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NBAA Can Help Members Support Their Airports

Sept. 30, 2013

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast for more on advocating for your local airport.

Scenario: Your home airport announces it is conducting public hearings on a runway extension that will certainly benefit your flight operation. The airport manager asks for your participation. What do you do?

"Sadly, all too often, when we hold a public meeting, none of the tenants shows up," said John Dorcey, chairman of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) and a retired airport executive. "So already, before the project is out of the gate, the deck is stacked against us because those who do show up are anti-airport or anti-spending."

That is not the way it used to be, Dorcey noted. "It hurts. It used to be these meetings were always overflowing with people. But today, for whatever reason, participation is almost non-existent. The reality is, we need help and support from our users."

Many companies seem reluctant to get involved in airport governance affairs, where there is often the potential for controversy and negative exposure, Dorcey said. As a result, the airport's biggest users may be unwilling to offer the expert advice available from their pilots, dispatchers and flight managers.

"There are solutions to this," said NBAA Northeast Regional Representative Dean Saucier. "First, you as a flight department employee or manager can champion the cause of a runway extension or a taxiway widening project and personally run it up the company's chain of command. Get the attention of your legal department or even your CEO. But the second way to advocate for the airport is to contact your regional or national advocacy group."

Advocacy groups like NBAA have the technical information, political expertise and contacts, both within government and within the industry, enabling them to bring the maximum amount of information to bear, Saucier said.

"For instance, in the case of a runway extension, we can explain that such a project can help grow the economy by adding jobs and bringing in new business," he said. "We can back that up with facts, figures and historical examples of how such expansion has helped elsewhere."

Advocacy groups often work in concert, as they did in Washington state last year, when some lawmakers tried to enact a 0.5 percent annual tax on aircraft based there. Together with a very vocal coalition of aviation groups, NBAA and others were effective in turning back that effort.

"I'll attribute that to the education efforts of NBAA and other organizations," said Kristi Ivey, NBAA's Northwest regional representative. "We were able to help lawmakers realize that they shouldn't attack an industry that provides a significantly positive balance of trade in Washington state."

"Advocacy groups don't stand alone," said Saucier. "They're also made up of people who live and work in the community and often have nothing to do with aviation other than realizing the positive economic force it provides within the local community."

The advocacy effort begins back at the airport, according to Saucier. Those who work on the field are often the first to know about airport issues that could affect their operations.

"When that happens, let us know," said Saucier. "Keep those advocacy groups informed. All of us [at the regional level] know how to get in touch with the local decision-makers. Often times, it's just an educational process. We're in the business of educating non-aviation personnel about the benefits of aviation."