Wishing a happy birthday to the Airport Support Network
by Mark Baker
AOPA President and CEO
Published In Midwest Flyer Magazine February/March 2022 Online Issue
MOST OF US were introduced to this wonderful thing called flying by someone who went out of their way to take us on an airplane ride, share their wonderful passion, and ignite a spark in us. It was someone who wasn’t forced to do so, wasn’t paid to do so, and asked for nothing in return. All in the spirit of paying it forward in the hope that, someday, we would do the same. Which many of us have.
This is the true definition of a volunteer—someone who on their own time and dime goes out of their way to brighten the day of someone else and make a positive impact on a community.
Americans are very giving of their time. According to a 2018 study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, nearly 80 million of us volunteered some of our time in the preceding year (totaling about 6 billion hours). Let me put that number into another context: The annual workplace value of Americans’ volunteer time was more than $167 billion.
This spirit of sharing is evident in general aviation. Countless men and women give of their time every day to bring more people into our fold, spread the gospel of aviation, and protect our freedom to fly.
This is a special year for AOPA when it comes to volunteers. 2022 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of our AOPA Airport Support Network. Under the leadership of Vice President for Airports and State Advocacy Mike Ginter and his talented group of regional managers, the ASN program and its web of volunteers serve as our early warning system for airport issues in all regions and states.
We entered 2022 with more than 2,000 volunteers and I cannot thank them enough. They are truly our first-line defense against those who do not understand or appreciate the value of our more than 5,000 public-use local airports—they engage locally to promote and protect their airports. Our ASN volunteers know very well that GA in this nation supports our economy to the tune of $247 billion per year and provides for more than 1.2 million jobs.
The GA world is facing unprecedented threats across the country. Local airports in California, Florida, and New York—just to name a few—are in the crosshairs of those who would wish to do GA harm. If you fly there, or in many other places across America, you probably have felt the evil eye of these naysayers.
But our ASN volunteers do what they do not in the name of battle, but in the spirit of engagement. They reach out to educate decision makers and embrace the local community. Yes, things can get a bit testy on the local level, but our ASN volunteers put forward a face of cooperation and camaraderie. We know that, quite often, someone who doesn’t appreciate general aviation simply doesn’t know what we’re all about, and the contributions we make. Education is key and job number one.
Our ASN program has a rich history, and we have volunteers who have been with us since day one. I’d like to give a shout-out to one of our very first volunteers appointed, who is still serving today. For 25 years, Jim Gates has engaged locally to educate city council members and protect Zamperini Field in Torrance, California. Thank you, Jim, and the rest of our ASN volunteers who truly pay it forward.
If you’re intrigued about our Airport Support Network, let me further break down what our volunteers do on a daily basis:
Attend airport meetings, report any potential problems, and help open communications channels.
Serve as an early warning for questionable operational restrictions.
Promote AOPA events and seminars to the local pilot community.
Help enhance and promote the local airport to local officials and the community.
Since the Airport Support Network was founded in 1997, volunteers have helped AOPA save numerous airports. With your help, we can log many more ASN success stories and help prevent airport closures in the United States. If you combine a spirit of volunteerism and a passion for general aviation, we would love to hear from you. Become part of the AOPA Airport Support Network in your local community. Go to aopa.org and find the Airport Support Network under “Advocacy,” or call 800-USA-AOPA.