Building a more aviation friendly future

Success is an elusive goal. In order to be truly successful you have to first define what success is. It’s only with that definition in hand that you can establish a plan to achieve the goal. Jumping to Step 3 without first taking Step 1, and Step 2, is a sure path to failure. Unfortunately, failure on those terms has been an unwritten policy for many municipalities when it comes to operating an airport.

Unlike a pickup truck, a book, or a chocolate milkshake, all of which are tangible, easily identifiable items, success is subjective. Each of us has a slightly different definition of what success is, and understandably, we all have a somewhat different idea about how we might reach our goals. In order for us to move forward it is imperative that we have an open, honest discussion and make some significant decisions, however.

The first step is to define the playing field. Here in Winter Haven, Florida we’ve embraced that reality in an organized and deliberate fashion – finally. After literally decades of running our airport as an after-thought, the city commission has begun asking difficult questions about the way this publicly owned facility is being run, and is making demands that affect our methods in the future.

It started simply enough. Two candidates for the city commission (myself included) ran on a platform that included the airport as an integral part of the city’s financial responsibility. My contention was that safety and customer satisfaction should be Job Number 1, and Job Number 1A, respectively. Anything less was insufficient. I was a strong proponent of the idea that the status quo had to change if we were going to turn this under-performing jewel of an airport into a facility that lives up to its potential.Both those new candidates won, and almost immediately things started heating up. Within months of taking office, our city manager moved on, providing an opening for the assistant city manager to move up into the top slot. Then our airport manager resigned, issuing a public letter that detailed what she perceived as an unacceptable level of interference from the city commissioner who was tasked with being the liaison to the airport advisory committee (me). I would characterize the situation differently, but I was not unhappy with the airport manager’s departure. It would seem that a considerable majority of the airport’s tenants and users were pleased with the vacancy, too.

Considering the turn of events to this point, would you classify this situation as good or bad? Has Winter Haven, or any city undergoing a similar transition, made progress or fallen backward? I choose to view the situation in different terms. I see this as an opportunity for progress. You can seize on the possibilities or dawdle hoping the issue will resolve itself. What had happened to this point was history. The important and still missing component to the success of the airport would be the result of what happened next.

During a public meeting of the city commission, a commissioner (me, again) made a series of comments that generally outlined the story as you now know it. Then something important happened. The commissioner made a motion that the city commission should direct the city manager (who is essentially the CEO of the city) to develop a plan for the operation of the airport, to include the airport manager, the airport advisory committee, and our method of delivering services via the FBO. The motion included a 60 day timeline and instructions to report back to the commission with the plan.

Debate ensued, and not all of that debate was warm and fuzzy. But the perspective of the five commissioners was made clear, and when the vote came the city manager had a clear directive. For the first time in decades, if not the first time ever, Winter Haven would develop an actual management plan for the operation of our airport.

The 60 days has now passed and the city manager will be making his presentation to the city commission during the next public meeting on our calendar. I suspect there will be debate again, and although there may be disagreements, there will eventually be consensus. The odds are excellent that the airport will finally be run with as much professionalism and accept as much responsibility for success as any city division or department.

Success doesn’t come easily, but it comes if enough people are willing to help it along. Our pending success in Winter Haven didn’t come as a result of my efforts. It has come as a result of a concentrated approach on the part of dozens of people who know that a new direction is necessary, and that their participation is required if that direction is to be sketched out and adhered to in the future. Granted, the process can be slow, and there will be bumps in the road. You will encounter opposition you hadn’t imagined, and you will find support you never thought possible. But if you try, if you persevere, and if you involve yourself in the process without allowing the discussion to degenerate into a round-robin game of personality assassination, you too can have a profound impact on the way your town, city, or county runs their airport.

Now, wouldn’t that be step in the right direction?

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.

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