As general aviation comes to grips with the various opportunities to grow our community, we become aware that we face a few issues as well. First and foremost among those vexing problems may be the fact, and yes it is a fact, that we and our potential customer base speak different languages.
That matters, of course, because having the ability to communicate clearly is critical to the success of any business. This is especially true if you were hoping to make a profit and be involved in an endeavor that runs efficiently. It’s critical in aviation too, for reasons of safety if nothing else.
This comes to mind because of an experience I had at SUN ’n FUN this year. It involves a minor verbal exchange between two people who are both strangers to me. But it illustrates the opportunities and the challenges better that lie before us better than any imagined scenario I could create.
I was leaving the Pavilion area and headed down to SUN ’n FUN Radio for an interview when I encountered a middle age couple who looked lost. The man, who was wearing a backpack filled with the day’s needed supplies of water, snacks, sunscreen and such, was turning around in circles, clearly looking for something. The woman he was with, whom I can only assume was his wife, looked similarly befuddled.
The man with the backpack broke ranks with the standard male protocol and approached a passing pedestrian to ask directions. His question was telling. “Which way do we go to see the airplanes?” he asked.
Now let me give you a moment to ponder that scene. A couple has made it to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. They’ve navigated the parking lot, purchased wristbands that provide them entry to the field through the gates. They’ve sauntered past innumerable aircraft on display outside the educational center, and they’ve made it past the main buildings that lead to the flightline. And yet at that point, when they are surrounded on all sides by literally thousands of aircraft that are just out of sight due to a cluster of trees, that is the moment they choose to accept that they are lost and have to ask directions to the airplanes.
The truth is they couldn’t miss the airplanes no matter which direction they headed off in. It would be impossible. From that spot on the field they were literally surrounded by airplanes on all sides, but they were oblivious to the opportunities all around them.
That sense of misdirection is not their problem, however. It’s ours. If those of us who are involved in general aviation can’t find a way to help those people find their way to the destination they are hoping to explore, we have lost the battle.
However, if we can find it within ourselves to personally lead them there, we can make points. Better yet, if we lead them there, make sure they are comfortable and confident that they’re in the right place, we could turn a loss into a victory.
Best of all, if we could get them there, make them feel welcome, and introduce them to the people who were best suited to answer their questions and make their experience a winner — that’s like winning the lottery.
Fortunately, the stranger this lost gentleman asked for directions was familiar with the grounds, and familiar with leading the lost. He is a Civil Air Patrol volunteer attached to the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, which is located on the grounds of SUN ’n FUN, just across the street from the educational facility we all stood beside. He told them where the antiques and classics were, he told them how to find the warbirds. He gave them insight into the layout of the fly-in that gave them the confidence to march off hand-in-hand, confidently seeking out the aircraft they had come to see.
That’s a win for the GA team, you know. That random aviation guide took his job seriously, shared pertinent information in a way the neophyte visitor could understand, and made sure he was understood before he departed for his own adventure on the field.
Any of us could do the same, and we all should whenever we get the opportunity. Thankfully, I was there to see the situation unfold first-hand. Now, whenever somebody wanders up to me an asks, “Which way should I go?” I’ll have an answer for them, and a smile, and an offer to follow-up with additional assistance if its needed.
Imagine the potential for general aviation in the workplace, the school yard, the mall, or any social gathering spot – if only we could all adopt that same method of interaction and make it our personal practice on a regular basis. The possibilities stagger the mind.