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Organizing Your Airport Group

Getting Started

Single-handedly, or in league with a few compatriots, you can begin the entire airport support group effort by gathering the individuals who will form the nucleus of the group's leadership.

 This early recruiting is extremely important. Experience shows that as the support group is formalized, the nucleus brought together initially as the "steering committee" will usually be elected to the group's board of directors or executive committee.

 This is significant because the most effective support groups have an executive committee of five or six activists who direct and manage the activities of their broadbased membership. So pick the best people right off the bat.

 This progression from organizer to officer is important because your bylaws will empower this leadership group to take action on behalf of the membership. A strong and committed executive committee ensures control, accuracy, flexibility, and credibility. Having this kind of leadership structure also implies a business approach and large membership.

 Begin recruiting this small group by listing 10 to 15 people you feel could be valuable and dedicated members.

 Start a list of candidates by identifying:

  • Fellow pilots who have an intense emotional investment in aviation and their aircraft.
  • Pilots whose business depends upon or is enhanced by general aviation and the utility of a nearby airport.
  • A pilot who is involved in local politics or local government who would be sympathetic to the cause.
  • A pilot with a public relations, communications, or marketing background. 
Be sure that this list is broad-based and includes a cross section of airport users and community members who support the airport. You should endeavor to identify as many of the specific constituencies involved with the airport as possible. To broaden this list, seek participation by and ask recommendations from:
  • Members of the airport authority.
  • The airport manager, who should certainly have an interest in your efforts.
  • The managers of the FBOs on the field who will have a stake in the airport's future.
  • Airline station managers or agents of commercial operators.
  • The chamber of commerce executive or chairperson of the economic development corporation or committee. Be sure to seek input from other civic-based organizations.
Contact the individuals on the list personally. Tell them you have an idea that might interest them. Meet over a cup of coffee and find out how they perceive the airport situation.

 Ask:

  • Their opinion or thoughts on the airport's problems, as well as any other community-relations problems the airport may be experiencing.
  • How important they think the problems are.
  • Their suggestions about people in the community who may be a part of the problem or could contribute to the solution.
  • Whether they would be willing to help. And without giving or asking for a commitment, determine if they have the time to serve on the steering committee.
After your first round of contacts, you should have five or six people who are willing to serve and support the steering committee. It's imperative to include non-pilots. Non-aviation individuals add credibility to any reports you may issue.

 Choose your leadership carefully. Avoid those who are all show and no go. Some people are simply joiners who hop on any bandwagon and others are on an ego trip; you can't afford either variety. The steering committee must be willing to stick with it and make personal investments of time and money.

 Next, invite your choices to an informal meeting. Try to time the meeting for maximum attendance (for instance, a breakfast meeting might be better than a luncheon). State that the purpose of this meeting is to seek advice and information and to develop a plan of action in preparation for the first "formal" meeting of the new group. This first meeting will be the most critical in determining a successful plan of action. It will also serve to weed out those who don't share your interests.

 Be sure to send a short reminder three to five days in advance, and call the night before.

 Analyzing Exisiting or Potential Problems Now, ask your small group to begin analyzing the true nature of the airport's problems. Define those problems, but bear in mind that they're not always the most obvious. While the most common are safety and noise concerns or the desire to develop real estate, there could be other reasons.
 
 

    Is your airport well managed?

     Does the airport have minimum standards for service and appearance?

     Does the airport return the community investment through competitive leases and rents? If so, use that to defuse your opponents' arguments and make their position seem extreme.

     What specifically does the airport provide the community?

     Identify your opposition. It is easy to assume that the other side is a uniform alignment of reactionary groups, but defining the opposition is seldom that easy.
     
     

  • Define who the opponents really are. Are they neighbors, elected officials, members of the local power structure, developers, etc.?

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  • List opponents by name and occupation; search for a possible connection. For example, John Doe could be on the board of a bank that could benefit from developing the airport property.

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  • Get past the red herrings and glittering generalities and to the central issues. Make sure you understand the real reasons behind an opponent's arguments. Does someone want to erect a radio antenna?

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  • Find out what your opponents intend to accomplish. Do they want the whole airport closed or developed? Do they want to kill it inch by inch? On what issue are they willing to compromise?

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  • If your airport is not facing an immediate threat, compare the perennial arguments against airports (listed below) with the potential problems the airport could face.

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    • Prime farmland is taken out of production
    • A residential community is encroaching on airport land
    • Fear that a general aviation airport will become an air carrier airport
    • Drain on tax dollars
    • No benefit to the average citizen
    • Lack of airport land use planning
    • Noise complaints
    • Safety concerns

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You should discuss these topics: 
  • What do the people in the community know about general aviation? The airport?
  • What are their present attitudes?
  • What power structure holds the key to governing the airport?
  • What group or opinion leaders effectively influence the public?
  • How do community-related ideas flow? From whom? To whom?
  • To what extent do authority, facts, and emotion affect attitudes?
Structure

 Determine the type of group that best fits your situation. Choosing a structure for your group is strictly a function of your specific problems, opportunities, resources, and airport size. There isn't one type that works best, however. If the possibility of litigation or other legal action exists, it may be wise to form a nonprofit corporation. Because laws regulating corporations vary from state to state, AOPA encourages you to seek the advice of a local attorney.

 Select a tentative name for your support group. The name should be submitted at the first general meeting so that a consensus can be reached by those who will ultimately be your members.

 At all costs, avoid using names that include the words "Pilots Association." The name should not further polarize the community by directly implying you are a special interest group. Hopefully, the support group will attract nonpilot community members. Remember, one of your goals should be to seek those persons out. They can help you defuse community opposition to the airport.

 Bylaws

 Bylaws should provide for a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and board of directors representing the various interests. The executive committee (president and vice president) should be empowered to act between board meetings. Standing and special committees, each with a chairman and vice chairman, will handle needed tasks. Sample bylaws are included in the "AOPA Airport Resource Guide" along with other important statistical information.

 Successful groups include a variety of committees: volunteers who do a variety of work to help maintain and clean up a small airport; safety committees working toward enhancing safety and reducing hazards; and community support committees working to present a positive airport image to citizens while countering opposition. All three types have proven their value.

 At a minimum, your airport support group should have at least a political action committee, a safety committee, and a public relations committee. By breaking tasks into smaller subgroups, you accomplish more in less time while taking advantage of specific, targeted expertise necessary to achieve your goals.

 A support group can be organized for a single airport or a geographical area with several airports. In the latter case, each airport should have its own local group and representation on the board of directors of the larger organization.

 Activities

 Narrow down the list of possible support group activities. Airport local action groups participate in a wide diversity of activities, only limited by the imagination and motivation of their membership. Anything that promotes or helps an airport or aviation is open for consideration. Some general and more frequent examples include:

 Membership Provides an avenue to obtain and retain membership for the organization. Any worthwhile effort requires financial resources. Members provide this resource.

 Political Support The review, participation, and support of airport master planning efforts, airport development projects, and environmental impact and noise abatement studies. This includes participation in meetings and opposition to proposed adverse actions. The committee monitors political events of major impact to the airport.

 Safety (usually a major concern to the community) Includes all phases of accident prevention and safety such as obstruction removal, pavement repair, vehicular hazards, signs, navaids, improved maintenance, safety areas, air traffic control (ATC) procedures, etc. From time to time, the committee should sponsor safety seminars.

 Promotion Includes public relations, speakers and programs, newspaper articles, commercials, literature, etc., to publicize airport benefits. Also includes supplying volunteer greeters and information desks at the airports.

 Special Events This category covers such activities as airport open houses, air shows, contests, and fly-ins.

 Education Involves the encouragement of aviation education and training and providing speakers at schools. The committee might collect aviation publications for donation to the local school libraries.

 Emergency Planning Requires participating in and supporting airport emergency plans and drills for fires, crashes, and natural disasters.

 Airport Beautification Your group could provide volunteers and financial resources for airport beautification, landscaping, grass cutting, painting, clearing approaches, etc.

 Search and Rescue This involves volunteer participation in search and rescue operations and providing resources for Civil Air Patrol (CAP) activities.

 Going Public
Your steering committee now has its act together with a list of concerns to announce, possible goals and activities to suggest, and a structure to recommend. It can now call a public meeting of all interested parties and individuals. This highly publicized event can present great fanfare and is a perfect opportunity to state the problem and goals to the media. The first meeting is an opportunity to enlist members, and it is also a media event, a news story.

 Participation

 Obviously, the pilot community is the biggest special interest group. Contact them through fliers, posters, a pilot newsletter, etc. But don't be surprised if many refuse to get involved, and the most affluent refuse to donate. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. Americans help worthy causes. Many in each area have the ability and interest to aid their airports. An action group should be open to all who can play useful parts, including individuals from other groups. Members can include:

  • Airport officials and employees.
  • Persons now or formerly employed in aviation.
  • Airport tenants: airlines, FBOs, corporate aircraft owners, auto rental personnel, etc.
  • Airport users, including companies and businessmen.
  • Pilots, flying clubs, and the Civil Air Patrol.
  • Government officials and employees.
  • Chambers of commerce and civic groups.
  • National and local aviation associations.
  • Air Force, Air Guard, and other military personnel.
  • Retired persons and veterans, especially former pilots.
  • Scouting programs.
The First Public Meeting

 This event presents one of your best opportunities to bring attention and support to the cause. Organizing the first meeting isn't as tricky as it sounds, but it is labor- and time-intensive. Remember, it is imperative that you have a good show of support.

 Get names from the airport people you originally contacted for your steering committee (the airport manager, FBOs, station agents, chamber of commerce). Lay out your plans and ask them for help in financing and publicizing the meeting.

 Expand your contacts to any other airport tenant, and ask for their support and attendance. Approach the operators of other businesses affected by the airport: restaurants, motels, car rental agencies, etc. Ask them to send one representative to the meeting. Request that they donate refreshments or lend you working materials like a podium or slide projector.

 Also contact appropriate local quasi-governmental units like the tourism board and economic development corporation. Ask the leaders of the business community to attend. You will gather credibility quickly if those opinion leaders appear, especially if they agree to make a few brief remarks.

 Send a formal request to the mayor and other public figures. They may not show up (for political reasons), but you win either way. When politicians show up, they provide support. When they don't, they're conspicuous by their absence. By all means, try working through political networks to gain their attendance, but don't be overly concerned if they don't come. It is also a good idea to invite state aeronautics officials.

 Serve coffee and refreshments.

 Make sure the media is there (see "Public Relations and Political Action"). A personal telephone call is best. Call them several days in advance of the planned meeting, and follow up with another call the morning of the meeting.

 The first meeting should have a short agenda, enabling you to get acquainted with other people who may have an interest in helping your airport. You will be able to make a realistic assessment of the potential for their assistance.

 Suggested Agenda
 
 

  1. Present the existing or potential problem and the steering committee's findings. Ask prominent attendees to make brief statements if they wish. Ask for opinions by letting everyone speak who wishes to.

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  3. Get additional ideas and suggestions for steps that could be taken to improve community relations. Obtain volunteers for each specific committee.

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  5. Get ideas for new activities. Don't focus on strictly social events. Plan activities that will focus attention on the airport.

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  7. Present the proposed bylaws for group approval. Be prepared to conduct the election of officers. Written ballots may be printed ahead of time with blank lines so that the attendee can write in the candidate's name.

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  9. Have the group establish and approve a dues structure.

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  11. Get a sign-up list to collect names and addresses for future mailings.

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  13. Survey the participants for personal capabilities that might be of use to the group (e.g.-desktop publishing skills, mailings, printing, etc.).

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  15. Establish the date and time for the next meeting. The time between meetings will depend on the severity of current airport problems.

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Sometimes the membership is ready to vote their acceptance right away. However, on occasion, you may find it necessary to schedule one more meeting to hold a formal election and take care of other details.

 A Few Hints

  • Dues assessment depends entirely on the local situation. It's a good idea to begin with a campaign for fairly large corporate donations and small membership dues. Seek advice from other local airport associations.

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  • Send a newsletter to your group. Too many meetings take up too much time. The rule of dwindling attendance (two "getting organized" meetings is about all most people can stand) will give the perception that your group is losing support. A regularly published newsletter is an absolute necessity if you are to keep the support group active.

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  • Find a champion. Every group needs a dedicated person with the time and ability to champion its cause. That individual must be able to make a personal commitment, make community presentations, and generally be available. Interestingly, many excellent "champions" aren't even pilots. Retired executives make excellent champions. You might consider offering that caliber of individual a retainer or pay expenses. Your representative doesn't need to be flashy or dynamic but should possess integrity and the ability to communicate.

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  • Convene a blue-ribbon panel of nonpilot community leaders to serve as a validating committee. It will serve as a sounding board and credibility builder. It will question and later validate your statistics and arguments supporting the airport. An existing "special" or "standing" city government committee is an excellent choice. If one doesn't already exist, request that one be organized. The panel will quickly find holes in your logic. It will ask the questions the taxpayers will ask. The media will be interested in the panel's judgments.

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  • Establish a committee to market the airport. The group should design a brief brochure to point out its history and benefits. An aerial photograph of the airport might also be included. Often, local civic organizations are more than happy to sponsor this type of literature as it stands to bring additional business to the local community. You can also use this promotional literature to educate the community.
Coalitions

 Now you are ready to begin building a coalition with groups who can help you develop clout. Airport managers tell us, almost without exception, that support groups are most successful when they build a strong coalition with the business and professional community. Some tips:
 
 

  • Present a unified voice. Statements should always reflect the same position. It is also best to have a single voice as your designated speaker on major topics.

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  • Establish visibility by making presentations to and even joining organizations that provide a vehicle for information and exposure.

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  • Write a position paper and policy statement.

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  • Have a simple logo designed and a quality letterhead printed. Produce business cards for group leaders.

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  • If you have a large effort under way, find an extra telephone line somewhere, and get an answering machine to take messages or provide information on meetings to the members. Never go to a meeting expecting to pass the hat for collections-be confident, not cocky.

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  • Maintain a businesslike and professional approach at all times.

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  • Use discussion, not confrontation, and leave yourself a graceful way out.

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  • Speak from fact, not emotion.

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  • Never volunteer more information than necessary.

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  • Keep the discussion centered on the benefit the airport provides.

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  • Leave yourself a graceful way out if put on the spot such as, "The Board has directed me...," or "I'll present it to the Board," etc.

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Spadework

 Although every airport problem is unique, depending on local conditions, there is some spadework to do.

 Gather all legal documents that pertain to the airport, and if necessary, hire a law firm perhaps from out of town if local conditions suggest that to be a prudent course-to review them. Find out:

  • Where the airport land came from originally. Federal surplus property?
  • When and why did it become an airport?
  • Are there deed restrictions?
  • What zoning laws are in effect dealing with such things as obstacle height and clearance and airport clear zones or safety zones?
  • What contractual obligations exist with the state, FAA,DOT, etc.? 
Sources of Information

 The Freedom of Information Act entitles you to many documents produced at taxpayer expense such as city budgets, letters, memos, reports, contracts, invoices, and consultants' fees.

 The city clerk's office is often a gold mine of information. It keeps a record of just about everything.

 Meetings regarding the airport, transportation, or zoning-even by obscure committees or groups-are also good sources of information. Various "sunshine" statutes will allow you to attend and gather information. Take notes, and report to your members through the group's newsletter.

 A great source of information is the local FAA airport district office or regional office. A complete list of these important offices is included in the AOPA Resources packet.

 The newspaper morgue (library) often can provide some interesting tidbits. Ask for the reference file.

 Personal interviews with participants in airport-related decisions can be illuminating; always go in pairs and take notes. Remember, following all avenues, regardless of how unimportant they seem, is essential to the process. Whenever possible, cultivate inside contacts and reward them with absolute confidentiality. These relationships take time, but they can also tip you off to contacts and upcoming decisions.

 Now that you're organized, you're ready to take your fight to the public and political arenas.

 The Truth about Organizations and Government Agencies

 When an airport is in trouble, the tendency is to turn to various aviation organizations and agencies for help. The cold hard truth is that, in most cases, they can only do so much. The problem is local, and only you and other members of the local community can determine the real issues. AOPA will provide all the advice and assistance humanly possible through its Airports Department and regional representatives, but the association can't be physically present at every airport battle. To learn what assistance AOPA can provide, call 1-800-USA-AOPA.

 There are even some advantages to not receiving outside help. When forced to fall back on your own resources, you are forced to build strong local support. Remember, local politicians look at local involvement in issues as votes YOUR votes. Outside parties can't command the attention local residents do.

 Report your troubles to the FAA airport district office or airports division of the regional office, but don't expect miracles. They can't take sides in local political issues. You may have a problem convincing them that the problem is serious. You may be in a better position if a surplus property agreement or grant obligation is in effect, but for the most part, try to deal with the man at the top, and notify him of your problem.

 Don't be discouraged. Your involvement can and will make a difference.

 Good Luck!

 AOPA Member Support

 AOPA also provides additional assistance to you with the following services. Call the toll-free member hotline: 1-800-USA-AOPA

 AOPA's Communications Division has many informative, helpful brochures available.

 AOPA ONLINE - AOPA's computerized information service is available 24 hours per day providing access to AOPA technical specialists, member-to-member communications, and other important general aviation information.

 AOPA Regional Representatives

AOPA has a network of 11 regional representatives located throughout the United States. These Reps provide you, the AOPA member, with a voice in important local and state aviation issues.


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Updated Thursday, November 15, 2001 11:49:15 AM

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