I saw a post on a local airport’s Facebook page by some guy (obviously not a pilot) who asked, “Why do you keep making planes fly over our houses (to the east) on such a nice Sunday?”
For pilots, that’s a “duh” question. However, if FBOs, flight schools, and airport owners want to be good neighbors and prevent nasty rumors about those “inconsiderate pilots,” someone from that airport should be considerate and respond. Social media can turn people against the local airport, or it can build supportive neighbors. Your airport could be that place with those noisy airplanes, or the place where kids want to go every Saturday to watch the airplanes land. Respond. It’s the smart and polite thing to do—if you respond smartly and politely.
A good response to that Facebook post might be: “Pilots choose the direction to take off according to the wind. If the wind is coming from the east, that’s the direction they need to take off, always into the wind. It’s very important for safety.”
A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that a majority of Americans get their news from social media websites. Sixty-four percent use only one website for their news, and 44 percent of all U.S. adults get that news from Facebook. So, any anti-airport Facebook rants against your beloved airfield may be seen by thousands of your neighbors, especially if the local ranter develops a following.
It must be true
When I was young my dad told me, “It must be true, or else they couldn’t put it on TV.” Even as an 8-year-old boy, I knew he was kidding. Now, too many people believe any social media post that claims, “Those dangerous airplanes are crashing more often in our neighborhood,” when the first thing they should do is ask, “Who says so?”
If enough people complain enough about “dangerous” airplanes, it doesn’t matter how safe they really are. It’s much like the fact that far fewer people have been killed by nuclear reactor accidents in the United States than by riding bicycles. But try to tell a parent that bicycles are more dangerous to the health of their children than a nuke.
Take the high road
If a troublesome neighbor is using the internet to complain about those “noisy and dangerous” airplanes flying overhead, airport business owners need to use the same social media to spread the word of our beloved sport and mode of travel, our historic aircraft, and the wholesome activities for our youth.
However, as my dad also used to say, “Don’t argue with crazy people.” Don’t get into a Facebook frenzy or Twitter tirade with anyone who posts negatively about your airport. Respond quickly, with a clear and concise explanation, then stop. Don’t argue a point ad infinitum, and never criticize any specific person. After you’ve responded, add a good message such as, “Come visit Countryside Airport anytime, just to watch the planes fly, or take the kids for a ride in a vintage biplane. We also have an excellent café.”
Flight schools, be aware
The ancient Roman scholars claimed, Repetitio est mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of learning), and repetitive practice does make perfect when learning to land. However, flight schools also need to be mindful of student pilots droning over the same houses all day long. This is exactly the type of scenario that could drive a homeowner into an anti-airport Twitter tirade. Some flight school owners may say, “Tough luck; this airport was here before you built that house.” That’ll be little comfort when you’re fighting a coalition of your neighbors.
Perhaps flight schools could use their website or Facebook page to offer a discount for an introductory lesson or a scenic flight, specifically for local neighbors. The discount could be limited to a ZIP code or streets adjacent to the airport. Once a person has flown with you, he or she is less likely to bash you on the internet.
Bring people in
People will support you if they know you, so use social media to invite your neighbors to all events at your airport, such as pancake breakfasts, an AOPA fly-in, or an EAA Young Eagles day, when volunteer pilots give free introductory rides to children. Post early and often, and on as many websites as possible—local news channels, nearby towns, other airports, and aviation organizations such as AOPA and EAA. It takes work to spread the good word about your airport.
Set up news alerts on an internet search engine to notify you when news concerning your airport is posted. You can also search Facebook to see what’s being posting there. Monitor these every day so you can respond quickly to any adverse or inaccurate information being circulated about your airport. It only takes a minute or two.
You need an internet presence
You can’t do business in the twenty-first century without, at the very least, a website and e-mail, but I know aviation businesses that have neither. If you want to be sociable with your neighbors, that’s great to do across the table at a pancake breakfast, but for day-to-day information sharing and keeping track of the buzz about your airport, you must be connected.
With the explosion of social media, you really should have a Facebook page and a Twitter account too. This doesn’t mean you must post every hour, but provide the basic information about your airport, the airport café, flight school, and repair shop. Make sure the contact information is clear and prominent, so that the neighbor with a noise complaint can reach you easily. When he does, invite him over for an introductory flight and soon you’ll be scheduling his weekly flight lessons. We can make him one of us.
Dennis K. Johnson is a freelance writer and pilot living in New York City.