formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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March 27, 2012 Fullerton-the little airport that could

The Liberty Gazette
March 27, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: “People come out to the airport all the time telling me about how when they retire they can spend more time here,” says Bill Griggs, owner of AFI Flight Training in sunny Southern California. “I tell them I’ve been doing that for over 40 years now and get paid to hang out here,” he says with a big grin. Bill opened up his flight school in 1967 and has been going strong ever since.

“When I started this business I did a lot of homework,” Bill continues. “I looked at all the airports around Southern California and talked with all the flight schools and figured out what worked and what didn’t. I finally decided on this airport and put together a plan. And it’s worked all these years.” Bill and his son, Bill Jr. still operate AFI where thousands of pilots have learned to fly.

AFI Flight Training, derived from the company’s original name, Aviation Facilities, Inc., is located at Fullerton Municipal Airport which boasts a single runway, 3,100 feet long. That’s 700 feet shorter than Liberty’s airport. 600 airplanes call Fullerton home and it is one of the busiest single-runway general aviation airports in the world, in the middle of some of the most complex and congested airspace in the world, sitting amongst the busy airspace of Santa Ana–John Wayne, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Ontario International airports. When Bill started AFI, Fullerton was just a sleepy little airport out in the corn and strawberry fields. One of the visual checkpoints flying in from over the beach is Knotts’ Berry Farm and to the southwest is the original Disneyland. I did some of my flight training with a flying club at Fullerton in the 1970s and early ‘80s, and took many a checkride from an FAA designated examiner on Bill’s staff, so it was a great pleasure to introduce Linda to Bill while in California a few years ago, and show her the little airport that could, where people came with vision and passion to create success stories.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I’ve wanted for so long,” says Bill. “It hasn’t always been easy work, but I have loved it all and look forward to coming here every day. It’s a passion as much as a career or business. It has to be if you are to survive for very long in this business.”

When I was flying out of Fullerton there were five flight schools and airplane dealers on the field. There are still many fixed base operations there but only AFI has remained with the same owner all this time.

Linda: Vision and passion are big things that touch everything you do, but a successful operator doesn’t overlook the small things. Bill Griggs knows the importance of a clean bathroom for instance. “Some business owners don’t realize how important it is,” he says. “Dirty reflects on you.” An observer of human nature, Bill shared a little-known fact with us: “women are funny – they won’t use up a toilet paper roll. They’ll start a new one before one is finished.”

Bill’s well thought through methods of reward and discipline underscore his understanding of people and the industry in which he works, and every bit of how his business and his life are run is based on Biblical principles, the only true recipe for success.

March 20, 2012 Aviation and Social Media

The Liberty Gazette
March 20, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Tweet! Tweet! It’s not just for birds anymore. On Twitter, one “tweets.” Tweeting is one modern-day method of getting real-time information to a target audience, and it’s done in very small amounts – micro-blogging. Social media has become more than just Facebook, and more than just personal. Businesses using social media have found the new marketing and public relations methods, although carried out through different channels, essentially operate most successfully by employing traditional standards. Experience within the aviation community has funneled the proper use of social media into a couple of categories. Some companies find it best to use Twitter, Facebook, and others for purposes of announcements and deal offers, while others use these real-time electronic methods to obtain feedback from customers, to engage them.

While many companies are still finding their way through the learning curve, what’s certain is the importance of how and what a company chooses to tweet. For one company, opening up the lines of communication with customers by asking for feedback can be (and has been) potentially embarrassing, because once a customer’s has been sent, all subscribers are able to see it. But these methods of communication can also work very well, and the aviation industry is jumping aboard like gangbusters. There’s even a social media boot camp for aviation businesses to hone their skills at reputation management. While some 200 airlines are already using some form of social media, airports and aviation related businesses located on airports – called FBOs – have been more cautious.

The Akron-Canton airport in Ohio was one of the first airports to begin tweeting, and on Valentine’s Day this year their public relations strategies were stellar. I saw several tweets throughout the day as they handed out treats to passengers, and by the end of the day they posted a link on Twitter to a video they’d taken of their innovative ideas and posted on YouTube, and tweeted, “What an amazing V-day at CAK! We gave away 500 cupcakes, 300 carnations, and hundreds of Cinnabons and cups of coffee!” Customers posted messages all day long about the great experience coming to the Akron-Canton Airport, adding to the positive image that airport already enjoys. So for those who “followed” the airport on Twitter, they would have seen messages about sweet treats awaiting them upon arrival.

In last month’s publication “Business Standard” Priyanka Joshi wrote, “Twitter plays a vital role in customer relations and engagement while their customers are at the airport as well as while offering specific deals to targeted users.” In fact, it is estimated that 40 per cent of airlines are expanding their social media teams, bringing in employees from marketing, customer service, e-commerce, corporate communications and other departments.

While electronic social media is still relatively new, successful implementation relies on the core standards and philosophies of traditional marketing and public relations. So while we might think younger employees will be more adept at using social media for marketing, without a good understanding of marketing principles a careless plan, haphazard tweeting, posting, or messaging can be disastrous. The traditional marketing professional knows how to build a successful campaign and only has to learn these new methods of communication.

I enjoy watching the many tweets of airports, FBOs, airlines, aviation writers and consultants and many others in the industry embarking on new media.

March 13, 2012 Beyond the airport fence

The Liberty Gazette
March 13, 2012
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Mike: A small boy presses hard on a bike which from a glance appears too big for him such that he unable to reach the pedals when he sits in the seat. The tree-lined lane he’s traveling is adorned with bushy clumps of grass separating two dirt ruts left by the constant travel of cars. The boy is on a mission, an adventure, having returned to this alluring path, only this time he will go farther, searching and dreaming of what he will find. As he rides onto a portion of the road that is clear of trees, he is startled by a flash of color overhead and the roar of an engine and instinctively ducks his head and rolls off onto the grass on the side of the lane where his bike’s wheels sink into the softer ground and the bike comes to a stop and falls to the side. The young rider tumbles, rolls on the ground and looks off in the direction the startling object has gone.

Jumping to his feet he watches as the airplane makes a smooth climbing turn eventually disappearing behind the trees. The boy remains still, not wanting to move until the engine’s roar is no longer audible, as his mind fills with wonder, who is flying that airplane and where they are going? What does it look like from up there? What does it feel like to fly?

He knows now that what he seeks must be only a short distance more down this lane, and knowing this makes him push harder on the pedals to make the bike go faster. Finally, rounding a corner, there it is: the airport, the very symbol of the gateway to adventure. He had heard there was one here, almost in a mythical sense – nobody in his school really knew for sure. But he has found it. He is the adventurous one willing to search beyond the far horizons to discover, to conquer, to successfully complete his mission.

A short, three-strand wire fence separates a parked truck and car from a little yellow airplane facing away from him and toward the runway. Off to the side around a little building, not much more than a shack, sits another airplane. Sunlight sparkles bright as diamonds through droplets of water as a man hoses dirt off the wings. The young explorer spies a couple of other buildings. From the fence he can see propellers and tails of airplanes parked inside, and his dreams are energized with the idea of flight, flying low over a field, looking out over the horizon a hundred miles or more, where all the world is his to explore. His spirit begins to soar. This is no video game. He has discovered the real thing.

What if there were no airplanes beyond the fence, no roar of an engine as the pilot sets off to far-away places? What if there was no place a boy or girl could go and be inspired? What if children had only TV or computer video games? Would they even seek new horizons or would they become, as Rick Durden asks, "easy prey for the beaten-down adults who tell them to quit dreaming,” to be “content and attuned to just beetling across the surface of life rather than living it fully”?

March 6, 2012 Community Airports

The Liberty Gazette
March 6, 2012

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda:After spending a lot of time with airport executives in the Houston area and beyond we see the results of good and not so good ideas. Airports are complex organizations, each a unique “mirror” of the community it serves requiring competent administration to manage them. First impressions are important and an airport, being the community’s front door, says “welcome,” or otherwise to newcomers.

Just like a business, an airport’s reputation in the local and aviation communities is built by a combination of influences, including policy-makers and tenants of the airport. The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) recognizes that for an airport to be successful policy-makers must understand and balance two dichotomous philosophies: first, that an airport is a public entity and must be managed as such, and second, that the airport is a business enterprise and must be managed as such. The land and buildings of many public-use airports are publicly owned, by a city or county. The aircraft they host are mostly privately owned, whether by individuals or companies, engaging in commerce, while using airspace controlled by federal government regulations. So in reality there are many things about an airport over which its property owner has little or no control.

AAAE also recognizes that airports represent a variety of perspectives to a community, and expects that most citizens recognize the indispensable role of their airport. Professional airport management training educates students that key stakeholders in government positions sometimes use airports for political advantage, often preventing citizens’ participation in decision making related to airport operations and policy. This unfortunate situation should be addressed where ever it is a problem. No citizen of a community should become persona non grata at the whim of a politician.

Mike: While financial self-sufficiency is a goal, publicly owned airports are subject to public administration and subjected to policy decisions by people often far removed from the industry. Ignorance often cripples the host city and its airport. The most productive goal is for a city to recognize the airport as an asset and put it to work to benefit the community, using its entire economic impact to measure success. The inability to understand the unique nature of airports often leads local government agencies to attempt to put their airport into a frame of reference they better understand, such as parks or public utilities. This is where AAAE and the Aviation Division of the Texas Department of Transportation are such valuable resources. TxDOT’s Aviation Division is recognized as one of the best run state aviation divisions in the country. Under Dave Fulton’s leadership for many years, the entire state has benefited from his dedication to aviation and strong advocacy for airports throughout the state, and has set the standard for other states.

TXDOT holds the purse-strings for all the FAA grant money doled out to community airports such as ours so if they know about something that isn’t right they probably won’t be providing the funding. By utilizing TxDOT’s resources we can avoid costly problems before they occur, some of which come about as a result of depending on other so-called “experts” in aviation, and can expect healthy progress that will spell growth for the community.