The Liberty Gazette
November 29, 2016Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: While pumping gas in my nondescript sedan an old green pickup truck drove by. Not just old, but beautifully restored, a classic Ford that caught the eye of most everyone filling their tanks, all of us watching it as it turned the corner. To me, the sign on the side of the truck held even more significance: Dunham Field. That’s an airport in Crosby, privately owned but open to the public. It doesn’t boast long paved runways, but does offer fuel, and aircraft hangars in an area where they are in short supply. Few people other than the locals and some of the pilots based there would know of its existence except for that truck, the airport’s small budget marketing tool.
Marketing is important for any business, public or private. Good airport managers know fuel prices are the tip of the iceberg when attracting business, and good service keeps customers coming back. Many choose a marketing strategy through social media, continuously getting their airport out there in front of the public with information updates and interesting trivia.
We selected our fuel stop on the way to an air race in South Carolina because Kim Scarbrough, the conspicuously pro-active airport manager for Clarke County Airport in Quitman, Mississippi, heavily markets the airport among the flying community. Kim asks for a photo shoot of visitors with their plane and posts the photos on the airport’s Facebook page and on the airport Wall of Fame in the terminal.
Clarke County Airport does not offer self-service fuel pumps, rather, it is assisted service, and prices are competitive so pilots will detour a bit to save a few dollars. Normal business hours end at 5:00 pm but since Kim and her family live on airport property, as Jose and Debbie Doblado did here in Liberty, with few exceptions they can accommodate later flyers. We called ahead when we left South Carolina, knowing we’d be later than 5:00 and were met by Kim’s husband Tim, with a pleasant conversation as he helped us fuel.
Another airport we frequent is Benson Municipal Airport in Arizona. Roy Jones has a different way of making an impression. He, too, lives on airport property and provides the fueling services, but Roy gives discounts if you share a clean joke, something he isn’t afraid to tell around his five children. He takes a personal interest in each person who passes through and makes every attempt to meet their needs.
We wrote recently about Garth Baker, the manager of the Jerome County Airport in Idaho, who, similarly to Kim Scarbrough, provides a friendly face and lends a hand not only when people land at the airport, but promotes the airport with such class that aviators naturally want to stop in and meet him.
The right marketing attracts the attention of the flying public, reaching the goals and fulfilling the purpose of having an airport - a community asset that serves its own by being part of the pulse of life, bringing people, goods, and services to and from the community. For that reason, the face of the airport, the person who greets pilots and passengers, is the heartbeat of the community’s front door. Jose and Debbie were that heartbeat here in Liberty. Note the above examples are small community airports with small budgets. It’s past time for Liberty to bring heart back to the community, and put the welcome mat out again.