By Barry Meek.
Promote General Aviation?
There’s been much written and a lot
of talk about how we’re going to save general aviation.
Arguably we’re over regulated and over charged for goods
and services related to aircraft operation. The number
of pilots being licensed each year continues to fall.
The number of hours flown annually by private pilots is
lower than at anytime in the recent past.
Signs point to even fewer
people entering aviation in the years ahead despite
efforts on many fronts to attract business to flying
schools. Several good ideas have been put forward to
promote our sector, yet somehow we’re falling short of
reaching the people we need to come out and explore what
aviation has to offer. Most of our efforts are written
in aviation publications and on the aviation sites on
the internet. But those are the wrong venues for us to
be preaching. Let me explain.
If we want to attract new
people to flying, we have to think more outside the
box. We need to get the word to prospective pilots who
don’t even know yet that one day they’ll be flying too.
If they’re reading aviation magazines, we already have
them on our side. We’re preaching to the choir boys.
Everyone reading them is already aware of and agrees
with what we publish. So let’s start submitting the
good stories and the advertising about flying to a
larger audience. A good opportunity could be the many
small-town newspapers in this country. Most would be
happy to print stories about happenings at their local
airport. Why confine this news to the flying club
newsletters? Pilots already know about it. If you use
your airplane to get to a ski resort or go on a
flying/camping trip, then somehow the skiers and
campers, not just pilots, should know about it. Many
women are pilots but there aren’t many manufacturers of
aviation products advertising in women’s magazines. The
company that makes Tide laundry detergent realized a
long time ago that women make up a large part of stock
car racing fans, and they capitalized by sponsoring a
NASCAR “Tide car”. If it works for Tide laundry soap,
then it might be worthwhile for an airplane manufacturer
to reach out to more women.
Some flying clubs hold
monthly fly-ins and fly-outs. Members get together for
day trips including a lunch or breakfast. If your club
has similar activities, does it advertise in the local
media? Does anyone invite local media reporters along?
How about local politicians? Inviting non-pilots,
whoever they are, can help spread the interest in
flying. Professional sports teams know this. Back in
my broadcasting career, they always provided free game
tickets to on-air staff from every radio and television
station in the city. It ensured their team was always
the “talk of the town”. Inviting non-pilots, whoever
they are, can’t be a bad idea to help spread the word
We’re facing serious security
issues these days in aviation. But I suggest that the
general public needs to feel more welcome to join the
chosen few pilots who have relatively easy access to
airports. It’s unreasonable to think that the gates and
fences shouldn’t be there at all, and that everyone
should be free to come and go as they please. But most
airports are like fortresses. Ten-foot high chain-link
fences, some topped with razor wire, surround most
fields. Signs are posted threatening federal penalties
for trespassing, and security gates are monitored by
guards patrolling in pick-up trucks. No one is allowed
to approach an airport without feeling intimidated. If
we can’t change the general appearance and operation of
an airport, perhaps there could be more scheduled events
open to the public. And it doesn’t necessarily mean a
full-blown air show would be needed. One simple way to
get the public in and make them welcome would be to
invite everyone, not just pilots, to a fly-in
breakfast. I can’t count the breakfast notifications I
see in this publication, but I wonder how many clubs
insert ads in their local newspapers, inviting everyone
in town. A show line of airplanes could be organized
with owners and other pilots available to discuss the
planes with non-pilot visitors. Local flight schools
could set up and offer fam-flighs. Politicians may take
an opportunity to come out, meet some people and pledge
support for further airport activities. The local
newspapers would be there with their cameras. Throw in
some hot dog sales for good measure.
attract people by the thousands. Could static airplane
displays do the same?
I was attending a
vintage car and hot rod show recently. Close to three
hundred specialty and modified vehicles were proudly
displayed by their owners. It was free to the public,
and attendance was estimated at over three thousand
“fans”. There was no racing, no stunts performed, in
fact, no engines were running. It was strictly a static
display. Every car show draws this kind of crowd.
Airplanes could too.
Most of the folks who
come out to car shows are not mechanics, builders, or
owners. Many are women interested in something a little
different. They come from all walks of life. They bring
curiosity. They’re not even car enthusiasts, at least
not when they enter the gates. Maybe they are when they
leave. And that’s what it’s all about. Everyone who
looks at airplanes isn’t a pilot. But if he never has
the chance to look, feel and get close to airplanes,
he’ll never be a pilot. Let’s give those people an
opportunity to open up their minds to flying. If we
don’t, it’s a certainty our numbers will continue to