The main hangar space at San Luis Jet Center in San Luis Obispo, Calif., was packed last weekend. A good 300 aviation enthusiasts came from far and wide to rub shoulders, commiserate, learn, be motivated, and be inspired to be more effective advocates for general aviation. They came to have a good time, too. And they did.
It was my proud role to talk about aviation activism and warm the audience up for the inimitable Rod Machado. Rod’s a force of nature. He’s funny, smart, experienced, knowledgable, and deserving of so many more superlatives than I can possibly fit here. He’s also gracious and kind, which is a good combination of personality traits in a motivational speaker.
Perhaps it was because of Rod’s impressive pull — or maybe it was just because Californians tend to be a polite bunch — whatever the case, the audience sat patiently when I spoke about the importance of motivation on Friday night. They were every bit as orderly the next afternoon when I talked about collaboration of effort. Best of all, they asked questions. Good questions. Well thought-out questions, the answers to which would provide insight into how to be a more effective aviation activist in their own communities.
On Saturday I challenged the audience to go back home and get involved personally in the effort to make general aviation a more welcome and valued part of their local economy and educational system. It wasn’t a casual challenge, either. It was an instruction. A plea. Heck, I practically dared them to go out and stir things up in their home town. And based on their responses, I’d guess at least a considerable percentage of them are planning on doing just that.
As I neared the end of my talk a hand rose in the audience. I pointed to the gentleman with the raised hand and said, “Yes, sir?” in my best southern drawl. The drawl is entirely in my head of course, since I grew up in New England. But as a hard-core Floridian I believe I sound like a southerner. Or at least I want to believe. But that’s a different story altogether.
The man in the audience spoke up, “How do we get the business community involved in aviation?”
“Great question,” I replied, because he had truly asked a great question.
The answer is simple. Talk. Talk a lot. Talk to as many people as you can. But first, know what you’re going to say. Preparation matters.
If you go to a bank president or an architect or a gas station owner and explain with great conviction how much you love to fly, how serene the experience of being airborne is, or why you wish you could spend more time at the airport, their response will be something like, “So what’s that have to do with me?”
On the other hand, if you go to the same people and tell them that aviation is a great vocational opportunity for high school and college students, you’ll get their attention. If you let them know that America has had the lead in the aviation industry for 100 years and you’d like to help find ways for your community to be a part of that success, they’ll listen to you. If you show them that scholarship programs can get young people into aviation, and that aviation can enrich their lives in ways they can’t even imagine, you’ll have piqued their interest.
Once the conversation starts you can let your business contacts help guide it in a direction that will be effective, practical, and acceptable in your community. Just imagine where that conversation might go in the end. Consider what new ground you might pioneer or what programs you might be a part of building. This potential for greatness expands even more when you go beyond one-on-one conversations and start talking to groups. Your town more than likely has a Rotary Club, or an Elks Club, or the Knights of Columbus, a Lions Club, Kiwanas, or a Boy Scout leadership group. Contact those groups and let them know you’d like to speak to them at one of their breakfast or lunch events. Then cut loose. Let them know how their involvement in general aviation can have a positive effect on the region’s educational outcomes. Let them know how business can benefit from working with existing aviation interests to expand their territories, cut down transit time, and even meet with clients in an exciting environment that’s a cut above the average conference room get-together.
We can do this, y’all. We really can. And if I’m not mistaken there are a bunch of motivated Californians who are out there right now making plans for how they’re going to step up their advocacy a notch or two.
Jump on board. This train is leaving the station and building up speed.