Aviation aficionado that I am, I have always loved airports. One of my enduring childhood memories is the overwhelming sense of wonder and excitement I experienced when my family went to the Greensboro Airport’s observation deck to await the arrival of a visitor’s flight. I loved watching the airplanes come and go, and I had to be dragged away when our guest eventually turned up. While normal kids might have petitioned their parents for trips to the playground, I pestered mine with pleas for another stint on the GSO observation deck.
Though changes occasioned by the events of September 11 have sapped some of my enthusiasm for the larger air carrier airports, I still love airports. And I don’t entirely jest when I describe a certain general aviation (GA) airport in Northern Virginia as my second home. Much like the tavern in the long-gone Cheers sitcom, my home airport is populated by a clutch of regulars, and it’s a place where everyone knows your name. More to the point, it’s a place where everyone knows your plane.
As I wrote in Venturing Further Afield, I recently participated in the Virginia Department of Aviation’s Virginia Aviation Ambassadors program. The idea is to visit each of the state’s 66 public-use airports, and document the visits by collecting an airport-specific stamp for each one in the official passport booklet. One of the best discoveries was finding that my home state is full of airports like the one I call home – places where pilots gather not just to fly, but also to hang out with like-minded friends. I also discovered that my home state’s GA airports are warm and welcoming to visitors. Starting with the friendly line service staffer who marshaled me to a transient tie-down, I found the camaraderie of kindred spirits everywhere. At larger places, FBO staff cheerfully provided whatever service was needed and invariably expressed interest in the status of my VA Aviation Ambassadors passport stamp collection quest.
That was even more true at smaller airports, where I often found at least one or two other passport stamp collectors who were eager to compare progress and trade stories. The most common question was, “Have you been to Grundy (KGDY) yet?” The follow-up question was typically, “How about Falwell (W24)?” I heard enough about both to do my homework before launching . if you’re curious, read the entries in the Airport/ Facility Directory, or consider a virtual visit via Google Earth.
In addition to renewing my faith in the good nature and basic kindness of people everywhere, the aviation passport collection tour inspired – and reminded – me how important it is for us regulars to extend a warm welcome when strangers call at home base and ensure that their experience is both positive and memorable. As authors Joseph Pine and James Gilmore write in their book on The Experience Economy, “It is the positive personal interaction that makes a visit memorable enough to prompt repeat business.” And even though most of us are not in the FBO business per se, the overall decline in the pilot population and constant economic pressure on our beloved home base airports means that it is very much our business to support, promote, and thus protect them in any way we can. So, next time you see an unfamiliar face at your home airport, extend a hand, make a friend, and create a fan who will appreciate your airport as much as you do. (FAA Safety Briefing – NovDec 2011)