Shaping Perceptions

SHAPING PERCEPTIONS NATA, AOPA offer assistance for improving community relations By Lindsay M. Hitch, Assistant Editor July 2001 The public’s perception of an airport plays a large role in determining its long-term success...


SHAPING PERCEPTIONS

NATA, AOPA offer assistance for improving community relations

By Lindsay M. Hitch, Assistant Editor

July 2001

The public’s perception of an airport plays a large role in determining its long-term success. NATA and AOPA recommend ways to mold the public’s opinion and knowledge of the airport’s impact. Following is a look at their suggestions and hands-on tools.

The National Air Transportation Association offers its recently unveiled "Community Relations Toolkit," while the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Associa-tion has available "Obtaining Com-munity Support for Your Local Airport." With both, the theme is one of education.
Most opposition to airports stems from fear of aviation-related accidents, noise, or views of the airport as a tax drain rather than a contributor to the community’s economic growth, they say. For these reasons, many of the suggestions center around community education through airport events, involvement in community activities, and the media.
NATA and AOPA recommend airport open houses, airport friends/ support groups, speakers bureaus, partnerships with local education, assisting in disasters, fostering ties with local media, communication with local politicians, economic impact studies, and in general taking a visible stake in the community.

THE TOOLKIT
The NATA community relations handbook was released at its annual convention in May. Reflecting NATA’s membership, the toolkit is aimed at owners and operators of airport-based businesses and managers of general aviation airports. The manual’s suggestions range from simple ideas, like a paper airplane contest, to major activities, like an open house or airshow. Each airport is at a different stage in its community relations development, and each faces different problems, says NATA. The toolkit stresses trying the ideas that seem to fit, not necessarily trying all of them.
The toolkit is set up in four phases of relations improvement, and is intended to be followed step by step:
• Phase 1. "Developing a Community Relations Program" outlines a number of ways to get started.
• Phase 2. "Implementing Community Outreach Elements" builds on the ideas in Phase 1 and suggests more complex projects.
• Phase 3. "Communicating Effectively and Resolving Conflicts" provides advice for handling public opposition.
• Phase 4. "Pulling It All Together — Strategies for Action" outlines specific strategies to follow depending on the airport’s situation and goals.
The phases are somewhat interrelated, and as the toolkit’s suggestions are meant to be taken in part, it may prove most valuable to read the entire kit before implementing its ideas.
Phase 1 includes some information that may be helpful in supporting the airport argument and finding supporters. A list of airport and general aviation statistics may prove powerful when speaking to civic and voters groups. For example, do they know that "70 percent of general aviation flights are flown for business purposes" and that "general aviation airports are a major factor in relocation decisions by companies, both large and small"?
Finding a group of community members to begin an airport support group can be a great way to improve community relations without doing all the work in-house, according to NATA. Among the possible supporters mentioned in the toolkit are airport tenants and employees, agricultural agents, emergency medical teams, firefighters, law enforcement officers, military personnel, student pilots, and flight instructors. The kit also recommends recruiting from the organizations to which those people belong.

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