If you want to protect your airport from the threat of closure, you need to show the community how valuable it is.
That’s the message from Jolie Lucas and Mitch Latting. The husband and wife team are the founders of the Mooney Ambassadors group and members of Friends of Oceano Airport (L52). The pair are staunch advocates of general aviation and last spring they were instrumental in the campaign to save California’s Oceano Airport from a developer.
The important thing, they say, is to promote general aviation and protect general aviation airports and, to that end, they’ve created a powerpoint presentation, known as PGA-Squared, and plan to “take it on the road,” as Latting says.
Oceano Airport is a county-run facility sitting on 58 acres along the coast of Central California in San Luis Obispo County. The airport, one of two in California within walking distance to the beach, sports a 2,325-foot runway. There is camping, kite flying, and ATV riding on the dunes.
In March 2010, Jeff Edwards, a land developer from Los Osos, Calif., tried to persuade the county Board of Supervisors, as well as the local citizens, that the airport had outlived its usefulness and the land would better serve the community if it was redeveloped. Edwards announced plans to conduct six public meetings to get input on plans for redevelopment.
In an interview with General Aviation News, Edwards stated that the airport was “functionally obsolete” and that the pilots and aircraft owners should relocate to San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP), which is eight nautical miles from San Luis Obispo.
“San Luis Obispo Airport is a real airport. It has a control tower,” he said. “Oceano does not. San Luis Obispo has several businesses there. At Oceano they have self-serve fuel that is always locked up.”
According to Lucas, the pilots at Oceano Airport weren’t going to take any chances with the possibility of losing their “little slice of paradise” and the word quickly went out to the aviation community that the airport was being looked at for redevelopment.
“We reached out to as many pilots organizations as we could, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA),” said Lucas. “Bill Dunn, AOPA’s Airport VP, helped us out as we reached out to type groups, etc., and got everybody we could to be informed about what could potentially happen at Oceano Airport.”
Because so many pilots showed up at the first meeting, the second one had to be moved to a larger venue.
“Mr. Edwards planned six meetings. After the second meeting I think we put up such a protest that he canceled the rest of the meetings,” said Latting. “Honestly, there was virtually no support in the community to do what he was proposing to do.”
Reaching the pilots wasn’t the hard part, said Lucas, it was getting in touch with the non-aviation community that required creativity. Volunteers from the Friends of Oceano Airport, armed with video cameras, conducted man on the street interviews with the local citizenry, asking the question, “What is general aviation?”
“We got some very surprising answers,” said Lucas.
More than one person answered “I don’t know,” but other answers ranged from “Like Southwest Airlines” to “everybody who flies all the big airplanes.” Another person said “homegrown pilots,” while one man said “Like a general in the army, a general that flies.”
The information gleaned from the interviews is what led to the creation of PGA Squared. The mission is to “articulate, educate, and promote” GA.
During this summer’s AirVenture, Lucas gave a multimedia presentation about the program, which is designed to give ideas, encouragement and motivation to let others know about the benefits of general aviation to the community at large, and show them how the community benefits from general aviation.
“We want to show people the value of general aviation,” Latting explained. “We want them to know the sheriff uses aviation, there are Angel Flights, and firefighting, we want them to know that aviation is not just the military and commercial flights.”
In addition to education, PGA Squared helps show the recreational side of the airport.
For that, social networking through the Internet is key, said Lucas.
“We used our website and Twitter and particularly Facebook to reach people,” said Lucas. “Facebook, in particular, is a lovely way to get photos and videos up and announcements of events. It’s a great medium.”
Among the events open to the public at Oceano Airport are a fly-in movie night where family-friendly movies are shown in the camp grounds. Other popular events are Airport Appreciation Day, which is held during the second weekend in May, and a Toys for Tots drive held in December.
“Many of the events are geared toward school-age children,” said Latting. “We figure if we get the kids to the airport they will probably bring their parents.”
“We are bringing the fun back to the airport,” Lucas continued. “During our Oceano Airport Celebration Day, we had a salute to veterans. We had children’s events, live music and a young aviator camp sponsored by the YMCA.”
The strides made at Oceano Airport have not gone unnoticed by the aviation community. Lucas was last year’s winner of AOPA’s Joseph Crotti Award for service to general aviation. In addition, the PGA Squared program is being adopted by airports around the country.
Meanwhile, efforts to not only preserve, but promote the airport continue to expand at L52. Among the activities now being implemented are the recruitment of volunteers to help clean up the airport, doing everything from picking up trash and planting drought-resistant plants to painting buildings. Pilots are also being recruited to speak at civic groups such as the Rotary Club and make age-appropriate presentations at schools on basic aspects of flight, such as aerodynamics.
These efforts make the airport more public friendly, and therefore increase the likelihood that the neighbors will side with the airport, if another threat comes along, Latting and Lucas say.
It is a never-ending battle, the couple adds, because threats to the airport often do not completely go away, they just change form.
“Mr. Edwards is not going away,” said Lucas. “In December there was flooding in the Oceano area. It has flooded in the area for decades, if not longer, but Mr. Edwards decided that the airport itself was the reason for the flooding, saying the sheeting of the water off the runway into the 100 feet of sand somehow caused the dumping of millions of gallons of raw sewage into the ocean. He has appeared in the local newspaper and is trying to insinuate himself into the Oceano community services district. He is trying to get hired there to attend the meetings and write reports. He is not going away.”
Threats can happen at any airport, say Latting and Lucas, and pilots have to be ready to act.
“The biggest concern is the statement, ‘that will never happen here!’ Latting said. “That is apathy.”
“With our presentation we try to make folks enthusiastic about aviation,” he continued. “We try to give them ideas about how to engage their community. There needs to be a sense of fun at the airport. It’s necessary to have that. When an airport is in trouble, you need to get the community involved.”