Believe it or not, I am not universally loved and admired. None of us are, really, so I’m sure you’re not exactly bowled over by this admission. But once you step into the political arena, you more or less guarantee that you’re going to become a target to at least a few folks. Know that up front, but get involved anyway. The industry needs you.
This tendency to turn on anyone who is attempting to do something beneficial is no surprise. Even in the good ol’ days, politicians were reviled more than they were revered. W.C. Fields, the juggler who became an early comic film star said, “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” Not much has changed.
I mention this not in any attempt to encourage pity or empathy, but as a way of making a point. While I have been fortunate to develop a good working relationship with the administration in my city, and while I have been able to shift my city into becoming a decidedly pro-aviation municipality, not everyone sees those efforts as beneficial. Surprisingly perhaps, the most vocal opponents of the work I’ve done as an aviation advocate are tenants at my local airport. Not many of them, thankfully. But they are out there, grumbling, and griping, and working hard to make sure people like me never get elected to office again.
You have to get used to that. Every advocate for general aviation faces this exact same predicament. Truthfully, every advocate for any endeavor faces this predicament. It’s part of the gig. All you can do is accept it, work to limit the damage, and come to terms with the unavoidable reality of advocacy, which is this: No matter how hard you work to make things better, your best efforts will be opposed by some of the very people who would benefit most from your work.
You’re not entirely powerless, however. As an advocate, you are not alone. You may not be aware of it, but there are others who are putting in hours trying to make a difference. Some are vocal and others are not, but if you keep a sharp eye out you’ll find them. These are the people you want to establish partnerships with. They can help you. You can help them. They are the natural collaborators you should ally yourself with. And if you’ve overlooked that option in the past, rectify the situation. Nobody changes the world on their own. You need help if you’re going to be successful. You need direction sometimes, too. Those partners can help you find both, so hang in there, and reach out when you can. It’s worth the effort.
My most recent personal example of how this works goes a little like this. My airport has an airport advisory committee. It has been less than successful in the past, but it has potential, thanks to a chairman who has brought professionalism to the table, set goals, and personally gotten involved to push new ideas into the mix. You don’t find potential allies like this every day. Unfortunately, I overlooked that simple truth early on, and I wish I could turn back the clock and get a do-over. But I can’t, so I did the next best thing. I invited the chairman to lunch and I apologized.?? Yep, that’s right. I apologized. Because I’m not infallible, and I’m not above admitting a mistake. I should have been meeting with him one on one much earlier. You see, much of the distrust that survives at my airport could have been avoided with better communication, more frequent communication, and a little more outreach on my part. That’s probably true at your airport, too. So rather than bemoan the problem and learn to live with it, I choose to fix it.
Over lunch the chairman and I talked over a variety of ideas for the airport, including hangar rates, new hangar construction, educational opportunities, new business opportunities, and how we can improve customer satisfaction on the field. We didn’t resolve every issue we discussed, but we made progress, and we rediscovered an important point — we’re both doing our best to make our airport the best general aviation destination it can be. We both want it to be an inviting base of operation for anyone who wants to call our airport home. We also both have the ability to help the other achieve those goals, and communicate them more clearly and frequently to the local pilots who use the field.
Things are looking up for us, largely because two guys went out to lunch and had a chat to reaffirm that between us, there’s a lot of common ground.
So pick up the phone, or send off an email inviting someone to lunch in the hopes that you can have a productive chat and find a way to work together more closely. It may not work out, but then again, it might. And what the heck. Everybody’s got to eat, right?
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.