Winning the uphill battle

March 26th, 2014 by Jamie Beckett

Let’s face it, trying to get non-aviation people to jump on the aviation bandwagon isn’t easy. Yet, this is no time for despair. It can be done. Here in my neighborhood we’re doing it. Not without resistance, not without sacrifice, and not without a few bruised egos and dented reputations. But it’s happening. Wanna know the secret to making progress at city hall?

The key to making real progress is finding the resources and using the creativity that allows you to speak in a language the non-aviation community understands. That’s right. Don’t waste another minute trying to figure out how to make the benefits of aviation apparent to them. Flip the game-board over and take a whole new look at how we communicate with the non-aviation audience – an audience that far outnumbers our flying brothers and sisters, incidentally.

In a very real sense, we need them more than they need us. Oh sure, they do need us. But they won’t know that unless aviation dies completely, and that’s not an experiment we need to play with. So let’s look to success. Let’s speak their language on their terms and get right into their comfort zone.

It’s working here in central Florida. Truly it is.

When I was tasked with presenting to the city commission a five point plan our airport advisory committee developed, I didn’t spend one minute of my valuable podium time trying to teach the five politicians and assembled staff why aviation matters. Similarly, I didn’t talk about the potential aviation has to help people reach their potential, or how tourism might benefit from a more vibrant airport. Nope, I talked about real estate. Commercial real estate. That’s something the non-aviation consumer understands.

I said this, essentially. Imagine the airport isn’t an airport. Imagine that it’s a mall. A large piece of commercial property that you own and manage. It’s underperforming. You have no anchor stores, only a single outlet in the food court, a couple kiosks and a storefront or two rented – but overall you’ve got a lot of empty space to lease and no tenants lining up to sign contracts.

That’s entirely true – and because it is, it got their attention. It doesn’t really matter if the management team understands aviation. I don’t really care if they can differentiate between an AWOS installation and the PAPI lights. They have to understand this much simpler message – they have no idea what the positive attributes of the property are. They also have no idea what the negative attributes of the property are. But I do. The members of the airport advisory committee do. We’re professional aviation geeks. We not only know how aviation works, we know who works in the field. We have contacts, known in the real estate business as leads. If dealt with appropriately leads can turn into tenants. Tenants provide jobs and economic value.

The message is subtle, maybe a little subliminal, but it’s there. The commissioners think to themselves, “I don’t know how to find leads, but these aviation nuts hanging out at the airport do. They’re willing to help. Heck, they fleshed out a five point plan to revitalize the airport and breathe new life into our local economy. Maybe it’s time we let them have the ball and run with it for a bit. Maybe.”

It’s not a perfect solution, admittedly. There is still lots of work to do. But we’re in the door, we’re being taken seriously, and the five point plan is being adopted as our new method of doing business. That’s a win in my book. We could use more success in this business. So consider the unconventional act of speaking like they speak rather than wishing they could talk like we do. It’s easier. It’s faster. And at least in our case, it’s been a more successful approach to a problem that goes back decades at our airport.

Good luck. And be sure to come back and let the rest of us know how it went for you. We’re all in this together. So let’s all get into the game and work together to achieve some real victories.

Jamie Beckett

Jamie Beckett is a passionate promoter of all things aviation who focuses his attention on the positive more often than not. He is the former president of the Polk Aviation Alliance in central Florida. He is committed to working to build a growing pilot population as well as a greater appreciation for general aviation nationwide.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Amy Laboda

    Jamie you’ve hit the nail square on the head with this one. Translate airport needs into “their” language and they not only can hear what you are saying, but they listen. Now let’s see if they act, and how.

  • Chip Davis

    While I agree with Amy’s assessment, I’m a little concerned that it’s equally possible that when you launch into your “think of it as a shopping mall”, they will. Experience has shown that unless the airport is inconveniently sited, a shopping mall (or industrial park, or subdivision, or anything else with a higher taxable ROI) is exactly what they would like to convert it into.

  • FrostedCW3

    Thank you, Mr. Beckett, for this article. I’m afraid I have to agree with both you, and Mr. Davis, regarding this subject. In our case, the local “powers that be” seem to have no interest in G.A. but are very interested in “real estate sales.” They have already proven this by closing the previous county airport to move to the larger closed USAF base, all in favor of commercial aviation, with its larger “pot of gold.” At the same time, they closed the only flight school/aircraft rental service, and are appearing as if there is no value whatsoever in general aviation. (Now they are, or have been for the last six years, trying to sell off that older airport, with the proviso it will NOT be used for aviation.) Granted, only one person on the “airport commission” is actually a pilot, but even he seems more interested in the larger air carrier side of aviation. Fellow pilots I have talked to have even been rudely treated when trying to get their points across.
    Now, to go flying, (for the sheer enjoyment of it,) one needs to leave this large county and go out of the area. The problem with that being the added cost just to get to a plane to fly, or hangar space that’s affordable, as well as additional time wasted to just get in the air. This is also creating a negative effect by pitting pilots against each other, all in the name of “community advancement.”

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