We sometimes hear this question when something has gone—or is about to go—sideways at a public use, publicly funded airport. Perhaps a dispute has developed between a club and FBO, or perhaps new airport management is doing things “differently”. Along the lines of “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”, this is quite the wrong time to be thinking about developing relationships with the airport and other tenants!
On the other hand, developing and nurturing close working relationships with airport management and other tenants is a sound strategy and an investment in smooth operations, and, as we’ll see, it can be much more.
We have written a lot over the years about the importance of flying clubs. Not just the benefits to members, such as shared costs, access to nice aircraft and social camaraderie, but also a club’s role, nay, duty, to further the cause of General Aviation through community involvement and education—and one of the closest communities is that of the airport itself.
Understanding the FAA and airport rules (and following them) is one of the best paths to harmonious relationships and for avoiding the case of the “bolted horse”. Two other, opposite, examples are: a). Ensuring that non-profit flying clubs do not “hold out” for membership based on promises of “learn-to-fly-with-us” or cheap introductory rides; and b): Identifying for-profit flight schools that blatantly masquerade as flying clubs by using the word “club” in their name, and offering “memberships” to the general public. More information on “the rules” can be found in “Chapter 2: Club Fundamentals” in the AOPA Guide to Starting a Flying Club.
Now, following the rules is one (good) thing, but understanding where the rules are made is another, which gets to the heart of this question of the month—how may flying clubs have a say in airport operations? Well, it all comes down to relationships and partnerships—forging them, and then cultivating them.
As a quick aside, many of the operational rules for federally funded airports are delegated to the airport operator by the FAA, in FAA Order 5190.6B, “The Airport Compliance Manual”. Airports usually directly follow the Order, but many also add their own rules based on local situations. Be sure to ask for a copy of your airport’s Rules and Regulations and compare them with section 10.6 of FAA Order 5190.6B and, most importantly for flying clubs, with the final-rule amendment that clarifies the compensation of CFIs and A&Ps. The amendment also very clearly states what flying clubs cannot do with regards to holding-out and marketing.
Some of a club’s most important partners are the airport manager and other airport tenants such as individual pilots, other flying clubs, the FBO, a flight school, parachute operations, maintenance shops, and so on. The point here is that an airport is an ecosystem with many interrelated and interdependent parts. Being aware of the machinery will most definitively help a club that wants to operate effectively and efficiently, so let’s first look at some ways that flying clubs benefit the airport ecosystem—think of this as illustrating the economic advantage of flying clubs to airports that you can tout when talking for other airport users.
A club with one airplane and 10 members can potentially fly 10 times more than if the same plane was used one by an individual. This will result in more:
All of the above are clearly important, interdependent and reach much deeper than the airport itself in terms of economic impact. So, our task, when answering the initial question, is to ensure that the importance and contributions of flying clubs are fully understood and valued by all parts of the ecosystem—and this is how we become “influencers…”!
Here are a number of suggestions to consider. Not all will apply to all circumstances, but some will likely apply to your local situation:
From experience, little is more frustrating than people moaning about something but not attending public meetings to understand “both sides” and then be part of the solution.
Airports generally have a manager, appointed by a board, who report to the operator which could be the town council, county commissioners, or department of aeronautics/transportation. Every step of the way involves people with a sense of civic duty, which means you can become part of the process:
We know of several airports where pilots, EAA chapter members, businesspeople, flying club members and so on have established a formal association—think “friends of KABC airport”. The point of such an association is to work in concert with airport management for the transparent and harmonious benefit of all airport users and the wider community (for example, to support tourism).
A good example of this in action is the Hastings Airport Association (HAA) that supports the municipal airport, KHSI in Hastings, Nebraska.
From HAA’s “about” web page:
The Hastings Airport Association was formed in 2015 by Hastings, Nebraska area pilots and aviation professionals who desired to be involved in the strategic direction of the airport, improve communication with the council, city, and tenants, and desire to make the airport a vibrant, friendly, and growing place.
HAA has several goals:
Continuing our visit to Nebraska, the Nebraska Aviation Council is a excellent example of such an organization that not only provides support to the Nebraska DoT/Aeronautics Department, but also runs the annual Nebraska Aviation Symposium, IA Renewal Seminar and the State Fly-In (which rotates around the state to showcase different airports and communities). Members include businesses, airport managers, flying clubs and more. Director of AOPA Flying Clubs, Steve Bateman, was honored to serve on the Nebraska Aviation Council and can personally attest to its importance to Nebraska aviation, and to the dedication of its board and members. Steve also enjoys returning to Nebraska as a presenter at the Symposium, usually held in January.
Consider becoming a city council member, mayor, county commissioner, airport commissioner, etc. This is likely more realistic in rural areas and will of course involve many other facets of community and political life and is not for everyone…but you did ask how my club can have a say…!
Another excellent way to help safeguard the future of your airport is with the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN). This grassroots program provides the vehicle for AOPA members to work together with AOPA staff to preserve and protect airports across the United States. You can search here for the ASN volunteer at your airport, and if there isn’t one, you can apply to become one, here.
If you are experiencing issues with airport management or other tenants, then you are not on your own. AOPA members have access to a network of seven Regional Managers, that advocate at the state and local level to:
You can find and contact your Regional Manager, here.
As a member of AOPA’s Legal Services Plan you (and so your club) will have access to AOPA’s in-house lawyers and a nationwide network of panel lawyers. More details can be found, here.
There are numerous other ways to have a voice at your airport. For example, invite the airport manager to your club meetings, social events, safety seminars, etc. Extend to the same invitation to ATC staff, other tenants, including flight schools, FBO staff, and so on.
There are many ways for you as an individual and as a representative of your flying club to have a say and influence the operations at your airport, irrespective of it size and layers of management. We know that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work, so here is a chance to become one of the 20 percent!