October 3, 2008
Gary D. Parsons of Hawthorne, California, is the winner of AOPA's highest award for the most important defense of general aviation by a person not employed full-time in general aviation or government.
One of the first AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteers, Parsons leads a local pilot effort to defeat every recent attempt to close the key Hawthorne Municipal Airport (Jack Northrop Field) just east of Los Angeles International. The large, single runway airport is a key reliever airport, a general aviation alternative to LAX and provides air access to the nearby cluster of major aerospace industries.
"When we conceived of the Airport Support Network, we foresaw effective, local action by a committed local leader and his peers in the airport family," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It soon became apparent that Gary Parsons and his aggressive, intelligent defense of Hawthorne Municipal is the exemplar for the entire program and for local action nationwide."
Parsons became one of the first AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers in November 1998 and immediately formed a local airport support group for Hawthorne Municipal. His first priority was to convince the Hawthorne City Council that their famous airfield remains a city asset and magnet for industry and jobs, not a windfall to be sold off to build just another L.A. shopping center.
Since then, Parsons has rallied local pilots to an overwhelming presence whenever an airport-related issue came up.
In 1999, over 100 pilots packed a council meeting during consideration of a developer's proposal to convert the airport into a shopping mall—even though a similar mall stood vacant just a half-mile away. The overwhelming show of support by local pilots led the city council to reject the idea.
Later, school officials proposed a new elementary school just off the end of the Hawthorne runway. Another local battle raged, this time rising to the governor's office in Sacramento. Parsons again rallied pilots, educated the school board and city council about incompatible land use, and contacted state aeronautics and FAA officials (winning CALTRANS rejection of the idea.) In 2000, the Hawthorne school superintendent officially withdrew the proposal.
Parson has even run for a seat on the very city council he won't let off the hook regarding their stewardship of the airport. He wasn't elected this time but may try again. He'll never stop educating his city council on the value of his airport.
Just recently, a new proposal came to city council to develop the airport site as a football stadium, hotel, theme park, and retail complex. Parson might have been tempted to dispair, "What next?" Instead, he mounted a major lobbying effort to again stop developers in their tracks.
Supporting Parsons' forays with local officials are his group's community events at the airport, including Young Eagles flights and meet-the-candidate socials.
Gary Parsons' battle for Hawthorne Municipal Airport is not over. He sees it as a long-term fight requiring direct involvement and continued vigilance.
AOPA recognized the grim reality of airport battles in California by honoring Parsons, "whose tireless defense of Hawthorne Municipal Airport is helping preserve a key aviation facility where none could ever replace it."
The AOPA Sharples Award is the pilots association's highest honor for a person not a government official or employed full-time in aviation. Parsons will be honored side-by-side with U.S. Senator Trent Lott, majority leader of the United States Senate, recipient of the 2000 AOPA Hartranft Award.
The AOPA Sharples Award is presented annually to inspire others to the unselfish devotion to and defense of general aviation, which characterized the life of Laurence P. Sharples. Sharples was one of five AOPA founders and was the longtime chairman of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The annual AOPA Sharples Award winner is decided by vote of the AOPA Board of Trustees.
Parsons' name will be the twenty-sixth to be inscribed on The AOPA Sharples Trophy that resides in The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the city where AOPA was founded 61 years ago in 1939.
Among previous honorees are Paul Poberezny, founder of the Experimental Aircraft Association, famed entertainers and aviation advocates Arthur Godfrey and Cliff Robertson, and legendary "Smilin' Jack" cartoonist and aviation advocate Zack Mosley.
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