When David Fulton joined TxDOT in June of 1993, after a 16-year career with the Tennessee Office of Aeronautics— ten of those years as agency director—it was at a time when general aviation (GA) in Texas was supported by a small but dedicated staff at the Texas Aeronautics Commission (TAC). With quiet enthusiasm and strong leadership, Dave began the arduous task to transform the Texas public GA airport system into the best in the country.
For over 11 years, Dave was a naval officer with pilot designation; he was captain of a 17-person crew in the military version of the Lockheed Electra and was assigned a variety of duties, including administrative officer, personnel officer and operations officer for a 360-member squadron. He was also a naval flight instructor and a squadron standardization officer.
While serving as Aviation Director in Tennessee, Dave was well versed in state and federal legislative processes, having testified frequently before state and congressional committees on aviation issues. He is also past president (1986) of the National Association of State Aviation Officials.
Dave graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1958 with a B.S. degree in civil engineering. He earned an MBA from the University of Tennessee in 1979 and holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from the Nashville School of Law. Upon receiving his J.D., he was licensed to practice law in Tennessee.
When Dave moved to Texas, after a short time the TAC was absorbed into TxDOT. A commission of only 30 plus personnel being folded into an organization of thousands with offices all over the state had its risks, but also offered the opportunity to begin rebuilding and improving GA in Texas.
Dave navigated this transition with a simple up-front policy. Show the TxDOT leaders the value of GA to Texas firsthand. Flying senior staff around the state to meet with county judges, commissioners, mayors and airport managers, Dave helped all parties appreciate the value of aviation in this large state as well as what resources are necessary to make the airport system work for Texans – time, talent and money.
Now the TxDOT Aviation Division (AVN) is well placed in the TxDOT hierarchy. TxDOT grant money is allocated for airport improvements along with the federal airport fund grant money. Most Texas publicly owned airports qualify for up to a 90% funding grant for improvements. Those few airports in the state that do not qualify for federal funds are eligible state grant funds.
Dave and the AVN staff worked hard to make the funding system flexible to individual airport needs. RAMP – Routine Airport Maintenance Program – money is a state grant to public airports created by AVN to let local airport managers spend up to $50,000 a year on whatever is needed to improve the appearance, service, or just maintain the basic infrastructure – fences, gates, mowers, small storage structures, etc.
Dave also began a program to build, improve or replace terminal buildings.
“An airport without a decent terminal has no point of focus for airport operations,” Fulton often said. Creative, locally-designed structures reflecting the unique nature of the community has produced beautiful, and functional, terminal buildings.
Dave strongly supported state system economic impact studies for all publicly funded Texas airports, the most recent one conducted by CDM Smith, KSA Engineers, and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. From the 2018 survey, the economic impact of GA for Texas is $94 billion and nearly 779,000 jobs. “If aviation supports Texas, then Texas has to support aviation,” was another of Fulton’s sayings.
In 2017, he received the most prestigious award the FAA issues to pilots, The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. Fulton was presented the award by Randy Loveless from FAA’s San Antonio Flight Standards District Office during the 2017 Texas Aviation Conference. The award is named after the Wright Brothers, the first U.S. pilots, to recognize individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as “Master Pilots.”
On June 27, colleagues, friends and family gathered at Fiesta Gardens in Austin to celebrate the legacy of Dave Fulton. Aviation Advisory Chairman Jim Schwertner was the master of ceremonies.
“Dave, it’s been a real pleasure working with you,” said Schwertner. “There are a lot of people in this room who appreciate you, and I hope you stick around and help with the Advisory Committee because we need your guidance, leadership and friendship.”
Ken Koock with the Texas Aviation Association spoke next about Dave’s legacy.
“Thank you so very much, Dave Fulton,” said Koock. “For over 27 years, Dave has provided exemplary aviation leadership for the state of Texas. It was a monumental task that he took on when he began his career, and he was the right person for the job.”
Sharlette Wright, Texas Airports Council President, thanked Fulton for his unwavering support and leadership for general aviation advocacy throughout the state.
NBAA Director of Regional Programs Steven Hadley also spoke and presented Dave with their Silk Scarf Award.
AVN Section Directors then took turns reading a plaque from the entire staff of AVN.
“Whose influence, as an encourager and mentor to his team and to aviation leaders across America is immeasurable,” said Kari Campbell, Director, Grant Management and Administration, of Fulton’s leadership. “Whose unshakeable voice of reason in any storm and unparalleled ability to accomplish any task have all been keys to our success.”
“People always ask me why I’ve stuck around so long, and the answer is simple. It’s been a heck of a lot of fun,” said Fulton. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by wonderful, dedicated colleagues who I owe so much to, and also my wife Charlotte who has always supported me.”