As I write this blog post it is Monday afternoon, April 12. In a few hours I will sit at the dais at City Hall, flanked by four fellow city commissioners, all committed to doing the business of the people. But tonight will be different. Tonight will have an undeniably pro-aviation angle to it, something that has not happened in my home town for many, many years. A sitting commissioner will sing the praises of general aviation, and he’ll do it on the record.
Like me, you know that a massive gathering of aviation’s faithful are coming together, even now, at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (LAL) in central Florida. Sun ‘n Fun officially opens its doors Tuesday, an annual event that is celebrated by untold hundreds of thousands of aviation enthusiasts from all over the globe. Some, like me, will be there in person. Others celebrate from afar, tied down by work, or family, or a stalled cold front that they can’t get over or around.
Like the Cubbies, we all hope for better luck next year.
Still, enough of us make it here that at least half a dozen airports in the region benefit directly from this influx of pilot types. Hotels book rooms and flirt with the idea of posting their “no vacancy” signs. People from all over the world will belly up to the bar at taverns and saloons all over the county. Hungry visitors will cause kitchens to kick into high gear as the tables out front fill and turn-over to new guests at a pace that is unheard of during the rest of the year.
Even so, I can assure you that most of the city commissioners in most of the municipalities surrounding me, and you, do not care one bit about what is about to befall us. But don’t hang your head or shed a tear. There is good news. We can change that apathy to a warm and welcoming embrace of general aviation as a viable part of the community. We really can. And my community is a great example of how a completely disconnected city administration can be turned around to see the light and make a real effort to serve the GA audience in a whole new way. It’s a big job, though. We’re going to need your help if we’re going to reach our goal on a national scale.
Think you’re up for the challenge?
Let’s be honest. Sun ‘n Fun is big business. General aviation is big business. And tonight, perhaps for the first time ever a city official who holds a seat in the second largest city in this county will say out loud what you and I have been thinking for our entire flying career – “Look at what general aviation has done for us. I hope each and every commissioner, mayor, and city manager in the county is paying attention to the commercial and recreational potential that’s flying over our heads and landing in our midst each and every year. Let’s embrace this opportunity and make the most of it, not just for the pilot’s – but for the benefit of the entire community.”
In a few hours I will say something substantially similar to that in a public forum. But I’m not telling you that so that you’ll think well of me. No, no. I’m far more devious than that. I’m telling you this so that I can challenge you to do what I did. Because I’m not much different than you are, really. I’m just a guy who likes airplanes and believes that general aviation should play a larger, more substantive role in the community I live in. So I ran for office, and I won. Now I’m doing what I said I would do. I’m singing the praises of general aviation in public and pushing the limits of city hall to get them to see the positives that are inherent to GA in the US.
I’m done just talking the talk. I’m ready to start walking the walk, too
So I challenge you to get together with your pilot buddies, your hangar pals, your rainy day coffee club friends – no matter where you live, whether you have political experience or not – I’m challenging you to stand up and be counted in an undeniably powerful way. Run for local office and spearhead the pro-aviation arm of the municipality you live in.
If you play your cards right, you just might win. Can you imagine the possibilities?
Stay tuned for updates from Gilbert Field, Lakeland, central Florida, and beyond. We can make a difference if we work together. Just like Billy Henderson and his team of volunteers did 37 years ago. Nobody ever dreamed that a single EAA chapter could launch a fly-in that would become world famous for its friendly, down-home, grass roots love of aviation. Yet they did.
Now it’s our turn. Let’s get fired up, get together, and make some noise about the benefits of GA in my community, in your community, and in every community from Daytona Beach to San Diego.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.