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.

[Read more…]

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…]

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

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…]