A Positive Look At GA

Letter to the city finance director of Wayne, Nebraska.
From Jim Hanson
Corporate Pilot & Manager of Albert Lea Municipal Airport
Albert Lea, Minnesota
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2020 issue

Dear Sir:

In addition to being the manager of Albert Lea Municipal Airport in Albert Lea, Minnesota, I fly a Beech King Air 200 for a business here in town, and yesterday, we flew to your city. The business I fly for is buying equipment from a manufacturer in Wayne. The weather was foggy, the ceilings were low, and the visibility poor, but with the aid of the GPS instrument approach at your airport, we had no problems. While in Wayne, our flight crew enjoyed the arrival building while we waited about 4 hours for our passengers to return from their meeting.

This is my 58th year flying—my 40th year of flying turbine airplanes—over 30,000 hours total. I’ve owned seven fixed base operations (FBOs), managed six airports, and built two very large FBOs in Houston and Long Island. I’ve flown to every state in the United States, to every Canadian Province, and to 83 countries around the world (plus Antarctica). I mention this because I’ve been around awhile and have seen a lot of airports and communities, but the airport and the community of Wayne, Nebraska is exemplary!

So many small airports are a ramshackle collection of hangars and patched runways, lack service, and the people have an indifferent attitude towards aviation. That’s why your airport stands out… It’s not that way; rather, your airport is exemplary! The facilities are great – the runways, the layout, the hangars, and the arrival building – but ANY MUNICIPALITY can have nice facilities if they have the money. What sets Wayne, Nebraska apart from other municipal airports are the PEOPLE and their ATTITUDE. That’s what makes the difference!

The buildings were new—neat and clean. We noted the “honor system” for beverages and snacks in the building – something you would never see in an urban area – but the system WORKS IN NEBRASKA! It wasn’t long before caretaker Jim Hoffman came by while patrolling the airport just to see if we needed anything. I would have bought some of your low-cost fuel, but we had only flown for 48 minutes and did not need any that day.

While there, Mr. Hoffman filled us in on the history of the airport, and the damage from the tornado a few years ago, and what the city was doing to make it attractive to fly to Wayne. As good as my own employees are at taking care of customers and promoting the local area, Mr. Hoffman was even better! When he heard that we would be in the area over the lunch hour, he insisted that we use one of the airport cars to go have lunch. After initially declining (I can afford to miss a meal!), we told him we would like someplace local and not “fast food,” so he told us to go to “The Udder Place,” so we took him up on his offer.

Upon arriving at the restaurant (which, as the name implies, specializes in ice cream concoctions and burgers), they said “Jim must have sent you!” I asked how they knew… Was it the airport van? “No, Jim sends a lot of business our way!” We ordered lunch (what a great menu… meats, specials, ice cream dishes, and even an ice cream drink selection – what a treat – though we skipped the drinks. The waitress was friendly and made good suggestions. There was another individual at the diner who commented, “you guys must be from the airport… I bet Jim sent you!” You have to like a small town, when everybody knows each other, and is friendly to out-of-towners. The food was good and the prices were very reasonable.

We took a loop around town, just to see what it was like—and we were impressed with the cleanliness everywhere!

Arriving back at the airport, we discussed what we had seen. Wayne, Nebraska IS America as we once knew it! Neat, clean, friendly, welcoming. (I’m sure there must be a grouch somewhere in town, but we didn’t meet him.) We left feeling good about our short visit.

The town, the waitress and the locals, and Jim Hoffman, made us feel good about visiting. I hope we have more trips back to your town.

Jim Hanson
Albert Lea, Minnesota

HERE’S THE POINT OF THIS STORY

All too often, we land at airports in communities large and small, and are treated with indifference. In our case, we were transporting sales and service personnel to do business with one of the larger businesses in town – a manufacturing company that employs hundreds of people. As pilots, we don’t ask for much, and increasingly, we don’t EXPECT much. In this case, we had the use of nice airport landing facilities, nice waiting areas, and reasonably priced fuel. The airport caretaker went out of his way to greet us – told us the history of the airport and what the community was doing to support it – and insisted that we take the car and have a look at the town. His pride in the community was apparent!

As the letter mentions, people in town recognize people from out of town, and the fact that they arrived via private aircraft. Think of that message… people in town acknowledging the value of the airport… people who know that the airport brings not only business to a large employer, but business to even small enterprises.

The city official, in turn, acknowledged my letter as follows:

“You just made my Monday with those words. We are definitely proud of our airport. I will share this with council members, the members of the airport board, and with Jim. I hope you will be flying back to Wayne again!”

All too often, municipal officials get nothing but complaints. When the good things they do are publicly acknowledged, they feel good about their work.”

It has been said, “If you want MORE of something, let those who provide the service know that you enjoyed their product.”

All too often, we do not take the time to acknowledge extraordinary service, yet we complain about BAD service. Each of us can be an emissary of general aviation, for the low cost of taking the time to acknowledge good service and facilities, and to acknowledge those who go out of their way to help us.

THINK about the effect ONE LETTER can have. The city officials who are proud of their airport (do you think it will help support the airport maintenance budget? I do!). The city council, the airport board, and most of all, the guy who takes care of the airport. (I believe it made HIS day, as well!). Do you think that it may inspire him to continue providing good and clean facilities at Wayne? From this point on, Wayne, Nebraska and I are “joined at the hip”—admiring what the other has to offer.

Each of us who flies to other airports can (and should) make it a point to extend our appreciation for the facilities. As pilots, how many times have you heard about “those rich locals at the airport – I don’t know why we spend money out there!” Give the city officials some ammunition to help counter that issue. Let them know that the airport is vital in bringing in people to support local business (large and small). Next time you visit an airport, take the time to learn about it, to learn about the community, and let them know what they are doing RIGHT. Give credit where credit is due. All it takes is a little of your time, and a little postage.

My dad was the mayor of a small town for 33 years, and like most small towns, the job paid very little, especially for all the problems city officials must address, but he took great pride in the community. Whenever he received a letter acknowledging something good about the community, he beamed with pride, and made sure that EVERYONE in the community knew about the recognition. That’s one of the great things about small towns!

Each of us likes recognition. As pilots, we like the recognition of our achievement. City officials like the recognition of their public service, and in a small town, it IS public service! Each of us likes the recognition of a job well done. Each of us likes a compliment on our community… it validates our choices of where we choose to live.

Who do you contact? Like so many things today, the internet is your friend. Just type the name of the airport or city to get contact information. Try to address your comments to “decision-makers”—the mayor, city council, airport administrator, or director of public works. Even better, you can email ALL of them—no extra cost for postage! Ask them to pass your letter along to other officials in the city, and especially to the airport staff.

THINK about it… a half a million pilots. If we all sent four letters a year, that’s letting airport owners and operators hear good things 2 million times! With only 5087 public airports in the United States, that’s 393 letters from pilots per airport! Obviously, busier airports might receive more letters, but look at the enthusiastic response from just ONE city official praising their airport!

As an aside, you can let OTHER PILOTS know of your experience. For those of us who use ForeFlight or other flight planning services, there is a comment section. All too often, it is filled with gripes and slights, either real or imagined. You cannot only help locals promote their airport, but you can help your fellow aviators by pointing out good service, facilities, or local attractions.

It seems that life today is filled with bickering, complaints, and demands on public officials. Let’s get back to what works – recognition and praise for those who do things right!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Hanson is the long-time operator of the Albert Lea, Minnesota airport. He has seen a thing or two in his years of operating the airport, and visiting airports all over the world. He tries to acknowledge those who help him (and at his age, he needs a lot of help!). If you would like to contact Jim Hanson, call 507-373-0608, or email jimhanson@deskmedia.com.

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