Media and “Spending Your Tax Dollars”

Town_of_Palmyra_Wisconsin_Airport_2Never let the facts get in the way of a good story! And as is often the case, there is some truth, however small, buried therein. But instead of getting a balanced view, too often we get what the TV producer wants the slant to be…especially during sweeps week when stations do their best to tantalize potential viewers with the most dramatic and outrageous stuff. Could there be some financial incentive here? Nah!

In this case there’s an unusual twist: a local pilot complained that the small grass-strip airport where he operates is getting too much money from the state. And perhaps it’s true. Here’s the link—you be the judge.

Back story: AOPA Media Relations attempted to explain how the system works, that GA pays fuel taxes, and that they are a part of the national transportation system. There is a system, albeit imperfect at times, that distributes the money. The local pilot might be exactly right, but it seems like going to the local TV station might not be the best way to manage this.

The reporter made a big deal about the Wisconsin Department of Aeronautics failing to respond to questions posed by the “news” station. Guess what? The station did not respond to AOPA’s timely offer to explain things in more detail before the newscast. Hypocrisy in the media?  I am shocked!

The TV report drew an instant response from AOPA members. In fact some objected to the piece both on the AOPA’s Facebook page and the WTMJ’s website. They also emailed the station’s general manager. It is impressive how forceful our collective membership can be.

An opinion: There is too much “pork” in the system driven by local politics, airport managers, and engineering consultants who all feed at the trough. This applies to big and small airports, highways, various legislative bills— pretty much all things financial where there’s an opportunity for someone to make a buck.

Fact: Some small GA airports are over-improved. Some have control towers despite low traffic count. Ditto TRACONS. But when fiscal responsibility begins to creep into the conversation, someone plays the safety card even though in most cases the risk is minimal. Balance and common sense invariably get left in the financial orgy that often follows. Big airports often get the lion’s share of funding, as they should, although they get overfed as well.

Palmyra airport looks like a perfect place to introduce people to aviation, but this may have the opposite effect. What do you think and how might this have been handled differently?

“When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”  Mark Twain.



  1. I did not find the news story to be as anti-GA as I expected. It was unfortunate they did not allow the AOPA to respond. I hope AOPA had a discussion with station management to offer assistance with future aviation related stories.

    I don’t know anything regarding the local situation in the story,and AOPA should have investigated that and given the whole story to the members before taking the station to task. With funding very tight and many hands out we should be part of the solution making sure available GA dollars are being spent appropriately and not just awarded to the best grant application writers.

  2. William Blatter

    March 1, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Really a shame the way 88C chose to handle its airport spending issue. GA is barraged daily with negative publicity in these difficult times, and the last thing we would expect from our brother aviators is fuel for the naysayers’ fire. No pilot I know desires waste, and if the AIP grants were improper or excessive, there existed many routes to correction which would not have underrmined GA’s already-tenuous public relations position. Shame on Palmyra for airing our dirty laundry in public! Next time, call AOPA instead of the anchorman.

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