co-sponsor means becoming a partner, which may also mean being held responsible for the actions of other partners or the entire group. Example; imagine a Chapter becoming a co-sponsor of a local airshow. The Chapter participates in planning sessions with the Chapter’s focus being conducting youth aviation education activities, including Young Eagle flights, and a professional airshow coordinator handles the main airshow portion. Food service is handed over to several local civic groups who are also considered co-sponsors, and the city chamber of commerce offers up the seed money, say $50,000 to pay for up front costs. Various other groups are invited to be co-sponsors, such as the local radio control flying club, a local parachute jumping club, and a car club (who will conduct some simple car driving skills training/tricks). Everyone comes to planning meetings, issues are discussed, and in some cases things are put up to a vote where the Chapter is entitled to cast a vote, etc., etc., etc. In the end the airshow is planned and ready to go. Oh, yes one more detail, on the posters, flyers, and on the websites that all promote this airshow, all of the co-sponsors are listed to give appropriate recognition, including the Chapter.

The day comes and the airshow turns out to be a flop. The weather doesn’t cooperate and there are few people that turn out. During the airshow, because of the poor weather, one of the performers runs off the runway and although there are not many people 6 people get injured before the aircraft stops. Adding insult to the already bad situation, in the following weeks it is discovered that the professional airshow coordinator used some of the up front money to pay personal expenses which leaves little or no money to pay for the services such as portable toilets, garbage pick-up, PA system, police and emergency services, etc.

The above situation sounds too bad to possibly happen; however it can, and unfortunately, has. The worst part is the city chamber of commerce contacts their attorney and the people that were injured through their attorneys begin to collect names of potential defendants. Guess what, because the Chapter is listed as a co-sponsor, with participation in planning meetings, and all the promotional materials, the attorneys decide to name the Chapter, the members, officers, and directors, and EAA in their litigation. All because the Chapter has skills and resources and they were invited to become a co-sponsor.

Okay, enough "doom and gloom" how do we avoid this situation and still enjoy participating in a local event such as the one we’ve described? It is simple; Participant …..Yes, Co-Sponsor ….. No Way! Your Chapter can achieve all the success they wish without taking on the role and responsibilities of a co-sponsor. Here’s a simple "YES - NO" list to follow:

  • YES, go ahead and take on the role of putting on a breakfast or running a food concession. This is your operation, your responsibility and is covered by your Chapter’s insurance.
  • YES, go ahead and put together a Flying Start, youth education, celebration of flight, or Young Eagle flights. These activities can be done as a participant, and your Chapter insurance covers your Chapter.
  • NO, don’t take on the role of co-sponsor, don’t put your Chapter’s name all over the promotional materials (it isn’t needed if it is a good event), don’t share in planning, and don’t accept the role of sharing in any profit because it also may mean your Chapter will be expected to share in the deficit (should that occur). (This might also violate the Chapter’s non-profit status!)
  • NO, don’t ever tell someone your Chapter’s insurance can be expanded to include coverage for others, unless such an expansion is necessary for a Chapter fly-in event, but never for an event where the Chapter has been asked to be a co-sponsor.

There are great many things Chapters do that turn out to reinforce the tremendous asset Chapters are to EAA and vise versa. Chapters have a great talent to organize and safely conduct local fly-in events. Problems begin when a Chapter is offered what may on the surface appear to be an opportunity to share in the success of a multi-sponsor event. Unfortunately, the baggage that goes along with being a co-sponsor may very well harm the Chapter and EAA.

If your Chapter has any questions or concerns about being involved in a local multi-sponsor event, contact the Chapter Office so we can help sort things out and also help your Chapter continue to do what it does best, …. flying , friendship, family, fun, and food!

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