AOPA’s Airport Support Network, long the linchpin in the association’s local advocacy program, has succeeded in a joint effort with the commonwealth of Virginia to have an ASN volunteer in place at each of the state’s 66 public-use airports.
AOPA President Craig Fuller, speaking at a May 9 ceremony at the association’s Frederick, Md., headquarters, honored the work of Virginia Department of Aviation Director Randall Burdette—himself a former ASN volunteer—and the Virginia Department of Aviation staff in helping achieve the strategic goal.
"We have a force that is really unlike any other," Fuller said at the ceremony. "Part of that is this amazing network of Airport Support volunteers." He recognized Burdette's role in helping to grow the network in his state.
Nationwide, there are now 2,517 volunteers in the Airport Support Network. AOPA launched the network in 1997, seeking out an AOPA member at each public-use airport to act as the organization’s first alert to local issues of concern to general aviation.
Burdette, who once served as an ASN volunteer at Virginia’s Stafford Regional Airport, has worked on a variety issues with AOPA and the Air Safety Institute over the years. As the Virginia Department of Aviation’s director, he embraced the goal of full ASN representation for his state’s airports.
“It’s beneficial for the airport, its customers, and the Commonwealth of Virginia to have enthusiastic volunteers help communicate what’s happening at Virginia’s airports, the economic benefits and the needs of our airports to better serve our communities,” he said.
Burdette and his team have provided “a great example” of how general aviation advocates at the grass roots can increase their clout, said Fuller.
“AOPA is a member‐driven organization, and protecting the freedom to fly means getting involved, as our members in Virginia have shown,” he said.
Working with Burdette’s team on the goal of 100-percent representation at the Virginia airports was a top priority for ASN Director Joey Colleran and Kim Reed, ASN’s project specialist.
“We have a great team,” said Colleran. “We all work together to keep our volunteers informed and upbeat—all of us moving the program forward together.”
That team effort becomes sharply focused when a developing issue requires the general aviation community to act. Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy, Bill Dunn, AOPA’s vice president of local airport advocacy, and John Collins, AOPA manager of airport policy, stand ready to bring their extensive expertise to bear on the case, in tandem with local airport users.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story of what it takes to achieve 100-percent coverage for a network of ASN’s size, Colleran said. The organization must also meet the challenges of attrition and finding replacements for volunteers who move away from the airports they serve.
“There are 5,171 public-use landing facilities in the U.S., so there is still much work still to be done because the Airport Support Network program is at the heart of AOPA’s airport preservation efforts,” added Reed.
ASN offers this online course for new volunteers. The course also is available to any AOPA member interested in learning more about the program—knowledge that could come in handy someday if a local airport community must face a new challenge.
“We always say that anybody can be an airport advocate,” said Colleran. “It takes local pilots—working together—to keep their gem of an airport operating without restrictions or threats.”