by Kyle Lewis
Airports & State Advocacy • Great Lakes Region
Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Published In Midwest Flyer Magazine February/March 2022 Online Issue
2022 marks the 25th anniversary for the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) program. I’ve mentioned the importance of the ASN program throughout these columns, noting the connection these members make between their airport, community, and when situations arise, the AOPA airport advocacy team.
The ASN program was born out of AOPA’s airport advocacy efforts in 1997 by then President of AOPA, Phil Boyer, and his Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy, Bill Dunn. AOPA staff would take calls of airport closure threats on the day of a city council vote to close an airport (or other nefarious actions) – not much time to make any real impact. The program was announced at the AOPA Expo in the fall of 1997 and volunteers began to immediately sign up. Over the course of the next few years, ASN Volunteers became a force of over 2,500 engaged members at their local airports. “Promote, Protect, and Defend Community Airports” became the motto. The program was a direct link to AOPA staff to help resolve the threat of airport closure, among other pressing issues that put general aviation at risk. There are still over 70 volunteers that have been in the program since 1997, and there are countless stories of positive engagement by volunteers with their communities.
In the 1970s, over 7,500 public-use airports operated in the United States. Today 5,080 exist and of those airports, 3,304 are federally funded by the FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP). These airports are also known as NPIAS (National Plan of Integrated Airport System) airports and have FAA grant assurances or “grant obligations” in place to protect their vitality. For a NPIAS airport to close, there is a dramatic and often very bureaucratic process to closure, and generally is an unattainable feat by the airport sponsor (city, county, township, or authority) to make it a reality – although it does and can happen. Just because an airport has grant assurances, it does not mean it is immune to threat.
ASN Volunteers are a key resource because they are connected to the local airport governance system. Knowing what is at play in local politics is information that can return 100-fold for advocacy efforts. AOPA equips ASN Volunteers with information that has literally been a lifetime in the making, airport governance, media outreach, event planning, community planning, airport operations and funding, airport support groups, and the list goes on. This information is readily available online to our volunteers, but the AOPA staff of regional managers are always engaging at the local level to deliver strategy and insight on specific issues.
A few years ago, under the direction of Mark Baker, AOPA’s current President, the ASN program was revitalized with support to actively recruit new ASN Volunteers. AOPA’s airport and state advocacy team began a refresh of the ASN program. The ASN “Board of Advisors” were reinstated, and Euel Kinsey, a volunteer for Detroit City Airport, now chairs that body. The website was streamlined to make information easily accessible, the process of nominating and appointing volunteers became more efficient, newsletters have increased communications, and a web-based training course is now required for all new ASN Volunteers. Recruiting efforts have now raised the volunteer force to nearly 2,000 active members across the country engaged at their local airports. These airports are primarily public-owned/public-use airports, but AOPA will appoint volunteers at private airports too.
AOPA ASN Volunteers have made credible, positive impacts at airports large and small over the last 25 years, halting closure threats, maintaining GA facilities on an airport, or being the driving force behind the establishment of an airport support group.
What does it take to become an ASN Volunteer? AOPA requires that you be a current AOPA member, be willing to communicate with AOPA staff via email or phone, agree to the conditions of appointment (which is a written agreement), and complete a short online training course. To nominate someone, or even yourself, visit aopa.org/asn.
Now more about the 25th anniversary. AOPA regional managers across all seven (7) regions are planning ASN specific events. For the Great Lakes Region, a townhall-style gathering is being planned at Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio in May of 2022. Other events are being planned across the country including Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in Wisconsin, and the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. If this gets you thinking about airport advocacy and what you can do for your community in a meaningful way, please visit aopa.org/asn for more insights and to access the nomination form (email@example.com).