An aviation expo is a sure-fire means of drawing the public to your home airport so that they can learn about and appreciate it. With a little creativity, you can educate elected officials in the same way.
That’s what Waukesha County/Crites Field Airport supporters did this past weekend during Wings Over Waukesha in Wisconsin. This year’s event, which took place June 19 through 21, drew 7,000 visitors who braved a rainy start followed by scorching temperatures to see the EAA’s B-17 Flying Fortress “Aluminum Overcast” and other historic aircraft, including a P-51 Mustang and a T-6 Texan. The expo is held every other year in conjunction with the B-17’s nationwide tour.
Building on the excitement and enthusiasm of the occasion, airport representatives invited elected officials to come out for a VIP open house to coincide with the event. Some 14 mayors from surrounding municipalities, as well as county executives and commissioners, were given private tours of the air traffic control tower and the B-17. A former World War II pilot gave the visitors a historical perspective that brought the tour to life, and the group remained for two hours to listen to his stories.
Airport officials distributed information packets, which explained that the airport contributes $50 million to Waukesha County and averages more than 70,000 operations per year. This good-news approach contrasts with typical airport stories. “Quite frequently, the only time [the officials] hear about the airport are when they get calls from their constituents about the noise or when the airport staff appears before committee during budget time,” Airport Manager Keith Markano said.
The weekend’s events were capped by a deployment ceremony for the 452nd Combat Support Hospital, a Milwaukee-based Army Reserve Unit whose members are departing for Afghanistan. Soldiers, families, and commanding officers were on hand for the ceremony. It was exciting to have active duty military on the tarmac with World War II veterans, said Airport Support Network volunteer Steve Betzler, who helped organize the event. The ceremony “linked the generations,” he noted.
“This is a terrific example of how Airport Support Network volunteers and other airport advocates can work together with airport managers to promote their airport by providing a positive experience for the public,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy.