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. He is also a partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com.
Late in 2010, after attending a board meeting on transportation (the bus kind, not the aviation kind,) a county commissioner asked me if I thought it might be possible to market aviation county-wide. If a partnership existed between the four large public use airports in the county, he reasoned, wouldn’t we be better positioned to make the most of tourism, business travel, aviation educational programs, and the like?
Yes! As a matter of fact we would. And in a county that’s approximately the size of Rhode Island, you’d really have something there, too.
I’ve thought about that conversation quite a bit over the past few months. At the local level I have a considerable amount of input into the care and feeding of the airport in my small city. From the selection of a new FBO, to discussions on expanding the boundaries of the airport, beginning the process of bringing in new service providers, and even working to make sure that relations between the airport users and the city remain positive — city commissioners have a fair amount of sway over aviation at a specific field. Not so for county commissioners. They have to take a more broad-based approach if they want to have an effect on aviation. At least that’s the case here, where the county doesn’t own or operate an airport of their own.
The fact that a county commissioner was interested in the idea piqued my interest, though. So it was a welcome occurrence when another highly placed county employee asked me over lunch last week: How can we better market aviation in Polk County, Florida?
It didn’t escape my notice that the focus had shifted from a question of can we do it, to a question of, how can we best make this happen?
That sounds and looks to me like a door that was slightly cracked just swung wide open, ladies and gentlemen. Consider me, enthusiastic, motivated, and dedicated to being involved in the process of making that happen.
Each community, or county, has its own personality. The business climate, the manufacturing base, the labor pool, the geography, and even the weather all play a role in defining what the major and minor players will be in that particular area. I will suggest however that aviation, like electricity and potable water, plays a significant role in each and every community today. Some of us may recognize that, and some of us may not. But the reality is unchanged. Aviation is a vital part of life in the 21st century. So when two people who work in government suggest that we might be able to promote aviation better, more fully, and to a wider segment of the population, you can bet that I’m right there to help in any way I can.
There will be more lunches, and there will be more board meetings. I have no doubt that there will be strong feelings that pull in different directions, and there may even be a wrong turn or two in our future. But when the aviation community and the political structure that oversees it can come together with a single, common goal — the sky’s the limit — literally.
I’ll be following up on this process right here in this space over the coming months. My fondest hope is that you will see yourself and your community in these posts and recognize the commonality between the situation we face here to the situation you face there.
This summer will mark seven years since the Summer of Hurricanes, when the eye of three storms blew right through my county, devastating the area. Lake Wales Airport lost virtually every structure on the field. The roof of Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base was peeled back and tossed into Lake Jessie as if it came off a giant sardine can. Bartow, Lakeland, and Winter Haven all absorbed substantial damage in the first storm, then took it on the chin with two more nearly direct hits, and more than a handful of powerful thunderstorms that exacerbated the problem. Aviation was beaten down for a time, there’s no doubt. But it rebounded, and it has grown to the point that aviation in Polk County may be healthier, more vibrant, and more welcoming than it has ever been in the past — and it wasn’t doing a bad job then, let me tell you.
The key to all this improvement is personal involvement. To succeed in the fight to save your airport, expand your airport, or contain costs and control the development of your field, you’ll need to find an enthusiastic, outspoken supporter of aviation, and put them in office. It might even be you. So get ready for a bumpy, but worthwhile ride. Even from the lowest elected position a well spoken individual with a true grasp of the issues can have a profound effect. You won’t win every fight, and you won’t be able to do all the heavy lifting by yourself. But if you truly want to make general aviation a bigger, more vital part of life in your community, your county, or your state, get involved in a substantive way.
As the saying goes, you can’t win if you don’t play. That goes for politics and aviation, too. So play. You’ll be glad you did.
You can reach Jamie at email@example.com