Persistence pays off

Like so many GA airports, mine faced a problem that was brought into sharp focus by the recent capture in Santa Barbara of those two wily desperados, John and Martha King. If nothing else the incident made it clear that emergency response workers (including police, fire and EMT crews) do not necessarily have a clear view of how aviation works on a day-to-day basis. Certainly the differences between VFR and IFR operations were not well understood on the law enforcement side of the equation.

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One thing leads to another, and another…

One thing leads to another

With Oshkosh in full swing, the eyes of the aviation minded are on Wisconsin. But here in central Florida there is one city commissioner who has just become a major fan of aviation, thanks to a husband and wife who restored a Stearman and shared the excitement with him. I love it when the fever spreads.

It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about Elizabeth Amundsen, a CFI and IA who was busily restoring a Stearman to its former glory along with her husband, Jonathan. That story may have been the impetus for the local newspaper here in Winter Haven to run a story about the same couple as they prepared to get the last few details completed in preparation for their departure for AirVenture 2010.

That newspaper story gave our new interim airport manager an idea. It stood to reason, she thought, that if one couple was headed off to Oshkosh for the big wing-ding, maybe others from our field were making the trek, too. What if the city’s staff and commissioners showed up at the airport to provide an official send-off? That would be great!

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Building a more aviation friendly future

Success is an elusive goal. In order to be truly successful you have to first define what success is. It’s only with that definition in hand that you can establish a plan to achieve the goal. Jumping to Step 3 without first taking Step 1, and Step 2, is a sure path to failure. Unfortunately, failure on those terms has been an unwritten policy for many municipalities when it comes to operating an airport.

Unlike a pickup truck, a book, or a chocolate milkshake, all of which are tangible, easily identifiable items, success is subjective. Each of us has a slightly different definition of what success is, and understandably, we all have a somewhat different idea about how we might reach our goals. In order for us to move forward it is imperative that we have an open, honest discussion and make some significant decisions, however.

The first step is to define the playing field. Here in Winter Haven, Florida we’ve embraced that reality in an organized and deliberate fashion – finally. After literally decades of running our airport as an after-thought, the city commission has begun asking difficult questions about the way this publicly owned facility is being run, and is making demands that affect our methods in the future.

It started simply enough. Two candidates for the city commission (myself included) ran on a platform that included the airport as an integral part of the city’s financial responsibility. My contention was that safety and customer satisfaction should be Job Number 1, and Job Number 1A, respectively. Anything less was insufficient. I was a strong proponent of the idea that the status quo had to change if we were going to turn this under-performing jewel of an airport into a facility that lives up to its potential. [Read more…]

A few words in the first person

One of the great advantages of a blog is the immediacy it offers both the reader and the writer. Unlike a traditional article published in the hard-copy version of a publication, the blog format allows for rapid feedback from readers, in the form of comments and e-mails.

In my case, I can tell you with absolutely no shame that I am a writer with just enough of an ego to enjoy the comments and e-mails that Politics for Pilots elicits. From my perspective, there is benefit in that feedback, on both ends of the communications stream.

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who asked a very reasonable question. To paraphrase, he asked: What do you personally do to enhance and encourage the use of your local airport? It’s a fair question. And one that I should probably address more directly at times. So let me take a whack at answering that question in public, hopefully for the benefit of all concerned.

To be perfectly honest, I take my own advice. When I write a piece suggesting an approach to making progress on behalf of the airport, it is almost always a third person generic report on something I have personally done in the past. But let me provide a specific example of how that works for me. [Read more…]

Learning the ropes from a seasoned pro

In 2001 a fellow by the name of Sam Hoerter published the second edition of “The Airport Management Primer.” This document is chock full of interesting observations and unique insights. It is an absolute goldmine of information that is pertinent to the management and operation of airports large and small. For an intellectual assault on a technical subject, it is a remarkably easy read that borders on being truly entertaining.

Clocking in at 84 pages, the remarkably conversational tone of this publication belies its real value in the marketplace. The Airport Management Primer is a “must read” for anyone who feels they are even casually drawn to the idea of managing, marketing, or operating an airport.

Hoerter knows of what he writes. The retired director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority spent two decades overseeing the management and operation of Charleston County’s three airports, which showed a marked improvement over the period of time he was at the top of that particular pyramid.

You can find a copy of Hoerter’s publication, free of charge, on the Internet. The book is available as a PDF, which downloads quickly due to its lack of complex graphics. This is a book filled with words, ideas, explanations, and rock-solid information. There are no pretty pictures hidden inside this beautifully written compendium of airport management.

Grab your own copy at:

You’ll be glad you did.

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. You can reach him at

A million dollars here, a million dollars there…

The issue of airport funding is always entertaining. Not because it’s of no great importance to the aviation community, but for exactly the opposite reason. It isn’t important to those who dole out the dollars. And that’s almost entertaining enough to make a responsible citizen cry. Ironic, isn’t it?

ABC News produced a report for television that sheds light on this exact oddity of discretionary spending. It focuses on the Johnstown Cambria County Airport in western Pennsylvania. The video is approximately two and a half minutes long, certainly not long enough to tell all sides of what is clearly a very complex story of a community that would otherwise be almost completely cut off from the rest of the world, and an airport that needs massive subsidies to be a viable entity in aviation.

As you watch this video, I wonder if you, like me, took note of the fact that this airport is located only three miles from a town with a population of approximately 25,000 people, yet it is funded as it if is located in the heart of a bustling megalopolis. Pittsburgh is a mind-numbing 70 miles away. Clearly the commute would be impractical for any reasonable traveler – or would it? [Read more…]

In celebration of lunch at the airport

To be honest, I am not particularly fond of participating in business lunches. My method is to either work, or eat, but not to do both simultaneously. But even I can violate a personal rule now and then. So I convinced myself that the no-working-lunch thing was more of a guideline than a rule, and I plunged ahead with reckless abandon. I ordered a club sandwich, with turkey and bacon. My lunch partners went with a pressed Cuban and some kind of salad that was so wildly exotic that it held more fresh vegetation than the produce section of my local supermarket.

What ever happened to the board room, or the back room, or at least a dingy office with a file cabinet, a squeaky chair, a lopsided desk, and a surly receptionist tucked into the foyer? Oh well, I guess you meet wherever you can meet. And why not? The time and place isn’t what the meeting is about – it’s the ideas that pass through the space between the participants that really matters. And at least in this latest case, the result was positive for all concerned.

It’s hard to believe that a real change can occur because of the power of a good sandwich and a casual conversation — but that’s exactly what can happen if you apply yourself. The airport restaurant is my favorite place to meet and chat — although I will readily admit that I generally limit myself to a large coffee, since it’s mega-dose of caffeine lends a certain intensity to my already enthusiastic embrace of the airport as the center of my existence. Besides, nobody needs to hear my list of reasons why my home airport is the best place in the world to relocate to, while I have a mouthful of egg salad. That would be impolite, borderline disgusting, and undeniably counterproductive. A man needs to know his limits.

Lunch is not a limitation, as it turns out. Neither is breakfast, a mid-day snack, or an early dinner. If you have the chance to sit across a table from a potentially interested airport user or tenant, let me heartily endorse the airport restaurant as a great place to have that conversation. Whether your airport boasts a high-end gourmet restaurant, or a vending machine nestled between a Mr. Coffee dispenser and a roll-away tool box — nothing sells the idea of your airport’s charms like an hour or two on the field, in person. Marketing is marketing. There’s nobody better for the job than you, trust me.

As an added bonus, and a truly lasting conversation starter,  you never know who you might meet, or who might brush past you in the FBO. Even here in little ‘ol Winter Haven we have had the likes of John Travolta, Elizabeth Taylor, and Harrison Ford saunter past the counter on their way from the ramp to the parking lot. Who knows what regal personalities might grace your field one day — or how much of a hand you might have in making that event come to pass?

And to think, it might all start with something as simple as a cup of coffee, a bite to eat, and a casual chat.

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. You can reach him at

Airport management: A search and deploy mission

Unexpectedly, and without any warning, the airport manager quits. It happens. Not often perhaps, but it happens nonetheless. More commonly the airport manager moves on to another position, or retires. It makes little difference in the operational sense. Change is a constant in business. Whomever fills the slot at the moment will be replaced at some point in the future.

This entirely foreseeable changing of the guard can come as a shock to the system, or as an opportunity to tune up the airport’s management structure. How you or your community take the issue on is as subjective as any other municipal decision that has to be made.

What is less common, and very probably more reasonable, is to get creative when a major change has to happen. If airport management has to change anyway, why not consider a complete rework of the structure as well as the personnel? [Read more…]

First: Ask the right question

When I was a relatively young instructor I had the good fortune to call a small uncontrolled airport in central Connecticut my home base. Meriden Markham may not make the annals of aviation as a hotbed of technical achievement, innovative design, or the home of a manufacturing marvel, but I learned more about teaching, and business management, and the importance of successfully marketing a service during my time flying for Meriden Aviation than I have at any other flying job.

Part of that education was happenstance. It was nothing more complicated than good luck that brought me to work for a chief pilot named Frank Gallagher. It was Frank who taught me the valuable lesson that a well-planned cooperative effort can have far more powerful results than a Herculean individual attempt. I’m not entirely sure that was his intent, but that was the lesson I took away from my time in Meriden. Working together to achieve a clearly understandable common goal works. It’s just that simple.

As unusual as it may seem, my first assignment as an instructor at Meriden involved a file cabinet and a phone. There was no airplane involved. Frank simply pointed me, and another new-hire instructor, to a file cabinet full of student records and assigned us to select the students who had stopped flying, but had not earned their ratings or certificates. With that pile of files on our desks, we started making phone calls. [Read more…]

Singing the airport’s praises

GA isn't what most people think it is: Certainly, it couldn't be a 10-year-old Madie Beckett at the controls of C140...right?

GA isn't what most people think it is: Certainly, it couldn't be a 10-year-old Madie Beckett at the controls of C140...right?

GA isn't what most people think it is: Certainly, it couldn't be a 10-year-old Madie Beckett at the controls of C140...right?

It may seem odd to some, but I love spending time at the airport. Sure, pilots and aircraft mechanics understand the allure of the airport. But the average Jane or Joe may think it a little peculiar that a grown man has an interest in going to the airport whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Part of that disconnect is that I, like most general aviation pilots, have an entirely different relationship with the airport than my non-aviation-oriented neighbors do. This divergence of views is perfectly understandable, really, because the word, “airport” is an entirely subjective term in the real world.

While I envision smiles and casual conversation over coffee with like-minded friends, my neighbors imagine long lines and metal detectors. On any given day I might wander out onto the ramp to inspect a new acquaintance’s airplane, yet the wider public thinks of crowded terminals, funky conveyor belts moving passengers past the throngs as if they were all just generic goods on an assembly line, and gate areas that are anything but inviting. [Read more…]