Ever talked about your local general aviation airport to someone in the community and heard the reaction, “What airport? I didn’t know we have an airport”? Unfortunately that’s a misperception in many communities with small general aviation airports. But pilots can help get the word out.
During the North Carolina Airports Association annual meeting in Sunset Beach, N.C., April 22, AOPA Vice President of Local Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn participated in a panel, “Does your community know that they have an airport?” Dunn explained the importance of pilots reaching out to the community and provided real-world examples of airports that have been saved because the local citizens learned the value of the airport.
Two examples include Albert Whitted Airport in Florida and Biddeford Municipal Airport in Maine. In 2003, St. Petersburg residence voted to protect Albert Whitted instead of allowing one of its runways to be closed and the land sold to developers for high-rise condos. Biddeford citizens decided in 2008 to keep the airport open, affirming its value to the community. The city had wanted to spend $3 million to close it based on noise complaints and false claims that it “didn’t pay its own way” in the community.
“The first step in protecting your airport is to make sure the community knows it’s there!” explained Dunn. “An airport that isn’t known by its community can be in as much danger as one that generates noise complaints.”
During the discussion, Dunn gave pilots and airport managers tips for engaging their communities with their airports. One of the most effective means is through an airport open house. AOPA offers a guide for pilots to use to host an open house that covers every step of the process from planning to promotion to the event itself.
“Bring the community to your airport,” Dunn said. “An open house will put the airport in a positive light and help the community see the value it brings to the area.”
Other panelists also offered tips for getting the community engaged in aviation, including participating in the Experimental Aviation Association’s Young Eagles program. More than 1.5 million Young Eagle flights have been given to youth nationwide.