THE FIGHT FOR GA AIRPORTS
Category: Corporate Aviation Company Profiles
Author: Dave Higdon
NASAO and the Airport Community.
In 1931, Henry Ogrodzinski observes, there was really only general aviation. And all the airports were general aviation fields. “All the other components grew out of GA.”
States, as well as their cities and towns, planted their stakes in aviation-building early on, with the founding of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) resulting from the efforts of states to foster the growth of this nascent aviation community.
Eighty years into its existence, NASAO, with Ogrodzinski as its President and CEO, continues its work representing the state officials involved in supporting, managing and monitoring aviation in all 50 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. Promoting, supporting and encouraging general aviation airports has been as much a part of NASAO’s mission as it has for its member states and territories.
“That’s what NASAO does,” Ogrodzinski noted. “It works to serve the aviation interests of the states and the states directors in supporting aviation interests.”
As it stands, NASAO (among the smallest of aviation associations) has been working for the states’ aviation interests in Washington longer than any other alphabet group – dating back to before there were 50 states...even before there were 48. “In 1931, when NASAO was founded, there was no FAA, no Airport Improvement Program (AIP), trust fund, ATC, none of this,” Ogrodzinski outlined.
In the course of NASAO’s existence, aviation expanded beyond the small planes of its roots into the highly diverse transportation behemoths of today, with hundreds of thousands of private aircraft operated for, and by hundreds of thousands of individuals and thousands of businesses – and that’s just in general aviation.
That fledgling commercial industry that barely existed back in 1931 today annually hauls hundreds of millions of passengers between a much-smaller pool of airports, many of them state- or community-owned and operated.
The airports, the pilots and, of course, the airplanes undertaking all of this flying are subject to the various regulations of a Federal Aviation Administration created when NASAO was celebrating its 35th anniversary. In many instances it is states or individual communities that are on the front line of helping the existence of an airport. “These folks out in the states are all different and have different programs,” Ogrodzinski observed. “The way they fit into their state governments also varies.
“But they all promote and protect their general aviation airports because for so many communities the GA airport is the only air connection available.”
A QUESTION OF BALANCE
Working to assure general aviation airports receive their fair share of Airport Improvement Program funds is an issue very familiar to state officials and a priority for NASAO. “The AIP is paramount to airport funding and improvement,” Ogrodzinski noted.
That’s a point with little dispute among state officials but one recurrently contentious between general aviation supporters and their counterparts in commercial aviation. Recently, for example, efforts by the ATA (Air Transportation Association) and the apparent editorial policy of a national newspaper suggested that only airports with commercial service should receive AIP funds.
Of course, for states with both commercial and GA airports to support, that could be an uncomfortable situation. Not, however, for the states’ national organization. “We work to make certain that GA airports are funded appropriately to their role in the national airports system,” explained Ogrodzinski.
‘Henry O.’, as he’s known in the aviation community, has a solid grasp on the vagaries and often-complex relationships involved in working the corridors of national regulatory and legislative power in Washington. He came to NASAO 14 years ago, versed in the importance of states in aviation development at all levels thanks to a deep and varied background in aviation.
His prior positions include running the Dayton Air Show, serving as an executive at Gulfstream, and, before that, stints as a communications executive for both the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in Washington and the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“We work with FAA and, sometimes, against the FAA,” Ogrodzinski said. The efforts of NASAO also cross lines within aviation, with association efforts sometimes focused exclusively on one element or another of aviation while at other times, teaming with other organizations to advance issues of importance to the entire aviating community.
“NASAO works with aviation across the board, GA to air carrier.” When the air carriers several years ago launched a campaign to convince Congress to levy user fees on general aviation, NASAO worked with NBAA and AOPA to launch arguably the broadest general aviation-support group yet: the Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA). “We came together because we’d never seen a thrust against GA like the one being pursued at the time,” Ogrodzinski recalled.
“The airlines spent more than $10 million! None of the GA groups had that kind of money.”
The result: thousands of individuals quickly signed on – along with business leaders in hundreds of small towns, county seats and state capitals. The grass-roots lobbying of AAAA and its membership helped change minds in Congress and, as FAA reauthorization lethargically wound its way through Congress, user fees vanished from both Senate and House pending proposals. The air carriers and their trade group pursued an aggressive campaign aimed at driving home a message that “private aircraft” meant business jets and rich jet-aircraft operators were getting a free ride on the airlines’ empennages.
The campaign included speeches, newspaper op-ed submissions, lobbying Congress and other business groups, along with animated television ads played on business-oriented cable channels and on airport television screens in passenger concourses. AAAA built grass-roots support and – seconded by all general aviation organizations – that support manifested itself in a broad wave of pushback that went beyond pilots and aircraft groups to city mayors, county councils and state-level lawmakers.
FBO owners and airport businesses and general aviation airport operators got onboard, and the alphabet groups soon had a coordinated message noting that passengers, not airline companies, pay the bulk of the airline-segment’s contributions to FAA funding. Private aviation pays based on use through the efficient collection of excise taxes on fuels used by general aviation aircraft.
“AAAA came together and took the fight nationwide, and was very successful. It continues to work on behalf of general aviation.”
In other instances that support airports, NASAO has worked with airport groups in support of raising the cap on passenger facility charges (PFCs). Airports levy PFCs on passengers passing through on a per-segment basis with a limit of two PFC applications per one-way trip.
“NASAO supports raising the cap on PFCs because that’s good for aviation,” Ogrodzinski explained. Indeed, NASAO works toward better airports on other levels too. “NASAO started working with other associations – AAAE, ACI, among others – to create the Airport Cooperative Research Program, which resides in the Transportation Research Board of the National Institutes.
But the association’s front-line job remains as it began: to represent, and assist the officials charged with overseeing aviation by their individual state governments.
NASAO and its state members worked with community groups to derail a proposed change to the formula used to calculate AIP grants.
Several years ago the Bush Administration DoT proposed “tiering” airports by the number of based-aircraft an airport had to create its position in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS).
“Based-aircraft is not a true indicator of activity level,” Ogrodzinski observed. Indeed, tiering would disproportionably impact some very busy airports with relatively few permanently based aircraft and do the inverse for airports with a large based population – but with relatively little traffic.
“We want to make sure even the smallest airport in the NPIAS gets its due in airport funding,” he stressed.
LOCAL STANDARDS IMPACT AIRPORTS
No city has the authority to qualify a pilot. No county government gets to rule on aircraft airworthiness. None of the 50 states or two territories hold sway on aircraft use in the sky above. Yet if you start talking airports, everyone seems to gets some degree of “say”: cities, towns, townships, counties and states!
Any time the subject turns to airports, there are always local and state influences and responsibilities. That’s a departure from airmen, aircraft and equipment certification issues – issues wholly owned by the feds.
Depending on the issue, the project, the type and building or alteration, an airport may draw in multiple levels of state officials not from the state aviation or airports office. Environmental officials are a common example along with local zoning officials and overlapping entities with land-use responsibilities. While the FAA operates multiple programs to help airports, much of the heavy lifting falls upon state aviation officials.
Airport surveys can be delegated to state officials, and airport grants can flow through state offices when a state has been granted block-grant authority.
In some instances a state may own a busy commercial airport as well as relievers and general aviation airports. In many instances state officials conduct the period inspections that underpin certification. With that in mind, we followed up on recommendations from pilots to highlight four states because of their own efforts on behalf of general aviation and general aviation airports.
The State of Maryland owns and operates two busy airports, one is the third airport in the National Capital Region airport trilogy. Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and Martin State Airport are both managed by the Maryland Aviation Administration, an agency of the state’s Department of Transportation (MDoT) and headed by executive director Paul J. Wiedefeld.
The state boasts another 34 public-use airports too, most of them owned or operated by a county or municipality. Government support of Maryland’s airports is apparent in several areas, the state’s $198 million budget for the MAA and its 500-plus staff being two of those.
When it comes to bettering general aviation airports in the NPIAS, none have more interest or better background than Missouri’s Joe Pestka, who oversees more than $26 million in state and federal funds for airport maintenance, operations and improvements. (Of that amount, $10 million comes from the state and $16 million from the AIP, which Missouri is tasked with administering as one of 10 states granted that authority under a block-grant experiment Congress encouraged the FAA to create.)
In addition to the federal AIP money, Pestka, an airport planner by profession, is also on-point for the state funds, generated by a state airports trust fund. One of the issues for states and federal authorities is awarding moneys and improving airports on a basis of their traffic level.
But while several classifications exist for air-carrier airports, ‘general aviation airport’ is a singular classification covering a hugely diverse size of airports. That’s currently a goal of an effort to add to the NPIAS meaningful categorizations for GA airports. The effort involves the FAA and multiple other aviation groups – NASAO among them.
Pestka helped spearhead the effort behind building a new, larger airport to serve Branson, Missouri, a major entertainment and tourist destination in the southern part of the state near the Lake of the Ozarks region. The charter business is booming in Branson and the new airport expands the size and quantity of aircraft that can be handled.
Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission’s (OACs) Victor Bird serves as director with a seven-member board of commissioners providing input while Bird manages the agency’s operations. The OAC emphasizes promotion of the aerospace and aviation industry, already among the state’s largest industries.
The commission’s staff also engages in critical planning and development for Oklahoma’s public airport system with the objective to make as many of the state's 49 regional business airports jet-capable as possible within this decade. Already 41 are jet-capable.
Further, the agency works to foster partnerships between various public entities – Oklahoma’s cities, counties and universities – to act as airport sponsors and help diversify responsibility for maintaining an airport.
The unit also encourages public-private partnerships to grow the aerospace industry and has worked to add more manufacturing to the state’s existing work refurbishing commercial, private and military aircraft.
Even when an airport lacks airline service, Bird likes to remind business and community leaders that a vibrant, viable airport is still a gateway to a community, with greater value than a highway off-ramp or railway spur since it connects a community to everywhere else.
Meeting Randy Burdett at the 2010 NBAA convention created the immediate impression that Virginia’s Department of Aviation has a hard-running advocate – and one particularly strong on general aviation.
The Virginia Aviation Security Advisory Committee is an outgrowth of Burdett’s energies, and his agency is deeply involved in promoting the Virginia Aviation Council’s Virginia Regional Festival of Flight. Burdett and his agency promote Virginia and her airports as destinations for out-of-state pilots, while pursuing efforts to improve general aviation airports and pilot participation within the state.
The state offers its own airport-funding program and Virginia’s Department of Aviation wants all 68 of its public-use airports up to FAA standards and covered with GPS approaches and ADS-B coverage.
Virginia - Burdett told us - and the nation at large, should recognize what engines of economic growth they have in their general aviation airports.
There are no government bureaucrats more intimately engaged in a state’s general aviation community than the states’ aviation officials. Whether a Director, a Commissioner, or a Chairman by title, the 50 states, Guam and Puerto Rico recognize the need for, and value of airports that serve smaller cities, towns and regions of a state.
While space prevents us from spotlighting all of NASAO’s members, they all deserve credit for their efforts to sustain and improve their airport networks. It’s precisely because most airports lack scheduled airline service that they deserve inclusion in the federal AIP. Communities unable to attract airlines still deserve – and need – access to the global air-transportation system.
Ask any of the 50 state aviation officials, or their counterparts in Guam or Puerto Rico. Ask any member of NASAO…