By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
The rainy weather did little to dampen the spirits of the 532 attendees of the 2016 Texas Aviation Conference, held March 9-11 at La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa in Montgomery. The conference is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Aviation Division and participants included airport sponsors, aviation professionals, governmental and economic development officials, enthusiasts and exhibitors.
The last man on the moon, Captain Gene Cernan, retired U.S. Naval aviator and retired NASA Astronaut (Gemini 9, Apollo 10 and Apollo 17), delivered the keynote address to a captivated audience. The session was moderated by TxDOT Aviation Advisory Committee Chairman Jim Schwertner, and featured stories of how Cernan fulfilled his dream to become a Naval Aviator, how he joined NASA, his role as an advisor in the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, and going to space three times as Pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966, as Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969, and as Commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the final Apollo lunar landing.
During his remarks, Cernan said that his story was one of “any kid with a dream from any town U.S.A.” When asked by Schwertner about his role in Apollo 13, Cernan explained, “if we had lost that flight, we would not have continued the Apollo program. But at the end of the day, we all came home alive. It was a complete team effort; everyone took personal responsibility. They gave us the best machine in the world to fly, and for that, we can all be very proud.”
Cernan was recently featured in the documentary, “The Last Man on the Moon.” When asked about the Apollo 17 mission, Cernan said “when you’re on the moon and you look back at the earth, it’s like being on God’s front porch. That’s what it’s like being on the moon.”
TxDOT Aviation Division Director David Fulton began the conference with an introduction of the Aviation Advisory Committee members, and then delivered his state of the Aviation Division Address.
“This is my 25th conference to attend,” said Fulton. “And at times I’m asked ‘why do you keep doing this’ and the answer is that it’s just so much fun getting to see and work with everyone year after year. We’ve all worked hard to make the Texas aviation system the best in the nation and I truly believe it is. Everyone has done a lot for the airport system, but there’s plenty more we can do.”
In his remarks, Fulton noted that the key to the future was to make the airports as attractive as possible to travelers, notably business aviation.
“If we support business aviation, everyone in general aviation benefits,” said Fulton.
In addition to presenting a conference overview, Fulton provided updates about the non-primary entitlement funding, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill and 3rd class medical, the FAA’s new registration rules for unmanned aircraft systems, MET (meteorological) towers and the last Texas Legislature session.
Fulton also explained the division’s new eGrants software and introduced new staff members and said goodbye to Becky Vick, who among many other roles served as the conference coordinator for the last decade.
Following Fulton’s morning address was Jerry Hendrix, Executive Director of the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation located in Corpus Christi. Hendrix explained the mission of the center, the projects the center was actively engaged in and the future of UAS.
TxDOT Aviation Education and Information Program Coordinator Bill Gunn concluded the morning session with his always-popular presentation on airport compliance issues.
After lunch, conference goers had the choice of attending breakout sessions throughout the afternoon. Breakout sessions topics included:
- TxDOT Aviation Wildlife Hazard Assessment and Management Program
- an introduction to eGrants
- airport manager’s roundtable
- pavement maintenance guidelines
- developing effective stakeholder relationships
- increasing activity on your airport, and
- RAMP and airport consultant sessions.
The day concluded with the Awards Banquet. A complete list of award winners is available at the end of this story.
The final morning began with a presentation from President and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, Greg Principato, who provided an update from Washington.
The conference concluded with comments on the TxDOT/FAA AIP Program and a listening session.
“Texas is a huge state, and many of our attendees travel a good distance to attend this conference,” said Texas A&M Transportation Institute Research Scientist and co-conference organizer Jeff Borowiec. “We want to make sure we give them the most bang for their buck with a wide range of relevant topics presented from experts from around the state and country.”
The conference presentations are available at http://ttigroups.wpengine.com/conferences/tac16/program.php. Next year’s conference will be held April 19-21, 2017, at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos, Texas.
2016 Award Winners
Aviation Art Contest Winners:
Category I (Ages 6–9)
1st Place: Adam Roth, White Rock Montessori, Dallas, TX
2nd Place: Corbin Gray, HJM Elementary, Port Lavaca, TX
3rd Place: Ava Smith, Garden Ridge Elementary, New Braunfels, TX
Honorable Mention: Doreen Luo, HJM Elementary, Port Lavaca, TX
Category II (Ages 10–13)
1st Place: Anika Busra, Kingwood Middle School, Kingwood, TX
2nd Place: Sreeniketan Sai Senapathi, Katy, TX
3rd Place: Alexis Puryear, Wheeler Elementary, Wheeler, TX
Honorable Mention: Avery Pulley, Burnett Junior High, Wylie,TX
Honorable Mention: Emily Eckert, Burnett Junior High, Wylie, TX
Category III (Ages 14–17)
1st Place: Gaby Arambula, JB Alexander HS, Laredo, TX
2nd Place: Mariana Garcia, Veterans Memorial HS, Brownsville, TX
3rd Place: Jason Chu, Burnett Junior High, Wylie, TX
Honorable Mention: Annie Kingston, Burnett Junior High, Wylie, TX
Honorable Mention: Rebecca Gonzalez, JB Alexander HS, Laredo, TX
General Aviation Airport Manager of the Year: Bruce McKenzie, Kerrville Municipal/Louis Schreiner Field
Most Improved Airport of the Year: Mid Valley Airport, Weslaco
General Aviation Airport of the Year: Cotulla-La Salle County Airport, Cotulla
Reliever Airport of the Year: Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport, Conroe
RAMP Coordinator of the Year: Tony Loya, El Paso District
Award for 20 Years of Continuous Participation in the Routine Airport Maintenance Program: Big Spring McMahon-Wrinkle Airport, Big Spring