Trade-A-Plane the 'Spark Fueling Aviation Dreams'

 - December 20, 2019, 9:46 AM

Trade-A-Plane magazine, a staple for aviators and would-be aviators for more than eight decades, will cease publication after its third December issue, the family-owned publisher Cosby Harrison Co. announced December 4. The publisher is opting instead to move to a strictly online and digital format with Trade-A-Plane and two other magazines targeted at the heavy construction and oil-and-gas industries. 

“The biggest decision behind it, as with everything, is cost,” Cosby Harrison CEO Adam Strachn told AIN. “While it’s a sad thing, because it’s been such a mainstay—you see them lying around FBOs everywhere—this is not a bad thing as far as we are concerned. We are very excited about what we can do, how we can continue to help our customers…and do it in a new way and continue to innovate within the aviation marketplace, itself.”

While the economics of printing Trade-A-Plane were difficult, it’s hard to argue its intangible value to readers over the years who found the magazine more than just a way to find their next new airplane or hard-to-find part or service. For many, the magazine was a stepping stone for those who dreamed of flying or finding a way to make a living in an industry they loved. 

First published in 1937 by the company’s namesake, and Strachn’s great-grandfather, after he couldn’t find parts to repair his crashed airplane, Trade-A-Plane magazine served as a shopper of sorts for the general aviation community, featuring classified sales ads of aircraft, parts, and aviation services. Until late 2017, the magazine was published in-house at Cosby Harrison’s offices in Crossville, Tennessee, with printing equipment that was well beyond its useful life, Strachn said.

But even with the move to outsource printing, other influences were driving leaders toward ending the print publication in favor of the online and digital format, where Trade-A-Plane’s audience is increasingly going. In at least two examples, the company was losing classified print ads to its website. In one instance, Strachn said, a seller listed his Diamond DA-40NG for sale on Trade-A-Plane’s website at noon on Friday, and by 6 p.m. that day he sold it, later canceling his print ad. In another example, a seller called in an online and print sales listing on Friday afternoon, made a sale on Saturday, and canceled the print ad the following Monday. “So really the driving factor in the cessation of print was that our website was just so darn successful,” Strachn explained, adding that it attracts millions of page views and visitors.

That phenomenon, combined with the cost of printing, led to the ending of Trade-A-Plane as a print magazine. “The print was of such a massive expense that we have the ability to be a lot more profitable on the other side of it,” Strachn said. And with it will come an investment in beefing up its digital offerings, including adding what he called a “true shopping cart” function on its marketplace that will allow users to buy multiple products from a variety of vendors at the same time, as well as a revamped website that will be more user-friendly and have improved functionality. “If the whole goal of what we do is to connect buyers and sellers of anything in the aviation community, we can do it a lot better, faster and more efficiently for everyone from a digital platform than we could in print,” he said.

But the big question is whether an all-digital Trade-A-Plane will have the same effect it enjoyed as a print magazine. That is, for some, Trade-A-Plane magazine was a sort of Sears Christmas Wish Book. Through paper and ink, it provided an outlet for users to dream about owning an airplane and for non-aviators to entertain the idea of learning to fly or starting a career in aviation.

For Lou Churchville, then-manager of audio-visual services for the Peace Corps, Trade-A-Plane was the inducement to a long aviation career as a commercial pilot and corporate marketer. The day Churchville, by then a private pilot with joint ownership in a Taylorcraft BC-12 taildragger, received his second-class medical, “I immediately started thinking this is what I want to do,” he told AIN. “I can fly commercially. I’ll figure out a way to do it.”

One day while reading a copy of Trade-A-Plane on his lunch hour at the Peace Corps, he spotted an ad for Fred Ayres’s crop dusting school in Georgia. But Churchville couldn’t afford the cost to attend Ayres’s school. He could, however, put together a promotional film for the school at cost in return for getting his commercial license. “And [Ayres] said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good deal,’” Churchville said. “So we did that deal on a handshake.”

That arrangement was the springboard for an aviation career that included flying charters and sales demos, as well as working as a test pilot for several companies where he also served as a marketing and sales executive, including Page Beechcraft, Page Avjet, Signature Flight Support, and Max-Viz.

“The portal of all this dream fulfillment was Trade-A-Plane and that display ad,” he said. “Absolutely that was the moment that had a major impact on my life.”

Over the years, Strachn, too, has heard stories of how his family’s magazine changed the lives of readers. The one that sticks out to him most is a story recounted to him while attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A reader of the magazine told Strachn that years earlier he was an airframe and powerplant mechanic in the Air Force who was preparing to leave the service. Strachn said the mechanic wasn’t sure what he was going to do after his service. But his crew chief tossed him a copy of Trade-A-Plane, where the man found a listing for a biplane air tour service in Hawaii for sale.

“He went down there, bought the company, and has been giving tours ever since,” Strachn said. “Whenever somebody comes up like the gentleman I spoke to at Oshkosh, ‘Hey I was rolling out of the Air force, flipping through your magazine and it fundamentally altered my life,’ stuff like that makes us feel good. Even down to, ‘Hey I found my first airplane in your-all’s magazine,’ you get excited when you hear people say, 'Your magazine had an impact on my life.'”

As a long-time Trade-A-Plane employee, senior marketing consultant Michelle Graham put it in an e-mail to AIN: “Trade-A-Plane is the spark that fuels the fire of an aviation dream to reality for so many individuals. And to play a small part in that is rewarding.”