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AOPA mourns Bill Dunn

Our 'bulldog' in airport advocacy has died

Editor's note: This story was updated December 27 to add new information about a planned celebration of Bill Dunn's life on January 13.

For more than 25 years, AOPA Vice President of Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn vigorously and tirelessly advocated on behalf of general aviation pilots to protect our nation’s airports.

Photo by Chris Rose.

He retired in 2014 but continued to help as needed, still battling the Santa Monica City Council over Santa Monica Municipal Airport in California, and advocating for airports such as Van Nuys Airport in California (still in operation), and the former Blue Ash-Cincinnati Airport (closed in 2012) with the company he founded, Aviation Strategies LLC. Sadly, on December 13, Dunn died after a battle with cancer.

AOPA President Mark Baker said Dunn’s dogged defense of airports and commitment to serving AOPA members “makes me very proud to have known him.”

Dunn was a pilot and former California state trooper. He came to AOPA in 1991 at the behest of then-AOPA President Phil Boyer. Boyer knew Dunn from his work with airports in California and immediately wanted Dunn on the AOPA advocacy team.

“Bill is tenacious, knowledgeable, dedicated and knows airports; their issues, assets, problems and opportunities,” said Boyer. “I always referred to him as our airport ‘bulldog’ who knew how to stay the course, build consensus and deal with the public. Bill is someone I would surely want on my side.”

Photo by Chris Rose.

Dunn was part of the AOPA family for decades, playing a pivotal role in the government affairs team. He spent much of his career fighting to keep airports open and accessible, and was instrumental in launching the Airport Support Network, which now has more than 2,300 volunteers nationwide. He was often called in to handle the most difficult cases, from Santa Monica and Reid-Hillview of Santa Clara County Airport in California to Meigs Field in Chicago and East Hampton in New York.

“Sometimes he won, occasionally he lost, but he always put up a tenacious fight to protect general aviation,” said Baker.

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, Dunn built AOPA’s Airport Watch Program to blunt Transportation Security Administration mandates that would have crippled GA. Dunn was best known for his hands-on efforts to keep airports open, including his 2003 orchestration of local GA interests to keep developers from closing historic Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida. In 2006 and again in 2008, he worked with local advocates in Oceanside, California, to elect pro-airport members of the city council and head off closure of that airport.

“Bill’s expertise in airport issues was unmatched, earning him the respect of pilots, industry leaders, and the FAA alike. Even after Bill retired, he continued to work for AOPA as a contractor and a go-to expert right until the end,” said Baker. “I was able to speak with him last week. And despite the ravages of his cancer, he was unchanged, telling the unvarnished truth while hiding an endearing softness.”

Photo by Chris Rose.

Although he was known for his gruff demeanor, Dunn had a kind heart. He devoted his free time to protecting and caring for unwanted dogs—running an animal shelter in West Virginia for many years and later taking in the mistreated survivors of puppy mills. He and his wife Dixie were committed to saving animals, giving them outstanding care—to the point of providing wheelchairs when necessary—and making sure their last years were full of love and peace.

“Passion is not a strong enough word to describe Bill on everything,” said John Collins, AOPA manager of aviation safety programs. “When I started out at AOPA I was scared to death of Bill. But he was the best mentor, friend, and one of the best bosses I have ever had.”

Dunn is survived by his wife, Dixie, and their three children, Jennifer, Kimberly, and Eric. His professional achievements were featured in the August 2012 issue of AOPA Pilot.

Join Dunn's family, friends, and colleagues in a celebration of his life on January 13 at the AOPA National Aviation Community Center in Frederick, Maryland.

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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