Single-handedly, or in league with a few compatriots, you can begin the entire airport support group effort by gathering the individuals who will form the nucleus of the group's leadership.
This early recruiting is extremely important. Experience shows that as the support group is formalized, the nucleus brought together initially as the "steering committee" will usually be elected to the group's board of directors or executive committee.
This is significant because the most effective support groups have an executive committee of five or six activists who direct and manage the activities of their broadbased membership. So pick the best people right off the bat.
This progression from organizer to officer is important because your bylaws will empower this leadership group to take action on behalf of the membership. A strong and committed executive committee ensures control, accuracy, flexibility, and credibility. Having this kind of leadership structure also implies a business approach and large membership.
Begin recruiting this small group by listing 10 to 15 people you feel could be valuable and dedicated members.
Start a list of candidates by identifying:
Be sure that this list is broad-based and includes a cross section of airport users and community members who support the airport. You should endeavor to identify as many of the specific constituencies involved with the airport as possible. To broaden this list, seek participation by and ask recommendations from:
Contact the individuals on the list personally. Tell them you have an idea that might interest them. Meet over a cup of coffee and find out how they perceive the airport situation.
After your first round of contacts, you should have five or six people who are willing to serve and support the steering committee. It's imperative to include non-pilots. Non-aviation individuals add credibility to any reports you may issue.
Choose your leadership carefully. Avoid those who are all show and no go. Some people are simply joiners who hop on any bandwagon and others are on an ego trip; you can't afford either variety. The steering committee must be willing to stick with it and make personal investments of time and money.
Next, invite your choices to an informal meeting. Try to time the meeting for maximum attendance (for instance, a breakfast meeting might be better than a luncheon). State that the purpose of this meeting is to seek advice and information and to develop a plan of action in preparation for the first "formal" meeting of the new group. This first meeting will be the most critical in determining a successful plan of action. It will also serve to weed out those who don't share your interests.
Be sure to send a short reminder three to five days in advance, and call the night before.
Now, ask your small group to begin analyzing the true nature of the airport's problems. Define those problems, but bear in mind that they're not always the most obvious. While the most common are safety and noise concerns or the desire to develop real estate, there could be other reasons.
You should discuss these topics:
Determine the type of group that best fits your situation. Choosing a structure for your group is strictly a function of your specific problems, opportunities, resources, and airport size. There isn't one type that works best, however. If the possibility of litigation or other legal action exists, it may be wise to form a nonprofit corporation. Because laws regulating corporations vary from state to state, AOPA encourages you to seek the advice of a local attorney.
Select a tentative name for your support group. The name should be submitted at the first general meeting so that a consensus can be reached by those who will ultimately be your members.
At all costs, avoid using names that include the words "Pilots Association." The name should not further polarize the community by directly implying you are a special interest group. Hopefully, the support group will attract nonpilot community members. Remember, one of your goals should be to seek those persons out. They can help you defuse community opposition to the airport.
Bylaws should provide for a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and board of directors representing the various interests. The executive committee (president and vice president) should be empowered to act between board meetings. Standing and special committees, each with a chairman and vice chairman, will handle needed tasks. Sample bylaws are included in the "AOPA Airport Resource Guide" along with other important statistical information.
Successful groups include a variety of committees: volunteers who do a variety of work to help maintain and clean up a small airport; safety committees working toward enhancing safety and reducing hazards; and community support committees working to present a positive airport image to citizens while countering opposition. All three types have proven their value.
At a minimum, your airport support group should have at least a political action committee, a safety committee, and a public relations committee. By breaking tasks into smaller subgroups, you accomplish more in less time while taking advantage of specific, targeted expertise necessary to achieve your goals.
A support group can be organized for a single airport or a geographical area with several airports. In the latter case, each airport should have its own local group and representation on the board of directors of the larger organization.
Narrow down the list of possible support group activities. Airport local action groups participate in a wide diversity of activities, only limited by the imagination and motivation of their membership. Anything that promotes or helps an airport or aviation is open for consideration. Some general and more frequent examples include:
Membership - Provides an avenue to obtain and retain membership for the organization. Any worthwhile effort requires financial resources. Members provide this resource.
Political Support - The review, participation, and support of airport master planning efforts, airport development projects, and environmental impact and noise abatement studies. This includes participation in meetings and opposition to proposed adverse actions. The committee monitors political events of major impact to the airport.
Safety (usually a major concern to the community) - Includes all phases of accident prevention and safety such as obstruction removal, pavement repair, vehicular hazards, signs, navaids, improved maintenance, safety areas, air traffic control (ATC) procedures, etc. From time to time, the committee should sponsor safety seminars.
Promotion - Includes public relations, speakers and programs, newspaper articles, commercials, literature, etc., to publicize airport benefits. Also includes supplying volunteer greeters and information desks at the airports.
Special Events - This category covers such activities as airport open houses, air shows, contests, and fly-ins.
Education - Involves the encouragement of aviation education and training and providing speakers at schools. The committee might collect aviation publications for donation to the local school libraries.
Emergency Planning - Requires participating in and supporting airport emergency plans and drills for fires, crashes, and natural disasters.
Airport Beautification - Your group could provide volunteers and financial resources for airport beautification, landscaping, grass cutting, painting, clearing approaches, etc.
Search and Rescue - This involves volunteer participation in search and rescue operations and providing resources for Civil Air Patrol (CAP) activities.
Your steering committee now has its act together with a list of concerns to announce, possible goals and activities to suggest, and a structure to recommend. It can now call a public meeting of all interested parties and individuals. This highly publicized event can present great fanfare and is a perfect opportunity to state the problem and goals to the media. The first meeting is an opportunity to enlist members, and it is also a media event, a news story.
Obviously, the pilot community is the biggest special interest group. Contact them through fliers, posters, a pilot newsletter, etc. But don't be surprised if many refuse to get involved, and the most affluent refuse to donate. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. Americans help worthy causes. Many in each area have the ability and interest to aid their airports. An action group should be open to all who can play useful parts, including individuals from other groups. Members can include:
This event presents one of your best opportunities to bring attention and support to the cause. Organizing the first meeting isn't as tricky as it sounds, but it is labor- and time-intensive. Remember, it is imperative that you have a good show of support.
Get names from the airport people you originally contacted for your steering committee (the airport manager, FBOs, station agents, chamber of commerce). Lay out your plans and ask them for help in financing and publicizing the meeting.
Expand your contacts to any other airport tenant, and ask for their support and attendance. Approach the operators of other businesses affected by the airport: restaurants, motels, car rental agencies, etc. Ask them to send one representative to the meeting. Request that they donate refreshments or lend you working materials like a podium or slide projector.
Also contact appropriate local quasi-governmental units like the tourism board and economic development corporation. Ask the leaders of the business community to attend. You will gather credibility quickly if those opinion leaders appear, especially if they agree to make a few brief remarks.
Send a formal request to the mayor and other public figures. They may not show up (for political reasons), but you win either way. When politicians show up, they provide support. When they don't, they're conspicuous by their absence. By all means, try working through political networks to gain their attendance, but don't be overly concerned if they don't come. It is also a good idea to invite state aeronautics officials.
Serve coffee and refreshments.
Make sure the media is there (see "Public Relations and Political Action"). A personal telephone call is best. Call them several days in advance of the planned meeting, and follow up with another call the morning of the meeting.
The first meeting should have a short agenda, enabling you to get acquainted with other people who may have an interest in helping your airport. You will be able to make a realistic assessment of the potential for their assistance.
Sometimes the membership is ready to vote their acceptance right away. However, on occasion, you may find it necessary to schedule one more meeting to hold a formal election and take care of other details.
Now you are ready to begin building a coalition with groups who can help you develop clout. Airport managers tell us, almost without exception, that support groups are most successful when they build a strong coalition with the business and professional community. Some tips:
Although every airport problem is unique, depending on local conditions, there is some spadework to do.
Gather all legal documents that pertain to the airport, and if necessary, hire a law firm - perhaps from out of town if local conditions suggest that to be a prudent course-to review them. Find out:
The Freedom of Information Act entitles you to many documents produced at taxpayer expense such as city budgets, letters, memos, reports, contracts, invoices, and consultants' fees.
The city clerk's office is often a gold mine of information. It keeps a record of just about everything.
Meetings regarding the airport, transportation, or zoning - even by obscure committees or groups - are also good sources of information. Various "sunshine" statutes will allow you to attend and gather information. Take notes, and report to your members through the group's newsletter.
A great source of information is the local FAA airport district office or regional office. A complete list of these important offices is included in the AOPA Resources packet.
The newspaper morgue (library) often can provide some interesting tidbits. Ask for the reference file.
Personal interviews with participants in airport-related decisions can be illuminating; always go in pairs and take notes. Remember, following all avenues, regardless of how unimportant they seem, is essential to the process. Whenever possible, cultivate inside contacts and reward them with absolute confidentiality. These relationships take time, but they can also tip you off to contacts and upcoming decisions.
Now that you're organized, you're ready to take your fight to the public and political arenas.
When an airport is in trouble, the tendency is to turn to various aviation organizations and agencies for help. The cold hard truth is that, in most cases, they can only do so much. The problem is local, and only you and other members of the local community can determine the real issues. AOPA will provide all the advice and assistance humanly possible through its Airports Department and regional representatives, but the association can't be physically present at every airport battle. To learn what assistance AOPA can provide, call 1-800-USA-AOPA.
There are even some advantages to not receiving outside help. When forced to fall back on your own resources, you are forced to build strong local support. Remember, local politicians look at local involvement in issues as votes - YOUR votes. Outside parties can't command the attention local residents do.
Report your troubles to the FAA airport district office or airports division of the regional office, but don't expect miracles. They can't take sides in local political issues. You may have a problem convincing them that the problem is serious. You may be in a better position if a surplus property agreement or grant obligation is in effect, but for the most part, try to deal with the man at the top, and notify him of your problem.
Don't be discouraged. Your involvement can and will make a difference.
AOPA also provides additional assistance to you with the following services. Call the toll-free Pilot Information Center: 800/USA-AOPA.
AOPA's Communications Division has many informative, helpful brochures available.
AOPA Online - AOPA's computerized information service is available 24 hours per day providing access to AOPA technical specialists, member-to-member communications, and other important general aviation information.
AOPA has a network of 13 regional representatives located throughout the United States. These representatives provide you, the AOPA member, with a voice in important local and state aviation issues.