By GUY R. MAHER
General aviation has sure taken its lumps lately — from the tanked economy to a rekindled poor public perception of our industry in general.
As the alphabet groups, manufacturers, and many other organizations continue their global PR offensive, grass roots efforts to stir up business and alter the poor public perception also are in full force.
Take, for example, an open house held earlier this year at Lake Norman Airpark (14A) in Mooresville, N.C.
This airport is a residential airpark as well as a public use airport, with customary FBO services. The open house was the brainchild of Cory Krolfifer, who owns and operates Skyway Aviation Services, an aircraft detailing company.
“What started out as a way for me to introduce my services to various area companies that operate, sell and service airplanes and helicopters quickly grew to a full-blown opportunity for all of us to do something positive regarding general aviation public relations,” he said. “Through all the displays and companies represented here, the local public is learning about how our airport operates, safety, and how general aviation serves the community.”
Indeed, that message was clearly brought home when Charlotte-based Carolinas Medical Center showed up with its Med Center Air Bell 430 helicopter. No sooner than the rotor blades came to a stop was the helicopter and its crew swarmed by citizens who wanted to get a close up look at the helicopter, talk to the crews, take photos, and have their questions answered about how this program operates.
But Med Center Air was not alone in its endeavors to teach the public about the value of general aviation. Representatives from Cessna were there with new models, but often overheard talking to visitors about fat cats and business jets — emphasizing that clearly 85% of corporate aircraft are not flying senior level execs, but worker bees being transported to do their jobs. Discussions also included Cessna’s considerable involvement in the Special Olympics.
Liberty Aircraft was there showing off its LSA and donated a ride as a door prize. North Carolina Rotor and Wing, a flight school, showed up with a Remos GX and a Robinson R22 helicopter and sold introductory flight lessons on the spot in both aircraft. Helivision, another area helicopter flight school, had its Schweizer 300CB on display. Lanier Media, an aerial photo and video company, was there with its R22 and also donated a helicopter ride for a drawing.
Other organizations on hand included Angel Flight; Riverhawk, an FBO at nearby Hickory Airport; Air Care Aviation Services, an FBO and aircraft sales company from Rocky Mount, N.C.; and Carolina Corporate Jets, a business turbine and jet brokerage company with an office right at the Lake Norman Airpark.
“Public perception is a huge problem,” said Jeanie Platero of Carolina Corporate Jets. “It’s gotten so bad that banks don’t even want corporate aircraft on their books — no matter how strong the loan is — just because of the perception. We really need to be doing more of this.
“What is encouraging,” she continued, “is that things are finally starting to pick up again.”
And that’s the whole point. Maybe this small event in this community airpark doesn’t look like much on the grand scale — but if it changed one mind to the positive about general aviation, sold one flight course, one airplane, or one person on the value of the local airport, then it did its job. And if that also means a few more jets, singles, and helicopters for Krolfifer to detail, then that would suit him just fine, too.