By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
It was a milestone gathering of aviation professionals this year as the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division hosted its 30th annual conference. This year’s conference was held at the Moody Gardens Hotel in Galveston as the historic seaside city continued its economic and development resurgence, post-Hurricane Ike.
Nearly 500 people attended the conference, including airport sponsors, TxDOT employees, consultants, contractors and exhibitors. The event was co-sponsored by the Texas Airports Council and the Texas Aviation Association.
Aviation Division Director David Fulton began the conference by welcoming the gathered dignitaries in attendance, including members of the Aviation Advisory Committee. He then introduced Teri Bruner, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Southwest Region Administrator, who spoke about the recently passed FAA reauthorization bill.
Fulton then delivered his annual State of the Aviation Division address.
“Despite the continued economic downturn, the aviation division did about $90 million worth of airport work last year,” said Fulton. “It’s exciting to me to see that we still have the opportunity to implement our programs, and continue to make Texas the best airport system in the nation.”
Fulton also announced recent personnel changes—Greg Miller who replaces the recently departed Scott Gallagher as director of planning and programming, and Molly Lamrouex who replaces Josephine Jarrell as environmental coordinator.
Fulton then addressed the recently passed FAA reauthorization bill.
“After 23 continuing resolutions extending FAA legislation from five years ago, we now have a reauthorization bill,” said Fulton. “Overall we came out good. There was a very slight reduction in money in the four-year act that’s authorized for the airport improvement program. There may be partisanship in Congress, but I believe both sides of the aisle believe in the airport improvement program.”
According to Fulton, the two resolved issues causing the delay in the FAA reauthorization bill were:
1) an amendment to the Wright Amendment, which means that there is a certain distance from that airport beyond which flights are not allowed to go and
2) a resolution on union voting procedures.
Finally, Fulton noted that the non-primary entitlement program will continue with the maximum dollar amount of $150,000.
After Fulton concluded his remarks, he introduced an old friend of the conference: National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) President Henry Ogrodzinski. Henry O. (as he’s affectionately known) delivered his usual enthusiastic message about the background of NASAO, the FAA reauthorization bill and future challenges faced by general aviation. The challenges Henry O. noted include new user fees and the “Ryan Budget,” which could potentially eliminate nearly 6,000 FAA positions.
After his session, Henry O. was presented with a special Career Contribution to Aviation award by Fulton and conference coordinator Becky Vick.
Rounding out the morning session was a presentation from a PHI official on their operations in the Gulf of Mexico, suggestions from TxDOT employees Ed Mayle and Greg Miller on how airports can improve their terminals and entryways, and a presentation by Dr. Russell DeFusco on airport wildlife management.
After lunch, conference goers were invited to attend breakout sessions covering various hot topics in the general aviation community.
“Every year we work to make sure we are covering topics that are important to the general aviation community in Texas,” said conference program organizer and Texas A&M Transportation Institute Research Scientist Jeff Borowiec. “This year we had an aviation issues roundtable session, which was a result of requests taken from last year’s conference evaluations.”
Other topics included a session on the Routine Airport Maintenance Program (RAMP), the airport project development process, airport land acquisition and managing airport real estate.
The day concluded with the annual awards banquet. In her remarks, Vick gave special mention to four-time aviation arts contest winner Ismael Roman.
“This was Ismael’s last year of eligibility for the arts contest,” said Vick. “And he told me in an e-mail that this arts contest has inspired him to study aviation and astronomy. It’s great to see the impact this contest has had on our youth.”
The final day of the conference began with a presentation on airport revenue diversion from FAA Manager Mike Nicely, followed by a talk from City of San Antonio Aviation Director Frank Miller on the value of a statewide aviation association.
Borowiec then concluded the conference by introducing a session that focused on aviation education. Easterwood Airport Director John Happ presented on the James Noel Foundation, and Steve Swartz and Dave Byers updated the conference attendees on the status of aviation educational programs.
“This conference has come to feel like a large family reunion,” said Fulton. “Many of the same people come year after year, and they are very loyal. It’s something we always look forward to.”
2012 TxDOT Aviation Awards
RAMP Coordinator of the Year—Mike Taylor, TxDOT Amarillo District
Reliever Airport Manager of the Year—Joel Jenkinson, Addison Airport
General Aviation Airport Manager of the Year—Vinicio (Lenny) Llerena, New Braunfels Municipal Airport
Most Improved Airport of the Year—Van Zandt County Regional Airport
Airport of the Year—Uvalde Garner Field Municipal Airport
2012 Aviation Art Contest Award Winners
Category 1: Ages 6 to 9 Years
1st place: Alana Lester, San Antonio
2nd place: Madison Applegate, Kingwood
3rd place: Vijeta Revankar, Seabrook
Category 2: Ages 10 to 13 Years
1st place: Victor Trevino, Groves
2nd place: James Robles, El Paso
3rd place: Emily Merlau, Cedar Hill
Category 3: Ages 14 to 17
1st place: Brianna Salinas, Port Lavaca
2nd place: Lacey Worley, Commerce
3rd place: Ismael Roman, Amarillo (also won 2nd place nationally)