By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
The continued economic resurgence and hotbed issues such as impacts of the sequester brought out a record crowd for this year’s 31st annual Texas Aviation Conference. The conference was held May 13-15 at the Austin Hilton.
Over 500 people attended the conference, which was hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division. The number represented an increase in participants of 60 from 2012 and 73 from 2011. Conference participants included airport sponsors, TxDOT employees, consultants, contractors and exhibitors.
The conference began with a stirring rendition of the national anthem performed by the Hillsiders quartet. The performance was in remembrance of former Aviation Division (AVN) employee Alton Young, who passed away on January 31, 2010 after a lengthy illness. Young performed with the quartet and for several years sang the National Anthem to open the conference. The Alton Young Memorial Motorcycle Ride, sponsored by Brannon Corp, is also an annual conference event to honor Young’s legacy.
After introducing the Aviation Advisory Committee and welcoming the gathered dignitaries in attendance, AVN Director David Fulton began the conference with his annual State of the Aviation address. In his address, Fulton noted that the past year was a good one for their aviation program.
“During the last year, we issued $150 million in grants for our airport improvement program,” said Fulton. “Since 1992, right after the formation of our division, we’ve invested $1.15 billion in federal and state funds to general aviation (GA) airports in Texas.”
Fulton also noted the growth of the Routine Airport Maintenance Program, which in 2012 invested approximately $7 million into preventative maintenance and other improvements at GA airports. Looking forward, Fulton explained that they are beginning the 2nd year of a four-year Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization program.
“What’s of primary interest in that (FAA reauthorization bill) is the airport improvement grant program,” said Fulton. “It did decline about four percent during the recession, so it wasn’t too much of a decrease. The good news is that we’ve been ahead of the game because of the stimulus program, and were able to use that money for airport projects.”
Fulton rounded out his address by discussing the recently enacted sequestration. He noted that while sequestration did not affect the grant program, it did pose a serious risk to the contract tower program.
“To meet their four percent budget cut required by sequestration, the FAA initially decided to furlough most of their employees for 1-2 days a month and close 75 percent of the contract towers in America,” said Fulton. “We were slated to lose 14 contract towers in Texas, three of which provided commercial service. In an unexpected move, Governor Perry asked the Transportation Commission to investigate options to keep the towers open. Once the Commission received the letter from the Governor, they called a special meeting to discuss options on keeping the towers operating on a temporary basis. Obviously I was delighted and pleased.”
Fulton noted that the following day USA Today ran a front page story on the potential tower closures, and then the FAA postponed the tower closings until June 15, which was eventually moved to the remainder of the fiscal year 2013.
“I’m optimistic that we are done fighting this battle,” concluded Fulton.
After a morning break, the next presentation was a corporate aviation panel featuring Director of Valero Flight Services and Texas Aviation Advisory Committee member, John White; President and Chief Executive Officer of Schwertner Farms and member of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, Jim Schwertner; and H.E.B Aviation Manager, Marc Miller.
The speakers noted the importance of general aviation to communities in advancing economic growth and also shared their experiences, both good and bad, with smaller airports and advised as to what airport managers can do to provide a positive experience for corporate aviation travelers.
The morning session concluded with a high-energy address from Tony Brigmon, the former Southwest Airlines Ambassador of Fun. Brigmon shared his message of communicating to energize, connecting to engage and cultivating relationships to enrich lives.
After the afternoon breakout sessions, the day concluded with the annual awards banquet, which featured two particularly special awards of note.
The first was the announcement that Plano, Texas, resident Chelsey Wen, age 13, placed 3rd internationally in Category II of the International Aviation Art Competition. Wen placed first in Texas, and 2nd nationally for her artwork. The theme of this year’s contest was “My favorite air sports.”
The second was the Aviator of the Year award won by Len Miller who is 97 years old. During his remarks, Fulton praised Miller for his service to his country, and noted his remarkable career in aviation which began in 1940. During Miller’s career, he flew over 200 types of aircraft and taught over 3,000 students how to fly. In 1980 at the age of 64, he became the manager of Quanah Municipal Airport and in 1996 won our Airport Manager of the Year award. According to his kids, “he went there to retire and is still managing the airport at 97 years old.” Many of Miller’s family were on hand to share in his special moment.
The next morning’s activities began with a presentation from 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 and future challenges faced by general aviation.
The conference concluded with presentations from AVN Division Director of Planning and Programming Greg Miller, and Mike Nicely, Texas Airport Development Office Manager, FAA Southwest Region, explaining airport funding from the state and federal perspectives.
“Every year when planning the conference program, we try to think of topics that are particularly relevant to the current general aviation climate,” said TTI Research Scientist and conference program planner Jeff Borowiec. “Given our record attendance numbers and general mood of the conference, I believe we achieved our goal.” Next year’s Texas Aviation conference will be held in Dallas at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel on April 9-11, 2014.
All presentations from the conference are available at http://ttigroups.wpengine.com/conferences/tac13/program.php.
Aviation Art Contest: “My Favorite Air Sport”
2013 Award Winners
Nathan Boone, Age 7
1st place National Winner
Jessica Zhang, Age 9
Port Lavaca, Texas
Alicia Gonzalez, Age 8
Chelsey Wen, Age 13
2nd place National Winner
3rd place International Winner
Avery Hunter, Age 11
Corpus Christi, Texas
Jessica Bang, Age 13
Corpus Christi, Texas
Arianna Lara, Age 12
Nathaniel Powell, Age 17
Michael Hasha, Age 17
Alexis Lozano, Age 14
Eli Reagh, Age 15
Long View, Texas
Emily Hernandez, Age 14
Fort Worth, Texas
Allexia Esquivel, Age 14
2013 Aviation Awards
General Aviation Airport Manager of the Year
Debora Melvin, Airport Manager, South Texas International at Edinburg
Most Improved Airport
Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport
Airport of the Year
New Braunfels Regional Airport
Reliever Airport of the Year
Fort Worth Meacham Airport
RAMP Coordinator of the Year
Wayne Rehnborg, Austin District
Texas Aviator of the Year
Len Miller, Quanah Municipal Airport