California pilot and airport activist Gordon Feingold is the recipient of AOPA's 2002 Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award. The award was presented during the closing banquet of AOPA Expo 2002 in Palm Springs, California.
Presented annually, the Sharples Award recognizes the year's greatest, selfless commitment to general aviation by a private citizen. Feingold won the honor for his efforts as an AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport in California, successfully rallying local pilots to beat back a threatened noise curfew and win the first major GA improvements at the field in 30 years.
"Gordon fits perfectly the description of the Sharples Award," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "His efforts to defend and improve this important airport will serve as a model for pilots and GA airport supporters everywhere."
"The Airport Support Network has had many successes throughout the country; preventing airport closures, facilitating airport improvements, and promoting the interests of general aviation," said Feingold. "But one of the most significant impacts lies beneath the surface of the publicized events. I'm speaking of the unification of local pilots and the awakening of their sense of community and their power as a group to bring about positive change."
Feingold volunteered as the AOPA ASN representative for Santa Barbara Municipal in 1999, just as a few residential neighbors were pressing for a noise curfew potentially disastrous for the long-established airport. Santa Barbara Municipal is the only airport serving more than 160,000 citizens in both Santa Barbara and Goleta, California, and hosts some 170,000 takeoffs and landings a year.
As the clamor for a noise curfew grew through 1999 and early 2000, Feingold orchestrated a public-relations campaign that included helping reporters from local media understand the value of the airport and appreciate the noise-control efforts already in place.
In March 2000, his work resulted in fair, balanced reports on both the front page of the local newspaper and on a widely viewed cable TV report. In addition to providing information for reporters, Feingold took the TV program host on a flight to demonstrate the efficacy of noise-abatement flight paths and procedures.
Later, when the airport commissioned a $300,000 FAA noise study, Feingold served on the study committee, ensuring that GA pilots were not unfairly penalized by additional restrictions.
In the fall of 2000, when local fixed-base operator Signature Flight Support announced it intended to require pilots to carry at least $5 million in liability insurance simply to drive an automobile on the airport ramp, Feingold helped organize pilot opposition. The FBO backed down, reducing the requirement to a more reasonable $2 million.
But the 2002 Sharples winner's most significant victory came early this year with final approval of a long-in-the-works aviation facilities plan for the airport that included the first new T-hangars in 30 years, badly needed to accommodate some of the 206 based aircraft at the busy field.
That win came after a major crusade by Feingold involving local pilots and other airport supporters. It included a mass mailing to 800 area pilots, an e-mail campaign, a calling tree, and extensive work with the media to demonstrate the value of the airport. At the final Santa Barbara City Council hearing on the plan, enthusiastic pilots packed the council chambers, all waving Feingold-provided small red clothes hangers at appropriate moments to symbolize their support for the new T-hangars.
In making the award, AOPA President Phil Boyer noted that the airport manager had pulled Feingold aside after the unanimous city council approval of the plan and told him, "We couldn't have done this without you [local GA pilots]. Our airport administration now clearly recognizes the value and activism of our local GA pilots and businesses."