One of the great advantages of a blog is the immediacy it offers both the reader and the writer. Unlike a traditional article published in the hard-copy version of a publication, the blog format allows for rapid feedback from readers, in the form of comments and e-mails.
In my case, I can tell you with absolutely no shame that I am a writer with just enough of an ego to enjoy the comments and e-mails that Politics for Pilots elicits. From my perspective, there is benefit in that feedback, on both ends of the communications stream.
I recently received an e-mail from a reader who asked a very reasonable question. To paraphrase, he asked: What do you personally do to enhance and encourage the use of your local airport? It’s a fair question. And one that I should probably address more directly at times. So let me take a whack at answering that question in public, hopefully for the benefit of all concerned.
To be perfectly honest, I take my own advice. When I write a piece suggesting an approach to making progress on behalf of the airport, it is almost always a third person generic report on something I have personally done in the past. But let me provide a specific example of how that works for me.
My intent was to title this piece, “The personal touch,” and write a short essay on the importance of being personally involved and personally committed to the goal of improving life at the airport. I was basing this piece on an airport tour I gave my city’s Economic Development Director this week. As a non-pilot, who was raised by a military pilot, the director has a long standing interest in aviation, but very little first-hand knowledge of it. He also suffers (through no fault of his own) from a common series of questions and potential misunderstandings about general aviation, since his personal experience is almost entirely with military aviation – as seen through the eyes of a parent.
This is the point where two important personality traits converge. It can be safely said that I have an almost evangelical zeal about the value of aviation. But it can also be said that I long ago lost the ability to just shut up. Without some self-imposed restraint, I run the risk of espousing the magic and majesty of aviation to the detriment of my cause. So I’m careful. I consciously planned this two man tour of the airport to include businesses, public areas, interaction with other people – and I resolved to listen as much as I talk. To be honest, I often fail in that last detail. But I’m working on it.
In this case my tip-of-the-hat to the personal touch was that I picked the director up at City Hall, in my own car. No city vehicle for us. This was a leisurely visit to acquaint him with the field and its charms, not an attempt to impress anyone with our role as big-dogs in town, driving around with the city’s emblem plastered on the side panels of the vehicle.
We stopped in at the 1940s-era maintenance shop and former FBO building. We visited the self-serve fuel farm. We drove through the rows of hangars, and chatted about how open public areas can be an asset that costs the city virtually nothing to maintain. We stopped into Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base and chatted with the always cheerful, and lovely Francis Brown, a woman I simply do not have the space to rave about to the extent that she deserves. And we ended our tour at the newest building on Gilbert Field, our new $8.5 million terminal building.
When seen in a single day, over the course of an hour or two, it is evident to anyone that our beautiful, casual, uncontrolled airport has tremendous potential. It is also evident that the least used facility on the field is the newest, and most expensive.
Personal experience is a mighty thing. Walking a government official, a potential tenant, or a disgruntled neighbor through the facility can do a world of good. Nothing substitutes for seeing, touching, and hearing the airport up close and personally, with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.
I left the Economic Development Director with this thought as we exited the nearly vacant terminal building. To paraphrase myself, I said: We have everything we need here to be truly successful, and provide something of real value to the community in the process. On the up side, we don’t need to spend millions of dollars and tie up thousands of man hours to see that the airport achieves its potential – all we have to do is change our attitude toward the tenants, users, and prospective new businesses that have an interest in the field. That small, inexpensive alteration to the old way of doing things will reap considerable rewards for us in the future.
That is an accurate representation of what I do to promote aviation locally – and I do it as often as I can with anyone who has even the slightest interest in Gilbert Field. If I were you, I would do the same thing at your airport. Because if we all do this same sort of unrestrained and well informed cheerleading together, who knows what the future of aviation might look like when the next generation strolls onto the field looking to make the most of their lives?
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.