By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Spreading the word about the importance of business aviation and airport marketing were key topics at the 2014 Texas Aviation Conference. This year’s conference had over 500 attendees, and for the first time in its 32-year history, was held in Dallas. Conference participants included airport sponsors, TxDOT employees, consultants, contractors and exhibitors.
This year’s conference was dedicated to the memory of Henry Ogrodzinski, who passed away on January 22 after a lengthy battle with cancer. “Henry O.,” as friends and colleagues knew him, served as the president of the National Association of State Aviation Officials and was known for his charismatic and informative updates on critical issues facing general aviation.
TxDOT Aviation Division (AVN) Director David Fulton began the conference by welcoming the attendees and then delivering his state of the aviation division address. “This is my favorite event of the year,” said Fulton. “It’s a joy that we can get together and keep working on improving aviation in Texas. As I travel around the state, I marvel at all the wonderful aviation facilities that also enhance economic development opportunities for your communities.”
Fulton noted that in 2013, AVN issued a record number of grants totaling $129 million.
“To me, what is important about that number is what was built with those grants,” noted Fulton. “We continue to see the facilities get better and continue to improve our airport system, which I believe is already the best in the nation.”
Fulton also talked about the Routine Airport Maintenance Program, which matches local government grants up to $50,000 for basic improvements such as parking lots, fencing or other airside and landside needs. Fulton noted that since the program started in 1996, AVN has issued about $65 million in preventative maintenance.
Other topics covered by Fulton included the announcement of TxDOT’s new Executive Director Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, the continued funding of the contract tower program, and a new bill that has been introduced in Congress, H.R. 3708, named the “General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013.” This act would allow pilots to use the driver’s license medical standard for non-commercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats. The act would also require the FAA to report on the safety consequences of the new rule after five years.
Fulton lauded the act noting “there is no empirical evidence for the requirement that an individual obtain an FAA medical for this type of flying operation if they possess a valid state driver’s license and comply with any medical requirements associated with that license.”
After Fulton’s address, the morning session continued with presentations about business aviation in Texas from Brian McCoy, CEO of McCoy’s Building Supply, and Scott Miller, Manager of Aviation Safety for Valero Energy Corporation. The presenters stressed the importance of aviation in conducting business throughout Texas and the world.
“During a period of tremendous growth for our company in the 1980s, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of us having a flight department that enabled us to travel to all the places we needed to visit in a timely manner,” said McCoy. “Every single week, me, my dad and brother, and other members of our management team were traveling and checking on our store operations and meeting customers.”
Rounding out the morning session was the keynote address from John Ansbach about generational dynamics in the workplace.
The afternoon breakout sessions featured various topics of interest to conference attendees including airport compliance issues, an airport manager’s roundtable, the iPLEDGE Safety program and pavement maintenance and management.
The afternoon also featured a session on airport economic development and marketing. During the discussion, the presenters stressed the importance of involving the community with airport activities and shared experiences.
Rob Mark, CommAvia CEO, encouraged the audience to identify key community officials who influence the airport’s operation and work to engage them through social media and onsite events.
“Your airport is part of your community, and it’s important to create awareness, garner industry interest, and support other airport businesses as well as support new airport business growth,” said Mark.
The day concluded with the annual awards banquet. (see sidebars)
The final morning of the conference began with presentations on two topics that have recently garnered headlines throughout the state: the future of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the impacts of oil and gas activities in Texas. The morning sessions also focused on military airspace issues and a TxDOT/DOT-FAA Airport Improvement Program listening session.
“Our main goal when planning the conference is to feature topics that are of relevant and timely interest to our participants,” said Texas A&M Transportation Institute Research Scientist and program organizer Jeff Borowiec. “This year’s conference featured presenters who are on the front lines of many of these issues. I hope our audience enjoyed their time and took away a lot of ideas that will benefit them in the future.”
The presentations from the 2014 Texas Aviation Conference are available online at http://ttigroups.wpengine.com/conferences/tac14/.
Aviation Art Contest Winners:
Category I (Ages 6–9)
1st Place: Kary Xu, HJM School, Port Lavaca
2nd Place: Augustine Su, Bowie Elementary, Dallas
3rd Place: Elijah Oestreich, Winnsboro Elementary, Winnsboro
Honorable Mention: Keira Modkins, Kipp Zanith, Houston
Category II (Ages 10–13)
1st Place: Sreeniketan Sai Senapathi, Katy
2nd Place: Shirley Yu, Robinson Middle School, Plano
3rd Place: Kayla Justiss, Breckenridge Jr. High, Breckenridge
Honorable Mention: Madison Applegate, Kingwood
Category III (Ages 14–17)
1st Place: Chelsey Wen, Jasper High School, Plano
2nd Place: Gabriela Escamilla, Veterans Memorial, Brownsville
3rd Place: Thomas Yu, TX Academy of Math and Science,Plano
Honorable Mention: Ashlynn Harris, Spring Hill, Longview
Honorable Mention: Gage Stone, Lucyle Collins Middle School, Lake Worth
2014 Aviation Award Winners:
General Aviation Airport Manager of the Year: Brandon Cox, Moore County Regional Airport
Most Improved Airport of the Year: Limestone County Airport, Mexia
General Aviation Airport of the Year: Terrell Municipal Airport, Terrell
Reliever Airport Manager of the Year: Cynthia Godfrey, Mesquite Metro Airport
RAMP Coordinator of the Year: Billy Bob Galbreath, San Angelo District
Texas Aviator of the Year: Dr. David Campbell