Following up on some of the comments in this thread, Airliners International 2014 (by crownvic Jul 6 2014 in Aviation Hobby)
, I put together some thoughts on the shortcomings of the World Airline Historical Society and their annual Airliners International conventions. I have attended and enjoyed many of the AI
and regional shows over the years but have regrettably become convinced that the WAHS needs an infusion of new thinking and new business practices before it fades into obscurity. It would be helpful to get feedback on the thoughts listed below.
I’ve belonged to WAHS since 1981, when it was the only outlet for the airliner enthusiast. Kalmbach’s short-lived Airliners International magazine folded in 1974 and Airliners and Airways were years in the future. As the airliner enthusiast community has grown, however, WAHS has declined to where it is down to just over 300 members. There are several shortcomings with the current way WAHS operates. Each of these issues is related to the decline of WAHS membership and I will discuss them in turn.
WAHS Website and the digital “Capitan’s Log”
First of all, the WAHS website needs to have a real "members only" page. Once a member signs in with a username/password combination, they should be presented with links to every available digital Captains Log, an archive of board meeting minutes and the “flight exchange” listings. Members should not have to fill out that stupid questionnaire every time they want to download an issue, and the current site only has 2 issues to choose from. There should be an archive to get electronic versions of prior issues. Giving members this kind of online access would add value to the membership at little cost.
And if WAHS really wants to reduce printing and mailing costs, they should consider offering a reduced rate membership option for members who agree to only get the electronic issue of the Log. The National Railway Historical Society-Central Coast Chapter's dues are cut in half if you agree to forgo the printed newsletter and get the online version instead; many members do this. I also question if giving a free download to non-members is the way to go, perhaps they should just post some sample pages to show what the publication looks like.
WAHS needs to find a new printer. Currently, if a member wants a printed copy of the full-color Log, they must pay a total of $80 for four issues. For half that amount, I can get four printed issues of SP
Trainline, the journal of the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society which is printed on high quality glossy paper with color photos as appropriate. (Obviously older historical photos are in b&w.) Order one for yourself at http://www.sphtsstore.org/servlet/the-375/Trainline-Issue-115/Detail
and see why I'd rather get this instead of a printed Captain's Log.
Adopting a poor “dba” name for WAHS
I recently read the WAHS board meeting minutes from the LAX
convention (since removed from website) which contains interesting tidbits such as "Membership numbers are decreasing which will be straining our operating budget" and "As of July 7, 2014, WAHS had 335 current members of which 57 are non-dues paying Life Members." Unfortunately, as membership declined, WAHS got side tracked and adopted the ill-advised dba name of “Airliners International Association.” The rationale for doing this was to somehow attract more new members to WAHS. The fact that membership continues to decline reinforces my long-term contention that going off on a tangent and adopting this ill-advised dba name was beyond a waste of time. In fact, it was actually counterproductive by causing the board to “take their eye off the ball” and not address the real reason membership is dropping off, which is an exclusive emphasis on collecting at the expense of being a true “historical society” as discussed below.
I’ve been around long enough to recall the discussion decades ago to adopt the name WAHS to replace founder Paul Collins’ original “World Airline Hobby Club” name. I supported this, feeling that the WAHS name would result in the organization being taken more seriously by other aviation historians and the general public. In contrast, “AIA” is a stupid and counterproductive name. You have to be in the “in-crowd” to know what “Airliners International” is. Exactly how is that supposed to attract new blood? On the other hand, “World Airline Historical Society” lets people know that the group is somewhat related to airline history, at least in theory.
Airliners International business model
2011 at PDX
was the first AI
that I have attended since 2004 and I couldn’t help noticing the drop off in the number of vendor tables during the intervening 7 years. Although external factors like the growth of online auctions are involved, much of this has to do with the way the show is presented each year. Specifically, I’ve felt for at least 15 years that AI
needs to change from a Friday/Saturday schedule to a Saturday/Sunday schedule in order to maximize exposure to the general public.
Stubbornly sticking to a Friday/Saturday schedule sends a message that AI
is run for the in-crowd of die-hard collectors and that the accommodating the general public is a secondary concern. A few years back, I was told of a family that saw a Saturday local news item about AI
, only to be disappointed to show up the following day to be told the show is over. And the organizers of the Newark show in 2010 had a huge publicity coup because Robert Hager was broadcasting live from the show on Saturday morning, but locals who saw his reports had only an hour or two to get there before the show closed. If the show had run until Sunday afternoon, more locals would have attended. This squanders any publicity they get and alienates potential visitors.
1999 in STL
was an example of a show where the organizers really dropped the ball on local promotion. After a dead Friday with only the regulars, I was hoping for strong local turnout Saturday so I could sell Airways magazine (to which all the regulars subscribe). Unfortunately, Saturday was as dead as Friday with no locals.
I brought this up at a business meeting at the time, but nobody cared. “We’ve always done it this way” and “people want to have Sunday as a travel day” were objections to my proposal to try a Saturday/Sunday show. It’s too bad AI
/WAHS refuses to consider changing this practice, doing so would make the show more attractive to new people.
What is the purpose of WAHS?
WAHS never outgrew its “Hobby Club” origins. Except for one brief article in each Captain’s Log, WAHS focuses exclusively on collecting. The last two issues have done away with the history article altogether and exclusively focus on collecting. All of the serious airline memorabilia collectors are already aware of WAHS but there is little incentive for non-collectors to join. And there is a big disconnect between Captain’s Log editorials about a need to appeal to new members and the refusal to consider changes to the way the group does business.
An exclusive emphasis on collecting limits the appeal of WAHS. In the past 25 years, other outlets catering to airline enthusiasts have grown and prospered while WAHS membership declined. First we had the growth of airline hobby magazines such as Airliners, Airways and Airliner World in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Then, as the internet became popular, we saw the rise of airchive.com, airliners.net, jetphotos.net, flickr, wikepedia and countless other outlets for airliner aficionados to obtain information. Hard-core collectors are a small subset of the large and growing group of airliner enthusiasts.
And despite the fact that the Captain’s Log emphasizes collecting, it misses/ignores trends therein. For example, as airlines have cut back on distributing collectible promotional items, many collectors have shifted to other priorities such as the scale diecast metal airliner replicas made by GeminiJets and others. When you visit an airliner show, these little models are all over the place, but they are not discussed in the Log. What good is a collecting magazine that ignores trends in its area of expertise? If you rely only on the Captain’s Log for news of airline collectibles, you’d miss out on the diecast model craze.
This is just one long-term member’s perspective on this organization’s decline, offered in hopes of initiating a discussion to provide some helpful suggestions to get WAHS focused on evolving into a true historical society. If readers would like to share any thoughts with the WAHS board, their contact information is here: http://www.wahsonline.com/members_only.php