Foundation Focus

How do we look?

April 1, 2012

 

Bruce LandsbergNow and again, we all need to update our image. Why? If you’re old enough to remember the 1970s, you probably know the answer.

Back then, “avocado” was both a food and a desirable color for your kitchen, and double-knit polyester was a stylish choice for clothing. Need I say more?

Even in the aviation world we need to rethink our image from time to time—and that’s just one of the efforts under way at the AOPA Foundation these days.

The AOPA Foundation is probably best known for the Air Safety Institute, whose online and in-person courses and seminars help tens of thousands of pilots fly safely year after year. But that’s by no means all the AOPA Foundation does. We fund a wide variety of programs designed to protect airports, grow the pilot population, enhance safety, and, yes, improve the image of general aviation.

This last area can be especially challenging, not so much because general aviation has a negative image outside the flying community—although that is the case in some communities—but because so many people are blissfully unaware that GA even exists, at least right up until the moment there’s a high-profile accident or someone decides to vilify private flying as the exclusive perk of overpaid executives.

Improving GA’s image means making the media and the public aware of general aviation and the many ways it serves the people of the United States. In that context, unfortunate accidents can be viewed as just that, and business flying can be appreciated for the flexibility and efficiency it offers. If you’ve been around AOPA for a while, you’re already familiar with the General Aviation Serves America campaign launched a few years back to help promote GA. Today, the focus of that effort has shifted from advocacy to education and the whole effort is now under the purview of the AOPA Foundation.

Under the GA Serves America initiative, the AOPA Foundation is funding programs that will raise awareness of general aviation among nonpilots, teach pilots how to communicate effectively with the media, and promote positive stories about the varied ways GA serves all Americans.

With funding from the AOPA Foundation, a public relations initiative is informing local, regional, and national media about the many good works performed by the general aviation community every day. By working closely with the members of the Air Care Alliance and pushing the Let’s Go Flying message, this initiative is highlighting charitable groups that are served by aviation and encouraging people to take flying lessons. These stories demonstrate that private flying is both accessible to ordinary people and a tremendous force for good.

In recent months, we’ve seen the fruits of these efforts with dozens of stories in media markets of all sizes. On the national scene, CNN recently aired segments on the Veterans Airlift Command and local coverage in Michigan highlighted a Wings of Mercy flight for a student who is receiving treatment for brain cancer.

At the AOPA Foundation we’re also funding a project to provide pilots with the tools they need to answer questions from the media, whether they are speaking to reporters after an accident or promoting an airport open house in their community.
What kind of information are reporters looking for? What information and statistics should I have ready before an interview? How do I deal with sticky situations? Of course, few pilots ever expect to be the subject of media interviews, and AOPA’s media relations team is always available to talk to the press.

And then there’s the need to clarify just what general aviation is and what it does. Pilots often discover that friends and colleagues are unclear about what comprises GA. It’s always been easy to define general aviation by what it is not—it’s not the airlines or the military. But let’s face it, that doesn’t mean much to nonpilots who have no way of knowing what’s left.

Then there’s the question of what general aviation does. Most people outside of aviation have no idea how much charitable flying GA does, nor would they guess that critical services like air ambulance, law enforcement, search and rescue, firefighting, and more are all part of general aviation flying. How about aircraft? If you ask a nonpilot about the types of airplanes flown by GA, they probably think of something such as a Piper Cub or a luxurious jet. They simply have no exposure to the many, many types of aircraft in between.

By providing the tools pilots need to explain what general aviation is—and not just what it isn’t—this program allows AOPA members and others to make meaningful presentations for Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce groups, local decision makers, and others who could benefit from a deeper understanding of aviation in their communities.

Those of us who fly already know just how much general aviation has to offer everyone. Now we have a responsibility to share that knowledge so GA can be appreciated for all that it is and does.

Your generous contributions to the AOPA Foundation fund these efforts to enhance the image of GA.