Don’t forget the little guy

As regular readers of this column may have noted, I often write about airports and administrative issues that effect the municipally owned airports of Polk County, Florida. Because most of the issues that one airport faces will eventually become an issue for others, there is a certain universality to the topics covered here, even if the focus does appear on the surface to be narrow, including only the four municipally owned airports in this county.

That’s the magician’s trick of it all. There aren’t four airports in my county. The four airports I’ve mentioned here, in relation to the Polk Aviation Alliance for instance, are just the tip of the iceberg. They are the big dogs in a kennel filled with dozens of yapping pooches. You see, although there may be only four municipally owned airports in my county, it is entirely reasonable to say that there are as many as 40 aviation bases of operation.

What? Yes, it’s true. There are 10 times as many aviation facilities in my county than most people are aware of — and I’m including the locals when I say that. What’s more, the circumstance that allows for that 10-fold increase leads us back to the universality issue mentioned two paragraphs back

Most counties and most states reflect the same state of affairs. The municipal airports are important, and often handle the larger aircraft that are used in the system, but they are by no means the only game in town. A quick search of shows that if you count airports, heliports, and seaplane bases, there are seven aviation facilities just here in the small city I live in. In the state of Florida the full listing includes 857 public or private airports, as well as other aviation facilities such as heliports.

America is awash in aviation bases. Sadly, most of them are nearly forgotten, under-utilized, and unsupported by the public as a whole. But they’re out there and we need to know about it — and do something about it. If we, the core customer base, aren’t aware and informed of these facilities, what chance do the owners and operators of them have of informing the public at large?

Let me suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, the aviation community could do itself a lot of good by not insisting on dividing ourselves up into separate cliques, like a bunch of teenage girls. Traditionally we self-segregate our ranks into unique groups who tend to stick together, and repel interlopers. That’s counter-productive to our cause. When we separate the warbird guys from the sport pilots, the helicopter operators from the seaplane aficionados, the homebuilders from the jet jocks, we create a weakened, fractionalized community that has very little common ground to base our activism on.

Allow me to suggest that we could all help the common cause by searching out the little known and often under-utilized aviation facilities in our own towns — and visit them. Admittedly, not all private facilities are open to the public, but most of them are. And it is rare that an aviation enthusiast meets another aviation enthusiast without feeling good about the introduction.

Imagine how much more benefit aviation could offer our communities if we, the core consumers, were better versed in what’s available locally. And just consider how much more vibrant our aviation community might be if the connections between the best used, and least used facilities in town were strengthened — even if only to the extent that the operators had met, exchanged contact information, and parted with a simple, “Hey, let’s grab a cup of coffee sometime.”

I think I see an opportunity awaiting us. Are you up for a cup?


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 You can reach him at




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  1. Bo says

    All of you make excellent points and I did not intend to come across as negative. Frustration is hard to cover up. We have not done our best job to educate the public as to the many different means of flight available.  Tough to get such a diverse group of people to band together but this could certainly help the future of GA . Many Sport planes are the most economical means of travel available today. All operate on unleaded fuel which solves the looming AVgas issue. The current economic issues and uncertainy hit everyone when the Sport Pilot was just beginning to take hold. Count me in to keep promoting personal flight in a positive light and hopefully see the declining numbers increase.

  2. Ben says

    Rod makes good points, and illustrates one of the misconceptions that hurts GA.
    The financial barrier to entry is not as high as many people think. It is still possible to own a simple but useful airplane on a limited budget, less than what many people spend on a car (both purchase and recurring), even less if you join with partners. 

    The manufacturers of new airplanes and organizations such as AOPA are fixated on the million dollar sale. It seems like the entire industry and government are out to get rid of us economical flyers, too. The popular notion is that we’re a bunch of rich sobs with expensive toys, and if we continue down the path that aircraft manufacturers and the FAA have chosen, soon that misconception will become the truth, just as is is most everywhere outside the US.  But at least for now, you can still aviate like I do if you wanted to…but who actually knows that?

    That must be part of the problem – even within the aviation community we don’t do very good PR!

  3. Rod Beck says

    To answer Ben’s comment,”How do WE ,the ENTIRE GA INDUSTRY, open up aviation and make it attractive to people again’?
    OK – lets start by asking, WHO is the people?

    Given all the external restraints, i.e. legal (FAA) security, (TSA,etc) and govermnet (municipal/county) owned and operated airports, aside, lets ask this question; Does GA have some degree of “market segmentation” – or simply, do we have a differient kind of “consumer” for a variety of (aviation) products and services?

    Will start with this; does a 18 year old airline pilot “want-a be’ have the same purchase motivation as a medium size corporation buying a Citation Mustang?
    “But it AVAITION, isn’t it?’ Thats make about as much cent$ as saying the 58 year old Kansas farmer who buys a new John Deere has the same motivation of his 22 year old son who just bought a restored 63 Corvette classic? But it has 4 WHEELS,doesn’t it – HELLO!

    Although we hear “avaition is for everyone” it’s NOT the case – it’s AVAIABLE to everyone – and so is a $500k yacht – no NEED, “price’, for example, is irrevelant!

    What this “industry” needs, in my opinion, like yesterday, in asking this, for ALL the various markets; 1. Business/corporate aircraft 2.Single piston (new) aircraft 3. Ditto-Used/pre-owned 3. Flight Training (career/professional) 4. Maintenance services
    So – WHO has the greatest NEED – not want – for all of these various “aviation consumer” or DEMAND!.

    For example, if one’s a dealer of Ulrtalights, WHO is the best CUSTOMER FOR THIS? – is it the same prospect who’s considering a Cirrus SR-22 “for $400k+?
    If I were an Ultralight sales person, knowing, that the buyer has a ‘demographic profile”; earns less than $80k on average and 8 out of 10 are EAA members.
    OK – I get a mailing list of the area EAA members (my market share) and send out a direct mailer informing them I’m a new dealer of the Super Ultralight 2012! Would I end the same mailer to owers of Falcons and Gulfstreams?

    GA offers many products and services for a very differient and distinct “avaition consumer” – and we need o spend LESS time trying to convince everyon e walking this planet that “flying is for them and start by sellling it to those who have a NEED and the FINANCIAL means to pay for it. I rest my case!

  4. Ben says

    “Traditionally we self-segregate our ranks into unique groups who tend to stick together, and repel interlopers. ”

    This hits at a core problem – when did this become the aviation tradition? In my younger days, the aviation community was open and friendly. There hae always been aggregations of like interests, but the “repel interlopers” part is fairly new (well maybe decades old now, like me).  Post-2011 has really accelerated the unfriendlyness, as community airports get tall fences, security gates, dire signs warning that anyone stepping foot on the grounds will be suspect.

    Outreach like Young Eagles is great. As an aviator we should know our community and particpate. How do we open up aviation and make it attractive to people again?

  5. Rod Beck says

    Our recent post, “FBO Wanted”?, would be of interest to ANY of those who have an interest in GA!

  6. Wingover says

    ‘ play with forums’… Only self employed people who were flying before 911 and after will remotely relate to my comments.’ 

     Interesting how you point for others’ egos to go when your comments define the term. With such a depressing post and evidently failing at doing your best, maybe take your own advice and ‘ ..move aside and think of the future of aviation.’

    As far as the blog goes, a shrinking pilot pop. is determining the new infastructure that will eventually replace the largess of old.  You want to have coffee with someone, pour a cup. Our challenge lies much deeper and broader with the non-flying pop. than yet another fly-in gathering among the chorus. The wolf is at the door, and we need the eye of the tiger fro them, not more cumbaya on Sunday mornings.

  7. Chuck Schmieler says

    I could not agree more. Here in Venice Florida the anti airport crowd has had some success in convincing the LSA crowd that they all (neighbors around the Airport as well as the LSA types ) would be much better off if the rest of us 182 to Citation drivers were gone. It definitely has caused a divided aviation community.

  8. didmybest says

    Never have the time to play with forums or attempt to post now. Took my wife to Sun & Fun for the first time without working and paying for a booth. Will not bore anyone with deatails. All GA should attempt to improve public perception of the values and freedoms which we currently hold. Time has come for the ego’s to move aside and think of the future GA aviation. Good and great pilots who have tried gave up. Glad my wife enjoyed the flight in and learned how to read sectionals. My kid’s gave up learning to fly after the …..I went through promoting it. Glad I may be successful registering a grass strip close to home and fly back to work, to pay for the losses from which I may never recover. Only self employed people who were flying before 911 and after will remotely relate to my comments.

    Bo Mills 

  9. says

    Maybe it’s different where I am, but I don’t see GA separating itself into cliques.  Sure, the warbird guys are going to hang out more with the warbird guys.  They have more in common with them.  The fly formation together, grouse about the availability of parts, etc.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t like the helicopter set.  As an example, I’ll be off teaching aerobatics one day then flying a jet the next.  After that I might be in an SR22 or a glider. I just can’t recall seeing examples of people excluding other aviators by virtue of what they do — or don’t — fly.   Having said that, I do agree that we should branch out and explore the wider world that aviation offers us.

  10. says

    Right on Jamie!  If we each participate, band together in promoting and protecting these little airports to our communities, we can WIN!  We do have to jump in though.  The days of just flying the plane, putting it away and going home are gone!  

    As Jamie says, we all need to participate now, as one.  Get involved, promote and speak up! 

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