You’ve seen them on the news. They’re mostly young, but a broad spectrum of age brackets is evident in the full group. Often angry, frequently lacking focus, they have successfully done something the general aviation market has been loathe to do — attract massive media attention.
On that score they’re winning the battle. First it was the Tea Party, most recently it’s the Occupy movement. The fact that there is no specific leader to interview and no published agenda they’re attempting to accomplish doesn’t seem to hurt them in the least. These grass roots political movements have popped up and are gaining a following for the simple reason that the participants speak up, speak out, and persist when others might have gotten tired and gone home. In short, they have drive.
In some cases there aren’t all that many people involved. As an example, some estimates of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators puts their totals in the 1,000 or less category. Considering that nearly 9 million people live in the immediate area, that’s not much of a mob. Their persistence has paid off, however. They’re on the news daily and they are getting the word out — even if not all their members have a clear understanding of what the word is.
We could learn a thing of two from these folks.
All this has me wondering if we old fogies that make up the general aviation world could emulate their success and build on it. Of course we have an advantage: We have an undeniably important service to sell, and we can articulate our message well. We know what we’re trying to say and we know exactly why it’s so important that GA continue to thrive.
As I make this recommendation I find myself reflecting on a chat I had over lunch recently with my friends, Earle and Beverly. They’re both retired and neither of them is wealthy by any means. He’s retired law enforcement and she’s a retired public school teacher. They are truly wonderful people however, and they’re general aviation pilots.
Earle and Beverly periodically work with Mercy Flight Southeast, which is a division of the Air Charity Network. Their role is to pull their Cessna 172 out of the hangar, fire it up, and fly people who require medical care at far flung institutions at least part of the way on their journey. Most recently they transported a mother and 4-year-old daughter who have to travel on a regular basis between a medical facility in Ohio and their home in central Florida.
“It doesn’t cost them a penny.” says Earle. And that’s an important facet of our story. These are average American general aviation enthusiasts who absorb the full cost of transporting an individual, a couple, or a family from where they are to where they need to be. General aviation is literally making high quality health care available to people who would not be able to avail themselves of it without access to these aircraft and their pilots.
A few weeks ago this mother and daughter traveled from Ohio to Florida for no charge. They began their trip in a Cessna 182 that flew them to North Carolina. It was there that they transferred to another airplane and another pilot. On that leg a Piper Cherokee flew them to Georgia. That’s where Earle and Beverly met them with the Cessna 172. That flight brought them nearly to their doorstep, a general aviation airport in central Florida where grandma could meet them right out on the ramp, move them into a car, and head for the house.
You just can’t get that kind of service outside of general aviation. And you know as well as I do that almost nobody outside of our little clique of fellow enthusiasts is even aware this sort of thing happens. But it does. In fact it happens routinely all across the country.
Perhaps it is time for us to Occupy General Aviation and invite the press out to see it for themselves. Of course we could do it with style. We can drive out for a portion of the day so that we can have lunch, or take a quick flight, or simply interact with our fellow GA enthusiasts in a casual manner. In that respect, we would more or less be conducting ourselves in the same way we do on any other day.
Then again, if we invited the press and we introduced them to the Earles and Beverlys that exist at every airport in America, that would be different. If we let those media people know that lives are touched by general aviation in ways that they’ve never imagined — and that we GAer’s absorb every penny of the cost ourselves — well maybe that hundred dollar hamburger talk might get a little less condescending in the press.
Maybe if a corporate PR person invited a representative of the news media to come out and see a flight associated with the Corporate Angel Network load up to take a cancer patient to get the treatment they need, we’d hear a different slant to the news the next time a politician suggests that corporate aviation is fueled by greed and wanton excess. If a reporter were present when a Flying Paws flight took off to transport a rescued animal, they might develop a soft spot in their hearts for the pilots and helpers who take on this work, as well as for the special needs animals being assisted. It’s even possible that a newsperson who participates in a Freedom Flight to reunite siblings separated in foster care, or to transport advocates for abused and neglected children, they might start to see the general aviation airport as something other than a playground of the rich.
It is time for us to stand up, speak out, and Occupy General Aviation with the kind of zeal that people are showing all over the country to support the political agenda that is important to them.
If GA is important to you, I strongly urge you to send an email, make a phone call, and invite the press to meet you for coffee and a muffin at the local airport. Amaze them with a few introductions and stories about what general aviation is really about. They don’t know, but you do. Tell the world!
It may sound cliché, but it’s the simple truth of the matter. If not you, who? If not today, when? Start.
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. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.