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Locust Point Resident Hopes Airport-Themed Cable TV Show Takes Off

Air Fare America's Andrea Vernot and Middle River Aviation's Kevin Walsh
Air Fare America's Andrea Vernot and Middle River Aviation's Kevin Walsh - Steve Ruark
Andrea Vernot was kayaking with her husband Brent one beautiful Sunday morning in June on the Eastern Shore’s Transquaking River when the light bulb went off.

The calm was broken by the sound of a single-engine, two-seater propeller airplane flying above. Vernot thought of the pilot flying into the Cambridge-Dorchester Airport and what he would eat when he lands. Once there, he would likely dig into fried oysters and award-winning crab cakes at Kay’s at the Airport.

Small airports. Small planes. Small plates. Stir the four ingredients to create a web and cable TV show highlighting the food finds, museums and other attractions at these general-aviation airports, which don’t receive commercial passengers. There are 2,560 of them in the US and 36 in Maryland, according to trade group Airlines for America. And unless you are one of the nation's 600,000 pilots or live in the vicinity, you probably haven't heard of businesses like Kay's.

“They’re these little bastions of local culture and people don’t know that they exist,” Vernot, 49, says animatedly over a glass of house Cabernet at the Wine Market Bistro in her Locust Point neighborhood. 

Since that quiet day on the water, the former marketing executive now has a logo, website and production company for Air Fare America. She has teamed up with Washington, D.C., media production firm Interface Media Group (IMG), which has crafted shows for HBO, the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel.

Vernot’s passion for the idea is what drew IMG, says its Emmy Award-winning Executive Producer Joel Westbrook. He says he believes the show can find an audience because it offers a new format for the viewer by combining food, travel and “pickers” – industry speak for programs like “Antiques Roadshow” that highlight hidden treasures. 

“We’re not inventing something new. We’re taking three things and putting them together,” Westbrook says.

The show would highlight restaurants like Sugar Buns Airport Café and Bakery at the Easton Municipal Airport, which serves 17 varieties of eggs Benedict. Or the 250-seat, fine-dining restaurant Nick’s Airport Inn at Hagerstown Regional Airport, owned by three generations of the Giannaris family for 50 years.

There’s also the Cliffhanger Café at Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla, Calif., where diners can eat an Acapulco Wind sandwich while watching paragliders and airplanes from atop the sea cliffs. Not all the airports have restaurants, but they hold other attractions. A tenant at the Easton Municipal Airport holds a museum-quality collection of 22 vintage airplanes and nine vintage cars.

“They’re destinations in and of themselves,” Vernot says.

But can this idea become a successful TV show?

Developing new cable shows is a fiercely competitive process and creators need to home in on the demographic they want to target, says Hugo Soskin, an independent New York producer who has crafted shows for the History Channel, A&E, PBS and MSNBC. History, for instance, is targeting men in their 30s with adventure shows like “Ice Road Truckers.”

“The great idea will work and will be snapped up,” Soskin says. What cable executives want to see is an idea that can turn into a formula that can be replicated.

"The same basic thing is going to happen each time” for a show to be successful, Soskin says.

Still, he thinks Air Fare America has the potential to be an offbeat show with a “cool host” who is also an aviation freak, flying in a small plane in search of aviation treasures.

The show will, in fact, have three hosts: a flier, a finder and a foodie. Westbrook says he has had initial meetings with three cable channels, whom he declined to name, and is now crafting a more formal pitch to take to them. Westbrook is working with friend and director Joe Becker to put together a fully developed website and proposal materials to take to different TV outlets and investors. He imagines it would take $1 million to produce the show in its first year."The same basic thing is going to happen each time” for a show to be successful," - Hugo Soskin, New York producer.

Kay Rhea, owner of Kay’s at the Airport, said she herself was surprised at the business the airport gets until she moved her restaurant there seven years ago in response to an airport bid. “When the weather is good, business is unbelievable.”

The first year was a struggle until word got out about her crab cakes, which won the People’s Choice Award in the 2011 Taste of Cambridge Crab Cook-Off.

But a TV show could really put her on the radar of more diners who are driving from Baltimore to Ocean City, Rhea says.

“It’s amazing how many people going to the beach have popped in.” Some have been regulars for three years.
BmoreMedia Editor Julekha Dash lives in Ellicott City and is going to learn how to make crepes this weekend. She recently saw  David Gray in concert in Wilmington, Del., and at the Lyric Opera House. 
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