Attendees Treated to Memorable Keynote, Full Schedule of Events
By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Over 550 aviation professionals, supporters, exhibitors and enthusiasts converged at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Marcos April 19-21 for the 35th Texas Aviation Conference. The conference is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division (AVN).
This year’s conference was highlighted by keynote speaker Marcus Luttrell, a former United States Navy SEAL, who received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions in June 2005 against Taliban fighters during Operation Red Wing. In Operation Red Wings, his four-man Special Reconnaissance team was discovered by local herdsmen, subsequently ambushed, and all killed except Luttrell.
The first day conference activities included the 8th 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 and a get-acquainted reception in the evening.
After the presentation of colors, by Texas State University AFROTC Honor Guard, and National Anthem which was sung by San Marcos High School student Happy Davis, TxDOT Aviation Director David Fulton began the conference by introducing the members of the TxDOT Aviation Advisory Committee and Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin, who welcomed attendees to the conference.
Randy Loveless from the Federal Aviation Association’s San Antonio Flight Standards District Office then presented Fulton with a surprise award; the prestigious FAA Master Pilot Award.
“There’s very few of us that will ever achieve this honor,” noted Loveless. “And it’s hard to find a more qualified individual than Dave Fulton.”
Fulton followed the award presentation with his annual State of the Aviation Division address.
“Thank you for all you have done to make the Texas aviation system the finest in the country,” said Fulton. “The biggest challenge for us in the past 3.5 years has been the loss of discretionary funding. Through the efforts of a lot of people though, we have got that back on track.”
Zane Lambert, Manager of Aircraft Operations for Sanderson Farms, Inc. then gave a business aviation in Texas presentation. During his presentation Lambert noted “In the time it takes for our employees to even get to the closest commercial airport, we can have them onsite using our own aircraft. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power and spreadsheets to realize that having the aircraft is a benefit.”
Luttrell’s keynote finished out the morning’s activities.
After lunch, attendees had the opportunity to attend a session presented by FAA’s Texas Airport District Office Manager, Ben Guttery, and TxDOT Aviation Division’s Director of Planning and Programming, Greg Miller, which pertained to programming of airport development projects. Following the project programming session, attendees had their choice of breakout sessions. Various topics included an airport manager’s roundtable, pavement and vegetation management, digital NOTAMs, airport self-sufficiency, and a RAMP session with interim RAMP manager Amy Slaughter.
Day one concluded with the annual awards banquet.
The final morning began with an airport compliance session led by TxDOT Aviation’s Wade Troth and Gary Loftus of the Safety and Standards Branch of the FAA’s Southwest Region. NASAO President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Kimberling then provided a Washington update on legislative and policy matters including the upcoming FAA Reauthorization. The conference concluded with a TxDOT/FAA Listening Session with Dave Fulton and Ben Guttery the recently named manager of the FAA’s Texas Airports District Office.
“This conference provides an opportunity for many of our airport sponsors to meet with TxDOT Aviation Division employees face-to-face,” said Texas A&M Transportation Institute Research Scientist and co-conference coordinator Jeff Borowiec. “There are many critical issues with infrastructure and funding that need to be addressed and that face time along with the session topics are hopefully a constructive use of their time.”