To save our airports

We are losing an average of two airports a month in the United States, according to the most believable numbers, while substantial growth of general aviation is being predicted for the next 10 years.

General Aviation News wants you to get involved in stopping — indeed, reversing — that disturbing loss rate. We should be planning and building new airports, not covering existing ones with houses, shopping malls and business parks.

To that end we are starting a campaign to save our airports, and it needs your help. In fact it is you, our readers, who will make it a success.

Here’s the deal:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is asking state and local chambers to support renewal of Aviation Trust Fund legislation, which expires in 2007. Its thrust is to have local chambers pressure Congress to renew the law and add a lot more money for airport infrastructure where there is national or regional airline service.

There is no mention of general aviation.

We ask our readers to encourage local chambers of commerce to include the needs of GA in any contacts made with Congress.

There is urgency to doing so. We want pilots, FBO owners, airport managers, and others with stakes in GA to influence what those chamber members say to Congress rather than react, after the fact — all too often the way general aviation deals with matters affecting it.

How can you influence your local chamber of commerce?

Through direct contact with members, of course, but also by stirring up interest at service organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Elks and Moose clubs, and business groups such as realtors’ associations.

We are developing some guidelines to help you in this campaign. They will appear in future issues and, in more detail, on our website (GeneralAviationNews.com).

In the meantime, here are some basic ideas:

- List the contacts at your Chamber of Commerce, service clubs and news media.

- Create a list of organizations to which your friends, relations, employees (or employers) belong, and offer a speaker to those groups.

- Learn who benefits from the various services at your airport, such as Medevac and other emergency medical activities, airplane charters, aerial photography, school class tours and the like.

- Prepare written statements, detailing what you have learned, for your contacts.

- Get to know your local media. Who reports on aviation and business issues? Contact those people, offer to answer questions, offer an airplane ride, tell them how your airport benefits the area it serves.

- Put your best speaker forward. When you talk to local organizations and media, make sure the right person is delivering the message. Also create a short “canned” speech that anyone can use to fill in for your spokesperson, if necessary.

- Pitch in with sports team uniforms, help sponsor charity golf tournaments and other sporting events, and award the winners short flights.

- When something special happens at your airport, be sure photographs are taken — preferably by the media, but certainly by someone. If you don’t tell people what you’re doing, how will they know?

- With help from airport managers and state aeronautics administrators, you can summarize the impact your airport has on the local economy — always impressive, in terms of what other businesses in the same community generate, but usually overlooked.

- Emphasize how your community already has benefited from GA: Medevac services, for example, where aviation has saved lives of neighbors and friends. Donor organ deliveries have been lifesaving activities at many GA airports, as have Angel Flight, Wings of Hope, the Corporate Angel Network and, of course, the Civil Air Patrol. In future issues, we will suggest ways you can learn and then tell these stories to your contacts and, particularly, local news media.

General aviation supports local economies in myriad ways, but too often it goes unrecognized by the communities it serves. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has signed on 550 local chambers, so far, and hopes to have 1,000 on board by the end of this year. We believe that GA should benefit from their initiative, not be left out of it.

Join us as we campaign for more, not fewer, airports — and the future of aviation.

Thomas F. Norton is one of four people who regularly contribute to this column.

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