By J Carpenter
Reporting from Austin
There are many general aviation associations in our nation. Most pilots are members of one or more of these organizations that promote airports while protecting the rights of pilots. Notable
among these are the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Then there are the more esoteric clubs such as the Bonanza Society, Mooney Owners of America, the American Yankee Association and so on.
At the state level is a host of aviation associations focused on particular niches of the flying world. The Alaska Airmen’s Association and the U.S. Pilots Associations come to mind along with my favorite, the Texas Aviation Association (TXAA). Also, there are many educational institutions that teach aviation-related courses.
All of these organizations perform respectable functions focusing on their individual agendas. However, communication between these groups is rare. Ken Koock, the founder of TXAA, came up
with the idea to bring together as many aviation-related groups as we could find in Texas and present a Texas General Aviation Summit.
On Friday, Oct. 31, 2008, the TXAA hosted the event at the Hyatt Regency on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. Invitees included GA-related businesses, universities and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Co-sponsors included the AOPA, the Texas Governor’s Aviation and Space Foundation, the NBAA and the Texas Department of Transportation, Aviation Division.
Among the attendees were representatives from several universities, including LeTourneau University, Midland College, North Texas State University, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M University, Texas Southern University and Texas State Technical College in Waco. The rest of the 60-member audience were association leaders from around the state.
A continental breakfast accompanied the registration early that morning. The Summit began at 9:30 a.m., with moderator Dan Sullivan introducing the invitees to the audience. Dan is the CEO of Image Trends, Inc., and represents GA concerns for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Sullivan introduced David Fulton, director of TxDOT Aviation. Fulton gave a brief history of the development of the aviation division of TxDOT and the positive progress that airports throughout Texas have made thanks to those hardworking men and women. He said that 15 years ago, most rural airports in Texas were “in bad shape.” Through the distribution of federal funds, TxDOT is able to build new runways, terminal buildings and weather reporting stations throughout the state.
Fulton said, “The federal funding we receive supports a state grant program for airport development and maintenance. TxDOT receives about $50 million per year from the FAA. Add to that about $17 million from TxDOT, plus local matching funds, and the total comes to about $75 million for the program annually.”
Today, these airport improvements have resulted in a large boost to economic development in local communities. Using data from Wilbur Smith Associates, Fulton said that to date over $6 billion dollars of positive economic impact has been delivered by airports to the state of Texas. Under the leadership of Fulton, TxDOT Aviation has transformed the airport system of Texas from locations nearing ruin to state-of-the-art facilities benefitting the communities they serve.
Past Sen. Ken Armbrister, representing Gov. Rick Perry’s office, gave the keynote address. Sen. Armbrister informed the audience of the importance of communication with elected representatives both in the House and the Senate. “Although you initially might be dealing with staff, all reports and communications are delivered to the representative and given full consideration,” Armbrister said. He emphasized that the best results are obtained through patience and perseverance. Elected representatives are eager to please their constituents, and continuing communications definitely works. The invitees then enjoyed a great lunch provided by the catering department of the Hyatt Regency.
During lunch, the audience was entertained by Jim Schwertner, chairman of the Texas Aviation Advisory Commission. Schwertner introduced his special guest, Emma Browning. Browning gave an eloquent speech about airport development, the role of FBOs and the expectations for GA in the future. Browning, a living legend among general aviation, had just celebrated her 98th birthday and was awarded a bouquet of Texas yellow roses by TXAA founder and past president, Ken Koock.
The afternoon began with a special panel session moderated by Dan Sullivan. Sitting on the experienced panel were Larry Silvey, representing the Texas governor’s office of aviation and aerospace, Shelly deZevallos of AOPA, Steve Hadley of NBAA, Mike Nicely of the FAA and David Fulton from TxDOT Aviation. Each panelist gave an overview of the present environment for GA in Texas, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
Break-out sessions followed the panel discussion led by TXAA board member Gene Robinson. Each table was given booklets on the top issues facing GA in Texas. These issues were submitted by the invitees from a previous poll included in their pre-registration packets. Each group addressed and finalized the top four issues of the long lists. A representative from each table then gave a summary of the team’s priorities. Information from the results of this poll and evaluation forms is being compiled by TXAA staff and will be published soon. I can relay that education is at the top of every list.
Yours truly, TXAA secretary, asked attendees for their business cards and gave away two TXAA flying jackets as door prizes. The Summit ended at 3:30 p.m., and attendees agreed that the event was unique in that these independent associations and learning institutions were able to meet for
the first time to specifically address the challenges facing Texas GA today and in the near future. The summit was considered a great success and all participants look forward to next year’s 2009 Texas General Aviation Summit. Stay tuned at [http://www.txaa.org].