Once the exclusive domain of tech geeks and ultra-serious computer gamers, online forums are now mainstream information sources for many people. Airport operators and personnel, in fact, have multiple industry-specific sites at their disposal.
Wondering about the new drone reporting requirements? Confused about the fire ratings for aboveground fuel storage tanks? Check out myairportoperations.com.
Curious about the effects of various deicing products on aircraft and airfield infrastructure? Need advice on scheduling snowplow operators? Consult fieldmaintenanceforum.com.
Project: Online Forums
Primary Objective: Facilitate peer-to-peer communication about airport operation issues
Website Address: myairportoperations.com
Founder: Glen Barentine, interim airport director at Hot Springs (AR) Airport
Website Address: fieldmaintenanceforum.com
Founder: Jeff McNally, field maintenance supervisor at Gerald R. Ford Int'l Airport in Grand Rapids, MI
Sample Topics: Part 139 issues; general maintenance; training; FAA bulletins; security; wildlife management; snow removal; etc.
Both websites were developed by industry insiders to help save their peers time and money. Airport operators and personnel looking for information on a variety of topics can post questions online and then check back for answers as their schedules allow-dramatically decreasing phone tag with multiple government agencies and other airport professionals. Neither website is associated with its founder's airport, and both developers/operators donate their personal time and resources to provide the online forums.
Glen Barentine, airport director at Hot Springs Airport (HOT) in Arkansas, launched myairportoperations.com in 2009. "There were no other organizations that offered a place where I could just ask a question. And that industry gap needed to be filled," explains Barentine. "We needed a place where people could go and openly ask questions. So I utilized the resources I had with airports over the years and decided to start the website so we could all pool our knowledge."
After spending about $2,000 to build the website, Barentine announced its launch via Facebook and leveraged a variety of social media platforms to invite industry contacts to visit the site. "I used all the social media I could get into," he recalls. "And when I attended any AAAE or FAA training, I always handed out cards."
Activity was slow at first but spiked just before the industry-wide deadline for submitting FAA-required emergency plans. Wanting to help other airport operators, Barentine posted the template he used to create HOT's plan on myairportoperations.com. "We got hit after hit after hit from people asking to use the template," he recalls. "Posting that template was a real good example of airports helping airports. The website really exploded after that."
Like Barentine, Jeff McNally was similarly inspired to facilitate the exchange of ideas among airport insiders. As field maintenance supervisor at Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, MI, McNally was surprised how difficult it could be to find answers to some of his questions. So three years ago, he launched fieldmaintenanceforum.com with help from his wife, daughter and a co-worker's son.
McNally developed a list of potential users from business cards he had collected throughout the years (Millennials: Google "Rolodex" for historical context) and was surprised by how quickly people responded when he personally invited them to try the online forum. "It hit people square in the face that this was something different and something special," he recalls.
Subpages on the websites include Part 139 issues, general maintenance, training and FAA bulletins about security, wildlife, snow removal and equipment. "A lot of the drop-down box ideas came from talking with staff and operations personnel," McNally says. "We wanted to give people certain categories that we found the most problematic or informative."
While U.S. issues dominate both of the online forums, each website has an international following as well. Barentine recalls one member of myairportoperations.com asking for ideas about how to keep coyotes off airport property. A man in India, who had a similar problem with jackals, shared his success in using human hair clippings obtained from a local barbershop.
Part 139 issues generate the most posts on myairportoperations.com, followed by maintenance and training. "The broadness of the 139 regulations is what attracts a lot of people [to the website]," reasons Barentine. "Advisory circulars don't give you solutions. They just tell you how things are supposed to be."
He offers driver training as an example. Regulations require that anyone who drives a vehicle in aircraft operating areas needs to be versed in all requirements about the specially designated real estate. "But there's nothing in the rules and regulations that tells you how to accomplish that," he emphasizes. "They just say everyone has to be trained every 12 months."
After Barentine posted comments about the issue, numerous airports chimed in with descriptions of training programs they had already implemented. Suggestions ranged from simple safety videos to more complex, multi-format initiatives.
McNally reports that snow removal is the top issue on fieldmaintenanceforum.com. "Here in Grand Rapids, we're Snow Belt, and people talk about snow removal and the challenges it creates," he comments. "This is the one issue that certainly impacts the bottom line of many airports."
While both founders personally financed the development and launch of their online ventures, Barentine offsets some of his ongoing costs with advertising by two industry businesses, Sightline and Flex-O-Lite. McNally is currently preparing to do the same.
To date, all postings on the forums have been positive, constructive and informative, report the founders. Each reviews the comments posted on his respective site, and neither has had to remove any material. "We monitor it very well and we put in disclaimers," says McNally. "It's never gone down the road where we've had to get involved."
Initial interest in fieldmaintenanceforum.com was strong, but traffic slowed after two years. After consulting numerous website developers, McNally is updating the site to make it more intuitive. "Visually, it was good, but from a user-friendly standpoint, it needed help," he remarks. "It just wasn't user-friendly enough to get people to come back to it again and again."
Refinements aside, McNally is excited about the online forum's future, because he feels that it provides a format that will prove useful long after the details of specific postings and discussion topics change. "I wanted something that would never fade away in terms of opportunities for information exchange," he relates. "I went forward with the thought that there are people out there that can make my job a whole lot easier and there are things that I can provide other people that can probably be valuable to them as well. And that's the whole idea behind the forum."