President's Position

Don’t mess with Texas

July 1, 2011

Craig Fuller“Don’t mess with Texas” is more than just a slogan representing the pride and can-do spirit of the state, which almost 31,000 of our AOPA members call home. Texas is a place where general aviation is not to be messed with, either—because it’s working!

I’ve visited the state several times recently to participate in forums, meetings with elected officials, Town Hall gatherings, and an airport opening. All these experiences allowed me to better understand the commitment leaders in Texas have made to aviation. Frankly, that commitment is something from which the rest of the nation could learn.

As always, leadership counts, and David Fulton, director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division, has been pursuing a positive vision during the past two decades. And it doesn’t hurt that the state governor is a pilot. So, too, are the lieutenant governor and several key members of the legislature. I’ve had a chance to talk about flying with a very engaged Gov. Rick Perry. Then, during our recent meeting, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst renewed his AOPA membership! But Texas was committed to aviation long before these leaders took office. For 20 years, across numerous administrations, Fulton has pursued a remarkable effort to benefit all of GA—indeed, to benefit people throughout the state.

Consider these examples:

  • Texas has 21 public reliever airports and 18 of those have control towers, with the remaining five preparing to add control towers in the near future.
  • Texas launched a program to build general aviation terminals and has built 42 in the past 17 years.
  • In need of ramps, Texas launched a ramp program in 1996. Last year, 183 ramp contracts were offered and so far this year, there are another 168.
  • We know the importance of having access to current weather at airports. So does Texas, where 83 AWOS sites have been developed in the past 13 years, bringing the total number of AWOS sites in Texas to more than 157.
  • Even in difficult times, Texas has recognized the importance of funding its airports, investing just more than $1 billion in grants in the past 20 years.

Every time I visit Texas, I also see the commitment to innovation in aviation. I had the chance to conduct a Pilot Town Hall meeting at West Houston Airport, which is owned and operated by Woody Lesikar, a great friend of AOPA. On this visit, I met Ron Henriksen who, after successfully developing Houston Executive Airport, decided that Austin needed another reliever airport. He invited me back for the opening of Austin Executive, which occurred just a few weeks ago. This spectacular new facility is clearly open for business.

AOPA Aviation Summit

Join AOPA President Craig Fuller for AOPA Aviation Summit, September 22 through 24, in Hartford, Connecticut.

With so many wonderful things happening in Texas aviation, it’s no wonder that a new and exciting approach to flight simulators would blossom here. And that is exactly what is happening at Redbird Flight Simulations in Austin. Look for new and exciting developments from this young company under the seasoned, experienced, and innovative leadership of Jerry Gregoire and his fine team. You’ll also want to keep an eye on what happens at San Marcos Municipal Airport near Austin, where a flight training laboratory is taking shape soon. These efforts will most certainly help all of us chart a more successful course as we work to build the pilot population.

With an extraordinary past and anticipating an exciting and innovative future, Texas shows the world the very best of general aviation. Take time to visit and experience it for yourself. You will come away with a real feeling of optimism which has always been at the heart of what happens in Texas. And, by the way, the barbeque is not bad, either!

AOPA President Craig Fuller travels the United States meeting members and promoting GA. Email AOPA President Craig Fuller at craig@aopa.org.