Foundation Focus: Fighting for airports

Won’t you join us in the cause?

August 5, 2014

bruce landsbergHow important is the local airport to you? If it were closed, how far would you have to drive for flying lessons or to access the club aircraft—or your own? Would that make a difference? When most of today’s airports were built, they were placed in convenient locations but by design, usually not right in the thick of things. The outskirts of the cities and towns were sparsely populated until the populations grew and smart growth sometimes took a back seat to pure profit motives.

I once sat in on a local airport commission meeting, listening to the developer’s lawyers assure the commissioners that the noise from the airport would not affect the residents of their newly proposed project. The townhomes were less than mile from the runway’s end. When asked if the residents would have to sign an avigational easement—where the buyers acknowledged the reality of airport noise for which they could not sue—the room got very quiet. One of the pilots said the developers and builders would be long gone, with cash in hand, before the noise complaints started. The airport and town council would have to deal with incompatible land use. This is not an uncommon scenario.

Today, hundreds of airports are hemmed in by development, challenged by neighbors, or cut off from the communities they serve by tall fences and locked gates, thanks to overblown security fears. AOPA’s Airport Watch program is a far better solution (www.aopa.org/Advocacy/Security-and-Borders/Airport-Watch-Security). Its pilots and airport staff watch what’s happening. You know when something or someone doesn’t look right. That program is partially funded by the AOPA Foundation.

Most people have a natural fascination with flight. Even if they don’t become pilots themselves, flight captures the imagination. But vocal minorities that either live too close or have a financial interest push closure, restrictions, and legal challenges of all types. Let’s seize the initiative by inviting the nonflying public to come out, observe, learn, and engage.

Fighting back—and, better yet, preventing problems in the first place—takes dedication, involvement, and, yes, resources. The AOPA Foundation plays a critical role in making sure airports stay open and healthy.

We depend on the help of more than 2,500 Airport Support Network volunteers. And those volunteers depend on resources and expertise provided by AOPA with the support of the AOPA Foundation. We’re always looking for more volunteers to make the difference.

Funding from the AOPA Foundation helps provide tools ranging from seminars on issues such as voluntary noise abatement and runway safety to guidance on hosting community events and talking to the media. The goal is to help volunteers protect and promote their home fields, build good relationships beyond the airport boundaries, and help the nonflying community recognize the value of having an airport close to home.

When pilots at Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington, wanted to welcome neighbors, they sought help from AOPA, which provided brochures and everything they needed to set up a booth with information about GA, learning to fly, and the role of GA in America.

In Paso Robles, California, the ASN volunteer relied on resources from AOPA, developed with help from the AOPA Foundation, to create a business plan for the field. That plan focuses on growing the airport and working with local businesses to ensure that the field remains relevant and productive for many years to come.

At New Bedford Regional Airport in Massachusetts, ASN volunteer Donald Velozo was inspired to bring children back to the airport so they could experience the wonder of aviation up close. The local Women in Aviation International chapter ran with the idea, working with businesses and pilots to raise the money. The project attracted volunteers from outside the aviation community, too, and now local kids have a new place to play and dream—and the neighbors have one more reason to appreciate their airport.

For every GA airport that ends up at the center of a contentious dispute, there are hundreds of others that don’t, thanks to the engagement of aviators who depend on AOPA and the AOPA Foundation to supply the support and tools they need to build a brighter future.

Your tax-deductible contribution at whatever level you choose to give makes a difference. Fewer than six percent of AOPA members contribute to the foundation. We can do better. I invite you to join the cause. If you have a better idea, drop me an email (bruce.landsberg@aopa.org). I like being held accountable!

Web: www.aopafoundation.org

Bruce Landsberghas served as president of the AOPA Foundation since January 2010.