Check Your Comms!

by Kyle Lewis
Regional Manager For Airports and State Advocacy • Great Lakes Region
Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine February/March 2023 Digital Issue

As pilots, we pick up certain lingo, like “Direct To,” “Line Up and Wait,” “Cleared Via,” “Climb or Descend and Maintain,” and my personal favorite, “Unable!”

Phraseology is important, especially when navigating the wide-open blue into congested airspace. Generally, pilots do well at following ATC instructions and communicating into the unknown at non-towered airports across the country.

While this may sound like a diatribe or safety briefing, it is not. If you are a pilot who is also an aircraft owner, chances are you base your aircraft at an airport that is governed by a municipality, county, or township. From time to time, it becomes necessary to communicate with those appointed or elected officials who oversee the day-to-day of the said airport.

“Going Direct” is often the best route. Not only is it the most efficient vector, but it gives you the face-to-face and personal attention that oftentimes addresses the specific issue or situation at hand. While an email is a handy tool, we poke or peck away a few lines in a matter of seconds, and then patiently await a response. That response may never come. I will admit, I have missed a few emails, some not that big of a deal – others, not so much. Inboxes are filled daily with newsletters, sales ads, invites to join a jelly of the month club, or our all-time favorite, the notorious “pick your foreign” prince has money awaiting you if you…just…click…here.

In short-SPAM (not picking on you Austin, Minnesota), email is great, until it’s not!

The youngest generation may disagree, but letter writing is not dead! We are living in the age of abbreviations and emojis. Text message chains are filled with memes that convey messages warped with the usual high sarcasm for a given situation. Who takes the time to pen a letter? AOPA does! It is our preferred method to communicate with an airport governing body, be it local, state, or federal. Just an FYI, the letter is usually not the opening play, but rather the culmination of research, fact-finding, interpretation, and what is in the best interest of our members. At AOPA, we have a well-practiced method of letter writing, but I want to share what you can do, on your own, and still be an effective communicator at your airport.

First, be concise. No matter how “new” you are, attention spans have dwindled. Be it a newspaper story, an email or a letter, the receiver will decide in the first seven seconds if he or she wants to continue paying attention. We don’t dawdle on frequency; don’t in your letters.

There will always be the Who, What, Where, When, and Why. The letter should be personal, but not overly emotional. AOPA understands that in certain situations, there are financial implications, and it is very personal, but emotions can cloud the effectiveness of what is trying to be conveyed to the audience. And as the author, who are you representing? Is it yourself or a larger contingency of airport users? Another question to consider is the audience. Who is it? Is it a city council or an airport board, or a commission? Sometimes the audience needs to be educated on who the who is. Large city councils may have no clue who the (as an example) “Hangar Row 12 Pilots” are.

In your introduction, make it clear so that the city council understands who you are, and why they should care (votes are a good motivator). The next important part of the letter after the introduction is “the ask.” The ask is what the letter is all about. The ask needs to be clear and concise. The ask will be supported by what follows in the letter. It is simply what you or your organization sees as an amicable resolution to the specific issue. Sometimes it’s an easy ask – “Hangar Row 12 Pilots are seeking ramp space to host an airport open house on XYZ date at XYZ time.” Simple, right? Now explain why!

It is so very important to have factual, documented information referenced in your communications to airport management. This is the most important factor in getting your message across. Speculation is a no-go, as is self-defining what you think a certain scenario warrants. Making broad statements like “helicopters in the traffic pattern are unsafe,” is, well, an undocumented perception. Be factual and be able to back up statements. This is your or your organization’s credibility being put in black and white!

What does the purpose of the letter serve? Usually, there is more than one answer here. The letter can be the formal document to go on the record with the governing authority, and a well-presented and drafted letter can be attention-getting. Remember, if it is sent to a public body, it can be subject to public records (hint: it will be!). The letter sitting on an airport manager’s desk is bound to get more attention than an email in a digital inbox. Don’t forget to “cc” other interested parties, as their attention will be turned to getting an answer as well.

The basic steps in a 1,2,3 if you will –
1. Define the issue.
2. Research and factually document your position.
3. Draft a letter with a specific ask (or position), and be polite, clear, and concise.
4. Revise for grammar and effective writing.
5. Prepare for questions.
6. Deliver to the interested parties.

AOPA has a library of resources, located on its website at which also has a very specific resource on letter writing! The context is a “letter to the editor,” but the rules apply the same to help our discussion. AOPA’s Airport Support Network (ASN) Volunteers are encouraged to support their airport in many ways, and effective communications with airport management, local civic leaders, and the public are just a few. Does your local airport have an “AOPA ASN Volunteer?” If not, it could be you! (

This entry was posted in AOPA, AOPA Great Lakes Report, Columns, Columns, Columns, February/March 2023 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.