Be prepared to defend your airport

January 14, 2010

Airports are easy targets of criticism from the public. People have been told that the airport takes up a lot of room, isn’t used by most of the local community, and doesn’t foster business because there aren’t 10-story office buildings covering every square inch of the property. Pilots know that’s simply not true and that airports afford critical services, bring millions of dollars to the local and state economies, and serve more people than the local residents.

But, how do you convince the public? AOPA member Joe Frasher, director of the Greenville Downtown Airport in Greenville, S.C., stood up for his airport when the local paper last week ran an opinion piece saying the property would be better utilized as a “Central Park” for Greenville than as an airport.

Frasher responded with his own opinion piece on Jan. 8, explaining the value of the airport.

Frasher’s opinion piece, published on GreenvilleOnline.com, explained that “the Greenville Downtown Airport serves as the corporate gateway to Greenville for many companies that do business in our community. GMU also provides convenient access for emergency medical transportation, donor organ transport, as well as law enforcement and news helicopters.”

He also pointed out the airport directly and indirectly generates more than $35 million for the community and is responsible for 450 jobs.

“Joe Frasher’s well reasoned, factual response to the negative publicity about the airport is a perfect example of how local pilots can rise to the defense of their airport,” said AOPA Airport Support Network Director Jesse Romo. “We never know when an airport might come under attack, so it’s best to have the facts prepared and ready whenever they are needed. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

In order to construct an argument in favor of your airport, Romo suggests the following tips: Know how to get your story into the local media, including writing your own opinion piece; know how to contact your local decision-makers and engage them in a dialogue to ensure they understand your airport’s value; know the facts about your airport, including critical services provided as well as economic impacts; and know what resources AOPA offers to help you respond.

“Once pilots have these facts in place, they can quickly respond to negative attacks,” Romo said. “Think of what happens when an aircraft accident occurs. Nonpilots turn to you for an explanation. The same is true of airport issues. Nonpilots will turn to you to ask why the airport is necessary, how much business it brings to the area, and why the property wouldn’t be better used for a shopping mall. Be prepared.”

GA airports serve their local communities and the nation as a whole. Let your local community know the value of your airport, just like Joe Frasher.