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.
We have a different view of not just what aviation is, but what the airport itself is, what it does, and how it can serve each and every person in town. And that can be true even if the airport visitor doesn’t have the slightest interest in flying. It’s entirely possible that there is a killer roast beef sandwich at the airport cafe that should be enjoyed at least once by every man, woman, and child in town. There is in my town, and I direct non-aviators there on a regular basis. So far, I haven’t had a single complaint about lines, noise, unruly crowds, or surly security guards. Mostly I hear, “Wow, that’s a nice place. I’ve never been to the airport for lunch before.”
We need a better marketing campaign.
As a proud cheerleader for the benefits of aviation to the community, I have spent a number of years making inroads with the local media in an effort to start showing them why general aviation is good for everyone — a task that has been significantly more difficult than my CFII checkride, much of the time, to be honest. But it’s a task that deserves my attention, and it deserves yours too. Regardless of what we do professionally, each aviation enthusiast brings something important to the table of public opinion. And by personally introducing non-aviation media people to the benefits of general aviation in our communities, they can start telling those stories to their readers. What’s more, they can start telling those stories in a way that the non-aviation reader can understand.
Of course there will be inaccuracies from time to time. You have to learn to accept that and politely make a correction when it is called for. (Note that General Aviation News became General Aviation Magazine in this recent story: http://www.newschief.com/article/20100322/NEWS/3225001). And there will be misconceptions occasionally. Still, the overall picture of general aviation begins to shine through as the stories get told. A picture that shows general aviation for what it is, and what it is rarely understood to be by the non-aviation oriented public – a family friendly, multi-cultural, and highly focused group that represents a wide spectrum of the socio-economic spectrum of American life. Or put another way – it’s a collection of friends and neighbors who would be happy to spend an afternoon chatting and laughing and sipping coffee with new visitors to the field.
So write a letter to the editor, invite a reporter to visit the airport with you, offer a reporter, editor, or anchor a ride sometime when they’re looking to get an aerial view of an otherwise non-aviation story. You just might make a good business contact, and do the industry and your town some good in the process.
Share your ideas and successes, too. You can start right here. That’s the beauty of a blog. You can share your thoughts and opinions and good news as easily as I can. So let’s get to it.
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 Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.