The second of three consecutive Texas Aviation Conferences in Galveston took place on April 16-18 at Moody Gardens Hotel. The 37th edition of the conference saw aviation professionals, supporters, exhibitors and enthusiasts collaborate and engage in a number of critical general aviation issues. The conference is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division.
The first-day activities included the 10th Annual Alton Young Memorial Motorcycle Ride, which followed along a scenic coastal route. Young was an Aviation Division employee who passed away in 2010. Other opening-day activities included a golf tournament and a get-acquainted reception in the exhibit hall in the evening.
On the second day, the opening session began with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem performed by Jenny Lanier. Then, TxDOT Aviation Division Director David Fulton greeted the attendees and introduced Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell, who welcomed the audience to Galveston and thanked TxDOT for their service and help with improvements to their airport. Fulton then delivered his State of the Division Address.
State of the Division Address
Fulton began his presentation by revisiting the division’s mission statement: Promote, develop, maintain and protect an air transportation infrastructure that provides for the safe and efficient airborne movement of people, goods and services within Texas and provides access to the global air network.
“I think it’s always good to take the time to refocus on what we’re really trying to achieve,” said Fulton. “Our job is to work with each of you to develop and maintain your airports to meet your air transportation needs. It’s an important job as it may have an impact on the economic health of your area.”
Fulton then spoke about airport improvement grant funding.
“Our job is getting harder every day as the level of funding has not changed for a long time while the cost of construction has continued to rise,” noted Fulton. “Anyone who has taken on an airport improvement project in the last few years is well aware of that fact.”
According to Fulton, for fiscal year (FY) 2018 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding was a total of $60,710,492 million, while State Airport Improvement funding was a total of $19,175.710. The total airport grant funding for FY18 was $79,886,202.
“While nearly $80 million dollars in funding may sound like a lot of money, with 278 general aviation airports in our statewide system, we simply can no longer adequately meet the needs of our airports in a timely manner.” said Fulton. “As a result, we are having to reduce project scopes to a bare minimum, combine routine maintenance projects into groups to save money and delay projects until later years.”
Fulton then noted there was an opportunity to receive money from the AIP 2018-2020 Omnibus Bill funding, which provided an additional one billion dollars for FAA airport improvement grant funds that remain available until September 2020.
Rounding out his morning’s address, Fulton showed charts that explained the effects of construction cost increases, and he then addressed two aviation related bills in the 86th Texas Legislature: Senate Bills 2050 by Senator Charles Schwertner and 1964 by Senator Judith Zaffirini.
The State of the Division address concluded with Fulton introducing new members of the Aviation Division staff to the conference attendees.
Aviation Advisory Committee Panel
Following the State of the Aviation Division address, the Texas Aviation Advisory Committee convened for a presentation with a question and answer session. To kick off the presentation, a seven-minute video called “The Value and Impact of Texas General Aviation” was shown and featured employees within the Aviation Division explaining their mission and the value of general aviation in Texas. The video may be viewed at: https://youtu.be/_OWKn09HfOg.
The committee members were then introduced by Aviation Division Director of Grants Kari Campbell, who also explained how the committee was appointed and their roles and responsibilities.
“Each of the members has a very impressive background and credentials in general aviation,” noted Campbell.
Then the members each spoke about their experience and responsibilities as part of the committee. Chairman Jim Schwertner from Austin spoke first and emphasized the importance of general aviation to the economic health of the community.
“If you aren’t familiar with the General Aviation Economic Impact study that was released last year, I urge each of you to visit the TxDOT website, find your county or town, and see the economic impact general aviation has for your community,” said Schwertner. “And then share this information with your mayor, city manager or members of the city council. It’s unbelievable the amount of data that is available. Most people in counties or cities don’t understand how important general aviation is to the economic impact relative to our great state. It’s your job to help us get the message out there to help educate folks as to what would happen if that airport went away.”
Following remarks from each member, the committee took questions from the audience.
General Aviation Industry Outlook and Washington Update
Next up was an update from Washington – President and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) Shelly Simi and Government Relations Manager of NASAO John Shea.
Simi provided an overview of NASAO, including the history, purpose and why the organization is unique.
“As part of our member services, we have an online aviation training program,” said Simi. “This program allows state employees to gain a fundamental understanding of the aviation industry and build upon their knowledge-base.”
The program has seven modules, such as being aware of the airport environment and aviation planning 101.
Simi also spoke about the upcoming NASAO conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, September 7-11, 2019, and gave a congressional update.
Shea spoke next about the FAA reauthorization bill and expansion of the state block grant program.
“The cap on the State Block Grant program, which allows states to assume responsibility for administering AIP grant funding to non-primary airports, was increased from ten to twenty states,” said Shea. “Several states have expressed interest in learning more and possibly joining the State Block Grant program.
Jens Hennig, Vice President-Operations, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, rounded out the session with a general aviation industry outlook.
This year’s keynote speaker was Aron Ralston. An experienced climber and avid outdoorsman, Ralston was canyoneering alone in Utah when he became trapped between two boulders in a remote location for more than five days – ultimately freeing himself by severing his own arm with a pocketknife. His harrowing tale captivated global news outlets and remains one of the most incredible and extreme survival stories of all time.
In his keynote, Ralston brought his gripping story to life – and the audience to the edge of their seats. With great candor and humility, he reflected on his remarkable triumph over insurmountable odds and shared the lessons he learned about the importance of examining one’s priorities and outlook on life.
“There was a point where I realized I was no longer standing in the bottom of a canyon, I was standing in my grave,” said Ralston. “So what do you do? I got in my backpack and pulled out my video camera and turned it on and recorded a message to my mom and dad and told them I was sorry and that I loved them. As sad and somber as it was at the moment, it was revealing who it was I was saying goodbye to. In that moment, the boulder gave me my first gift. Boulders, which can be burdens, can also be blessings.”
Ralston’s recounted his ordeal in his New York Times best-selling book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which inspired the major motion picture, 127 Hours, starring James Franco.
“When I finally escaped from being trapped under that boulder, I was thankful for the experience,” said Ralston. “It gave me a true appreciation for life and the value of relationships. And that’s what I want each of you to do…challenge yourself to work on overcoming life’s obstacles; our ‘boulders’ that we all face in our lives.”