formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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March 6, 2012 Community Airports

The Liberty Gazette
March 6, 2012

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda:After spending a lot of time with airport executives in the Houston area and beyond we see the results of good and not so good ideas. Airports are complex organizations, each a unique “mirror” of the community it serves requiring competent administration to manage them. First impressions are important and an airport, being the community’s front door, says “welcome,” or otherwise to newcomers.

Just like a business, an airport’s reputation in the local and aviation communities is built by a combination of influences, including policy-makers and tenants of the airport. The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) recognizes that for an airport to be successful policy-makers must understand and balance two dichotomous philosophies: first, that an airport is a public entity and must be managed as such, and second, that the airport is a business enterprise and must be managed as such. The land and buildings of many public-use airports are publicly owned, by a city or county. The aircraft they host are mostly privately owned, whether by individuals or companies, engaging in commerce, while using airspace controlled by federal government regulations. So in reality there are many things about an airport over which its property owner has little or no control.

AAAE also recognizes that airports represent a variety of perspectives to a community, and expects that most citizens recognize the indispensable role of their airport. Professional airport management training educates students that key stakeholders in government positions sometimes use airports for political advantage, often preventing citizens’ participation in decision making related to airport operations and policy. This unfortunate situation should be addressed where ever it is a problem. No citizen of a community should become persona non grata at the whim of a politician.

Mike: While financial self-sufficiency is a goal, publicly owned airports are subject to public administration and subjected to policy decisions by people often far removed from the industry. Ignorance often cripples the host city and its airport. The most productive goal is for a city to recognize the airport as an asset and put it to work to benefit the community, using its entire economic impact to measure success. The inability to understand the unique nature of airports often leads local government agencies to attempt to put their airport into a frame of reference they better understand, such as parks or public utilities. This is where AAAE and the Aviation Division of the Texas Department of Transportation are such valuable resources. TxDOT’s Aviation Division is recognized as one of the best run state aviation divisions in the country. Under Dave Fulton’s leadership for many years, the entire state has benefited from his dedication to aviation and strong advocacy for airports throughout the state, and has set the standard for other states.

TXDOT holds the purse-strings for all the FAA grant money doled out to community airports such as ours so if they know about something that isn’t right they probably won’t be providing the funding. By utilizing TxDOT’s resources we can avoid costly problems before they occur, some of which come about as a result of depending on other so-called “experts” in aviation, and can expect healthy progress that will spell growth for the community.

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