By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
(View the photo gallery at end of story)
Aviation professionals, supporters, exhibitors and enthusiasts converged at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Marcos April 15–17 for the 33rd Texas Aviation Conference. This year’s conference, which is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division, set an attendance record with 566 registered guests and 67 exhibitors.
The first day conference activities included the 6th Annual Alton Young Memorial Motorcycle Ride, which traveled through a scenic Hill Country route. Alton Young was a former Aviation Division employee and motorcycle enthusiast who passed away in 2010 after an illness. Other activities included a golf tournament, go-kart racing and a get-acquainted reception in the evening.
On Thursday, the morning began with the traditional presentation of colors by the San Marcos Police Department Honor Guard accompanied by a stirring rendition of the National Anthem by Brandon Kobayashi, eighth grader from Owen Goodnight Middle School.
Aviation Division Director Dave Fulton welcomed the guests and introduced the Aviation Advisory Committee members. Before delivering his annual state of the Aviation Division address, he noted that due to a recent health problem, Capt. Gene Cernan, retired U.S. Navy Pilot and NASA Astronaut, was unable to attend the conference and deliver the keynote. Fulton was hopeful he could attend next year’s conference in Conroe, which is near Cernan’ hometown of Houston.
Fulton said, “As I travel around the state, things just keep getting better and better and I think everyone in the room should take a lot of pride in what we’ve accomplished in the last 20 or so years. We had another great year issuing over $116 million in grants (for FY14) for airport improvements. Since 1992, TxDOT has invested over $1.3 billion in general aviation airports in Texas.”
Fulton also noted the continued growth of the Routine Airport Maintenance Program (RAMP), which matches local government grants up to $50,000 for basic improvements such as parking lots, fencing and other irside and landside needs. Two hundred and fifty-five airports participated in the program, nearly all the general aviation airports in Texas.
Fulton then spoke of aviation issues at the state and federal level, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. The current FAA reauthorization became law in 2012 and expires in September 2015.
“We’re hopeful that Congress will get the work done to pass a new bill before the current one expires in September,” said Fulton. “I spent several days in Washington, D.C., recently to let them know our concerns and issues, which include the importance of having a funding program in place by September.”
Another topic Fulton discussed was a new bill called the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which would allow pilots flying recreationally in a wide range of aircraft to no longer need a third class medical certificate. The new bill would allow private pilots to make noncommercial visual flight rules and instrument flight rules flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with up to six seats.
Fulton also noted the issues with unmanned aircraft systems, which since being introduced into the nation’s airspace have presented challenges for both the FAA and aviation community.
Fulton rounded out his morning address by recognizing Stinson Airport (KSSF) in San Antonio for reaching its 100-year in business this year. Located along the historic Mission Trails and near the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, Stinson Municipal Airport is the nation’s second-oldest continuously operating airport. Pointing to the next century for Stinson Municipal Airport, a new air traffic control tower was slated to break ground in late 2014.
Fulton also congratulated Aransas County Airport Manager Gene Johnson for his upcoming retirement and thanked him for his service.
The morning session continued with a presentation on business aviation in Texas by Dr. Dirk Laukien, president and founder of Black Forest Ventures/Galaxy Fixed Base Operations (FBO). Laukien spoke of his aviation background and passion for providing the best customer service for his clients. Galaxy FBO opened in 2014 and is located at Lone Star Executive Airport (KCXO) in Conroe.
The morning session concluded with a presentation from Bill Payne, president, of William E. Payne and Associates Inc. about remote towers. These towers involve the monitoring and controlling of air traffic at low activity airports from a remote facility.
After lunch, conference goers had the choice of attending breakout sessions throughout the afternoon. Breakout sessions topics included:
- successful FBO management
- airport maintenance 101
- airport manager’s roundtable
- improving airport marketing
- managing an airport’s encroachment issues
- airport project development
- RAMP and airport consultant sessions
The second day concluded with the Awards Banquet, which was attended and assisted by TxDOT Executive Director LtGen Joe Weber. One of the highlights was the Texas Aviator of the Year award presented to Jim Schwertner, president and CEO of Schwertner Farms Inc., and former member of the Texas A&M Board of Regents and former chairman of the Texas Aviation Advisory Committee.
“This is truly one of the biggest honors I’ve had in my life,” said Schwertner, who was surprised to receive the award. “People like yourselves who are involved with aviation are very passionate about it, and I’m no different. Every time I go up in the sky, it’s an amazing experience.”
A complete list of award winners is available at the end of this story.
The final morning began with a presentation on the Seguin Auxiliary Field reopening and airport compliance issues. Then Fulton introduced the new president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, Greg Principato, who spoke about his background, the impact of aviation on the country and developments.
The conference concluded with a TxDOT/DOT-FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and listening session.
“Every year we work to provide a wide range of topics that are of current interest to the aviation community,” said Texas A&M Transportation Institute research scientist and co-conference organizer Jeff Borowiec. “The fact that we had record attendance is exciting and bodes well for our future as we continue to grow this conference.”
Next year’s conference is March 9-11 at La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa in Montgomery.
All presentations from the conference are available at http://ttigroups.wpengine.com/conferences/tac15/program.php.
2015 Awards Presentation
Aviation Art Contest Winners:
Category I (Ages 6-9)
1st Place: Ava Liberty Smith, Garden Ridge Elementary, New Braunfels
2nd Place: Haily Zacarias, Dr. Pat Henderson Elementary, San Antonio
3rd Place: Elijah Oestreich, Winnsboro Elementary, Winnsboro
Honorable Mention: Dayna Coates, Dr. Pat Henderson Elementary, San Antonio
Honorable Mention: Celeste Kwi, HJM Elementary, Port Lavaca
Category II (Ages 10-13)
1st Place: Sreeniketan Sai Senapathi, Beckendorff Jr. High, Katy
2nd Place: Avery Pulley, Burnett Jr. High, Wylie
3rd Place: Annie Kingston, Burnett Jr. High, Wylie
Honorable Mention: Alejandro Coronado, Armendariz, El Paso
Category III (Ages 14-17)
1st Place: Chelsey Wen, Jasper High School, Plano
2nd Place: Daniela Saldivar, JB Anderson HS, Laredo
3rd Place: Geanine Dunovan, JB Anderson HS, Laredo
Honorable Mention: Kayla Justiss, Breckenridge HS, Breckenridge
Texas Aviation Awards Winners:
General Aviation Airport Manager of the Year—Clint Goff, Cherokee County Airport
Most Improved Airport of the Year—Hemphill County Airport
General Aviation Airport of the Year—Andrews County Airport
Reliever Airport Manager of the Year—Scott Smith, Lone Star Executive Airport
RAMP Coordinator of the Year—Tim Hertel, Wichita Falls District