DES MOINES, IA — In mid-September, the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) met here for its 74th annual convention and trade show. The organization is comprised of 52 members, representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. AIRPORT BUSINESS sat down with members and NASAO president and CEO Henry Ogrodzinski at the conference to discuss the organization’s goals for the states, and for the nation’s air transportation system. High on the agenda are general aviation security, funding, and land use, among other issues.
General aviation security remains a priority for NASAO members. Says David Greene, director, bureau of aeronautics, division of transportation infrastructure development for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and NASAO’s 2005 chairman, “Government is not quite sure what it wants to do with general aviation security. What we want to do is beat them to the punch.” Greene relates that it’s imperative that the Transportation Security Administration not impose regulation on general aviation facilities and operators which is not “common sense” and that could hinder their businesses.
In Wisconsin, Greene says the state is working to make sure “we touch on those vulnerable and critical airports.” Following the events of 9/11, the Wisconsin DOT issued to its airports what Greene refers to as a handbook on GA security. The guide encourages operators to lock gates, aircraft, and hangar doors, as well as to know who is boarding aircraft at their facilities.
NASAO’s security committee performed a survey of the states’ airports to gauge where each is in addressing GA security. In his presentation, John Sibold, Washington State DOT, aviation division, explains that 44 states participated in the 2005 NASAO GA security survey. Of those, 26 percent said they have laws or policies governing general aviation security; 60 percent have not conducted a statewide assessment; 57 percent have offered security grants to general aviation airports; and 27 percent say communication with TSA is the single biggest issue. “NASAO should develop a national standard to recommend to states,” says Sibold. “Any regulation is going to hurt GA and smaller airports.”
Ogrodzinski says the organization has been encouraging states to be proactive when it comes to general aviation security, including developing handbooks like those put together by Wisconsin and Iowa.
Iowa’s GA Security Initiative
“We don’t want mandates or legislation,” says Michelle McEnany, director of the Iowa office of aviation and host director of the conference. McEnany explains that her department visited all general aviation airports in Iowa twice — first to educate and create awareness; then to initiate action. She says the success of the program has been in the materials the state has provided to airports, including a security plan template — a CD which allows airports to fill in the blanks to customize a plan for their specific airport. The Iowa DOT also distributed a GA security brochure, a GA security checklist which serves as an action plan for airports, and a quarterly newsletter.
Since the inception of the program, 44 of Iowa’s GA airports have implemented security plans. According to McEnany, the state also provides an incentive for creating a security plan. “I-DOT partnered with the airports to help fund some of the security projects.”
Preserving the System
Appropriate land use around airports is another issue NASAO is closely monitoring. Greene says that includes land within the boundaries of an airport as well as outside the boundaries “to make sure we’re not encroached upon.” NASAO has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with FAA to encourage dialogue on compatible land use. Greene says it’s important for FAA to understand what an airport’s needs are, and even though it is not within FAA’s power to regulate zoning on a local level, the organization would like to see more guidance on the topic which can be implemented nationwide.
“One of our missions as an organization is to preserve what we have,” says Greene. “We’re trying to make sure the FAA understands that and works with us.” Wisconsin DOT has created a guide for land use around airports which Greene says has been well-received. “A lot of communities are viewing it and considering it in their master planning so that when they start looking at development they won’t encroach upon the airports.”
Says Ogrodzinski, “We have done a rotten job of protecting our airports from inappropriate land use, inappropriate development, inappropriate tall towers, tall buildings of every kind.” NASAO began working jointly with FAA through an MOU to “come up with a common sense way of dealing with this without stepping on each other’s turf.”
Chris Blum, regional administrator, FAA-Central Region, is one of eight appointed liaisons for NASAO under the group’s MOU with FAA. He describes his role as “finding out what the issues are for the organization and helping them get around the bureaucracy to come up with reasonable solutions or improvements to programs.”
Some of the issues the organizations have worked on together include environmental streamlining, runway safety, general aviation airport lighting, and pavement management. “The MOU is a wonderful vehicle,” says Blum.
Austin Wiswell, aeronautics division chief for the California DOT, calls FAA “admiral” for stepping up with an MOU to become better acquainted with encroachment and land use issues. “Now we need guidelines that cover airports nationwide,” he says.
A goal of Ogrodzinski and the organization is to build what he calls the framework for a national land use policy. “I hope to put together a tool kit which will help airports protect themselves from inappropriate development around the airport.” He says it would include a compilation of best practices which state officials can look to for guidance. Ogrodzinski recognizes that it will be a long process that will require cooperation from local, state, and federal entities. “But we have destroyed the utility of some airports by inappropriate land use.”
In Iowa, McEnany has established a land use subcommittee, including planners and city officials. She says the increase in cell phone towers and residential development are the key issues facing land use around the state’s airports.
National Funding Challenges
Funding the aviation system is also high on NASAO’s agenda. “We were very disappointed by the President’s budget,” says Ogrodzinski. He says the President’s proposal would have cut state apportionment by some 50 percent and state discretionary funding by some 40 percent. Both McEnany and Ogrodzinski say that the current $3.5 billion proposed is an acceptable victory, but it’s time the money be appropriated, or “invested,” as the NASAO CEO and president says. “Clearly, airport infrastructure is an investment.
“Our airport infrastructure is important to the economy of this nation and has been underfunded forever. Air-21 [and] Vision 100 brought us to the point where we’re making logical, appropriate investments in aviation infrastructure. Prior to that, our investment was pathetic, unplanned.”
Ogrodzinski says that the war in Iraq, enormous tax cuts, and recent hurricanes will be among the causes competing for government dollars — possibly putting additional strain on aviation funding.
As NASAO looks ahead to future funding, Ogrodzinski says that the association, in partnership with other legislative groups, will begin the battle in 2006 for 2007’s authorization debate.
“We’ve already heard Administrator Marion Blakey and Secretary Norman Mineta saying, ‘We don’t want to use the word user fees, but...’ Well, clearly we know where they’re going,” he says. NASAO opposes any type of proposed user fee. According to McEnany, “We will not be supportive of user fees, and collectively as an association all the states will come out against it.”
McEnany says user fees will impact the system negatively by decreasing general aviation activity. “It will put a larger burden on the users and especially the GA pilots. I think GA is already paying their fair share. They’re paying it at the pump and that’s where they should be paying it.”
She adds that not only would it increase the inequity of how the users of an airport are impacted, but will also create an administrative nightmare. “We’ve got something in place that works. There’s not a whole bunch of bureaucracy associated with it. Trying to structure anything else, they’re going to have to create a whole new level of bureaucracy and that’s going to cost money. So how much are we going to end up gaining?”
Funding for the Future
Both Greene and Wiswell see the introduction of very light jets (VLJs) and, on the other end of the spectrum, the A380, as another concern for funding of airport infrastructure.
Says Greene, “The VLJ will provide quite the challenge to our airports because these small jets are going to have their own needs. They’re going to have certain infrastructure needs that our airports might not be able to accommodate.”
“We have yet to see what the VLJ will do for aviation but I do feel it will increase activity at GA airports,” says Wiswell. “We need more capable facilities for handling them.”
The California and Wisconsin officials are looking ahead for the change of aircraft. According to Greene, “not a single airport in Wisconsin could accommodate the A380, so we need to look ahead in that regard. But not too far ahead because we don’t know if aircraft like the A380 is a trend that will continue. What we do know however, is that the light aircraft are coming on strong.”