Rectifying past mistakes

Everything is not necessarily as it seems. That’s true in political endeavors more often than we might want to believe. A case of mistaken assumptions was recently uncovered at my home airport. Perhaps you will find the story beneficial to you and your attempts to positively affect the management of your local airport.

The airport advisory committee that periodically gathers to discuss issues big and small at Florida’s Gilbert Field has been in existence for approximately a decade. It’s a good group of well-intentioned individuals who want to do their best to provide insight and guidance to our airport director. That’s a noble goal, and I appreciate the sacrifice of time and effort each member has provided in order to keep the ball rolling along.

Recently, a member voiced concern about the direction the airport advisory group was taking. Understandably, that voice of dissent kicked off a flurry of emails, quite a few conversations, and some serious inquiries into what the mission of the group was, and what the bylaws said.

That’s where this story really gets interesting — because in researching the papers that established the advisory group it was discovered that some important steps were skipped. Rather than being set up as a real advisory group that had the backing of the city commission and city hall, it turns out the advisory group was never anything more than an isolated group of interested people who had no real standing in the process of running the airport. That’s not their fault, either. They were doing their best to be effective. But without a support structure or an avenue to real success, they might as well have been running for president in their living room. No matter how great a job they might have done, they really had no ability to do anything of significance for the airport.

Fortunately, realizing that something is wrong is the first step to setting things right again. And that process is in play now. Our airport advisory committee is being remodeled, correctly, with the full knowledge and support of the city commission and city staff who will help create the new documents that give the group the authority to work hand in hand with the airport’s management. In other words we’re starting over and doing it right this time.

Admittedly, that’s an annoyance. But it’s an annoyance that leads to progress. Just like a mechanic who learns to weld through trial and error, we’re correcting past mistakes and setting them right. In the end the work we do will be better, and the effect will be more lasting. That’s a good thing.

I mention all this because this scenario isn’t all that unusual. Three years ago I was elected to the chairmanship of a board, and in my preparations to do the job well, I found that the board had been founded with the intention of disbanding it when the pilot project it oversaw was completed. The pilot project had ended nine years before I was elected — yet the board still met on a regular basis. Nine chairmen and chairwomen had come and gone before the mistake was discovered.

Not all boards and committees are created equally. So allow me the latitude to suggest to anyone who sits on a board, or a committee that has oversight or advisory power — do your homework. Find your mission statement. Find your bylaws. Look through the minutes of past meetings. Go back years if you have to. But find the information that gives you the authority to do the work you’re setting out to do. If it’s not there, at least you’ll know before you waste too much time doing nothing of consequence.

You can always start over from the beginning. We are — and our advisory group will be better for the effort. I have no doubt.

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 maintains multiple blogs and interacts via the Internet at He can be reached at


  1. GW says

    Good thoughts, along with what autority the group may have you must keep in mind that the politics may be intense. In my own case I became completely frustraited by the politics of a committe whose by-laws stated that the had no regulatory authority and yet seemed to dictate to the county board everything relating to the airport. I sat in on the meetings for over two years and did make a few comments at times when allowed. The second attempt to gain a seat I was told that I was not qulified and had nothing to bring to the discussion “just maybe the vewpoint of the recreational flyer and general public” , I was the only one at the table with over 30 years of G.A. experiance (pilot,A&P, everthing from corprate jets to ultralights) and the airport is publicly funded. I finally got the memo. that my three tail-draggers didn’t burn jet A and so we were not welcome just tolerated at the county owned GA airport. I moved to a local Grass strip, politics and progress for the sake of progress can chase peple away too.

  2. Dennis Lord says

    Jamie, thank you for the reminder. I would add that even with true advisory authority to never lose sight that the panel remains advisory. Often, management of personalities both on and outside the panel are necessary. As Chairman of the Los Angeles County Aviation Commission, an advisory body to County Supervisors over five County airports, first and foremost we are all pilots. Still, I will gently remind some that the title of PIC does not exist outside the cockpit. This tends to lower the tone of discussions to what we can or cannot do.

    You are also correct that things aren’t always as they seem. Especially in politics. As a professional governmental affairs manager, I try to bring to the table some realities to initiatives in order to expose barriers or opportunities. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. But we never lose sight of the mission that we exist to preserve general aviation as our highest calling. Working with tenants and our surrounding communities takes work but the reward is understanding that even in a densely populated area there is value to our existence.

    Still, some say “how?”. Especially those community activists that feel we are “just a bunch of rich guys making noise”. Well, I am also a utility first responder to emergency incidents and have now educated local agencies that the airport is a valuable asset in times of an emergency. Reaching out, we have linked the airports to local emergency response plans to ensure that local officials clearly understand the value and begin to defend us, instead of joining the choir of voter dissent. Never forgetting we are advisory is key, but with effective leadership we can make a difference for our communities and for GA.

  3. erniegann says

    You have to question the need for a board that doesn’t know what its mission is–that didn’t even know that it had outlived its original purpose.

    The “advisory board” is giving direction to the airport director–the guy that is there every single day–not someone that meets once a month. All too often, advisory boards have no clue as to the FARs, the inner working, the state of the industry, and the funding process. They do serve a useful purpose in bringing a private pilot’s perspective to the airport manager–but since they are merely advisory, they could do that with an informal meeting at the manager’s office.

    Municipalities don’t have swimming pool advisory boards, playground advisory boards, water and sewage advisory boards, snow plowing advisory boards–why an aviation advisory board?

    An old business axiom regarding paperwork–“stop issuing reports, and see if anyone notices” might be useful here.

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