If you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to hear AOPA CEO Mark Baker speak, you know that he is incredibly passionate about making airports fun and accessible, noting that “all things aviation begin at an airport”. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Utah Airport Operators Association (UAOA) annual conference in beautiful St. George, where coincidentally, the theme was “Fun and Function at Your Airport”. Mid-March is a fantastic time of the year to enjoy the beautiful red rocks of southwest Utah, especially while hearing about the great things Utah airports are doing that are precisely in line with the vision Mark and all of us at AOPA have for general aviation airports.
Utah’s system of 47 public use airports is somewhat unique in that all of them, including commercial service airports like Salt Lake City International, have significant general aviation presence. As such, the UAOA conference is always a great gathering of passionate and engaged general aviation airport operators, many of whom are pilots or owners of small FBO’s charged with managing their local airport.
At the conference, which was attended by over 150 airport managers, consultants, FAA and Utah Aeronautics Division staff and others, I had the pleasure of making the opening presentation, providing the group with an overview of AOPA’s current state, regional and national advocacy efforts. I also briefed attendees on AOPA’s efforts to grow GA activity and the pilot community, including our new Flying Club Initiative, and federal legislation streamlining third class medical certification requirements.
Over the two days of the conference, there were some phenomenal presentations about great things going on with GA in Utah. Scott Weaver, the President of Leading Edge Aviation at the South Valley Airport (U42) in Salt Lake City gave an excellent briefing about their efforts to revitalize what had been a struggling and negative GA environment at U42. Through monthly pilot breakfasts, dinners and seminars, along with a strong customer-service focus and partnership with the Salt Lake City Department of Airports(which owns U42), the folks at Leading Edge have generated a whole new level of excitement and engagement at the airport, and GA activity there is on the rebound.
In keeping with the “Fun and Function” at your airport theme, Tom Herbert from the Delta Airport (KDTA) gave an excellent presentation on their 2013 airport open house, which featured not just aviation events, but classic cars, races, kids events and other attractions designed to get the local community as well as pilots out to the airport.
But it wasn’t all business! Former Logan/Cache County airport manager Bill Francis gave a fascinating presentation about the history of the original lighted airway beacons and concrete directional arrows that guided early airmail pilots across the west. Many of these beacon sites and arrrows can still be found today, and Bill had some excellent historical photos and information, along with some great shots of how these arrows appear today. If you enjoy aviation, hiking and the thrill of a search, these relics of a bygone era await your discovery across the west.
Just as airmail pilots of the past relied on airway beacons and arrows, every one of us today relies on an airport as we pursue our aviation aspirations. And of course, airports rely on us pursuing those aspirations to remain vibrant and sustainable. So if you’re not familiar with your state’s airport management association, learn a little bit more about them, and consider attending one of their events- it a great way to further the dialouge and communications between GA users and the airports we use.