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.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was booked to make a speech to the movers and shakers in these parts titled, “The Value of Aviation in Polk County.” I asked for your help, and I got it. To be honest I was bowled over by the volume of interest that simple request generated. Thanks to the many GAN readers who sent their thoughts, suggestions, and personal experiences my way. Many of the sentiments you shared were woven into that presentation, I assure you.
As promised, today’s post is intended to provide a thumbnail sketch of the presentation I gave, and some sense of the reception it got. But first I have to thank Donna Sheehan, the marketing and promotions queen at the City of Winter Haven. It was Donna who picked up the ball and ran with it when news of my speech came out, preparing a Powerpoint presentation that illustrated many of the points I was hoping to make to an audience of predominantly non-aviation enthusiasts.
I’d also like to extend a sincere thanks to John Burton, the president of Sun ‘n Fun. When I contacted John to ask for any hard numbers he had that would support my contention that general aviation is big business deserving of our support and respect, I had no idea he would follow through so spectacularly by sending my a University of South Florida economic impact study that gave me all the information I needed, and more. That information was the gold standard for a room full of government and business professionals who have no great affection for GA, but harbor completely understandable respect for financial success. Hat’s off to John Burton for helping to make that happen with such outstandingly well-documented data.
The presentation itself was based on a simple premise — that aviation benefits all of us, whether we recognize it or not, and that general aviation presents all of us with real opportunities for enhancing our personal and professional lives. If we nurture it, support it, and value it as we should, it will pay our communities back in ways that we can’t fully imagine yet.
I made a point of mentioning that the first regularly scheduled passenger service in the world popped up here in central Florida way back in 1914. That short 20-minute hop across the bay linked Tampa to St. Petersburg. The land route was an all-day journey that was likely to wear out any car of the era in no time, and dislodge a kidney in the process. Florida wasn’t known for high-quality roads in the early days of the 20th century.
Aviation had value then, as it has value now. We just need someone with insight to remind us from time to time.
Polk County, Florida, which is home to Sun ‘n Fun (with its 2011 edition coming up in only a matter of weeks), has no dedicated military airfields, and no large international airport. That leaves us with general aviation as an engine to drive our tourist industry, establish gateways for visitors from the north and west, and establish a toehold in the world of business, education, emergency services, and economic development. That’s plenty, believe me. With all that piled onto one big plate labeled General Aviation, we can count our blessings.
It was my good fortune that the audience was very receptive to the message I had to convey. In fact, they were receptive enough that they posed a series of questions that suggested they were genuinely interested in what I had to share with them.
“How do pilots know what to do when they arrive at an uncontrolled airport?” asked one guest. And so I explained how the traffic pattern works, and how the A/FD gives us real insight into the airport itself, and the CTAF can get us oriented to the active runway and the traffic in the pattern, even while we’re still miles away.
“What are the top three incompatible aviation activities?” asked another. Helicopters, gliders, and skydivers are all valuable assets to the community, I explained, but they have different needs that often cause them to create a conflict, or at least the potential for conflict when mixed into an airport with heavy fixed wing traffic.
The basic substance of more than one curious questioner can be boiled to the paraphrased query, “What’s the most important thing that pilots and passengers want to find when they land at a general aviation airport?” My response on this point is rock solid: A high level of professionalism that promotes safety, and exceptional customer service. Aviation is, in the end, a service industry. A warm smile and a sincere handshake goes a long way with transient travelers. As does a clean restroom, a good sandwich, a hot cup of coffee, and possibly even a lounge that offers a comfortable, quiet place to take a nap.
When it all wrapped up, approximately 40 minutes after I took the podium, it was apparent that my presentation had been well received. A line of guests made their way up to the head table to shake hands, ask additional questions, or just say something to the effect of, “Thanks, I really learned something.” And that was the point, in the end. So I’m calling the event a huge success – at least in my little corner of the world.
So thank you GAN readers. My presentation could absolutely be considered to be our presentation. I was merely the spokesman for the group who stood up at the podium, spoke into the microphone and said in a strong, clear voice: “Aviation is important to you and your business. Whether you’re a banker, a builder, an accountant, a manufacturer, or a pilot, aviation can expand your options to conduct business. It can bring tourists and investors into your midst with a level of convenience that can’t be duplicated. And it allows you to market your town, your company, and your talent to an audience that’s far removed from the local area. It also lets you get your products to anywhere you need them to be, in a hurry.
You and I both know what aviation can do for the business community, the tourist industry, and an educational system that could desperately use some buy-in from the community as well as an interested student body. So I told that audience of receptive business and civic leaders what you and I have known for years. Now they know it too. Better yet, they believe it a little more deeply than they did at the beginning of last week.
I’ll call that a win. In fact, I’ll say that I got a really good indication that the field is primed and our audience is listening. Our country is on its way out of a long, ugly economic slump. People are willing to listen to ideas that are unconventional, and will consider opportunities to develop new revenue streams that they would have turned up their noses at in better times. So I say it’s game on, fellow aviation enthusiasts. We’ve got an open podium and a willing audience. Join me in the discussion to the degree you are comfortable. Be honest and be positive, but be there.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
I’m more encouraged than ever. But then I had you to lean on. That’s nothing to sneeze at, believe me.
You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.