Tom Hendricks remembers his first solo flight like it was yesterday. “It was in a Cherokee 140 in Hamilton, Ohio,” he says. “And it was completely unexpected.”
He explains he had a crusty old flight instructor who didn’t shy away from pointing out his flaws, and he had convinced himself he would never please him enough to fly solo. But on that day, his instructor stepped off the plane and told him to “keep it running.”
“The flight was fabulous and a huge confidence builder,” he says. And, that early flight filled him with a passion for aviation that never left.
Hendricks followed his heart and made aviation his career. The retired Air Force Reserve colonel and career fighter pilot also served on active duty as a U.S. Navy officer on the USS Midway (CV-41) and as an instructor pilot at the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School. He oversaw day-to-day flight operations at Delta Air Lines as director of line operations then moved to a position as senior vice president of safety, security and operations for Airlines for America (A4A). Today he spends his time as the president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), a position he’s held since 2012.
He says, “I’m in a great place right now. I love what I’m doing and I’m able to really take advantage of my experience in aviation and help make it better.”
But he adds, if he accomplishes anything in his current role, he hopes it is to instill a passion for aviation in young people today. “I view that as a very important responsibility of someone like myself; to make sure we reach out to young people and try to attract them to the industry,” he says.
Airport Business had a chance to sit down with Hendricks at the 2013 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition and discuss NATA’s efforts to propel the aviation industry into the future.
What do you believe are the largest issues facing the industry?
Economic uncertainties continue to be the biggest drag on NATA’s members. There is a general reluctance to make large capital investments until we have a better understanding of what the future looks like from the overall U.S. global and economic perspective. I think uncertainty continues to dampen large capital investments, which in turn drive business growth and job creation. People are very much in a wait-and-see mode.
As the federal government looks for ways to address its budgetary issues, there are those who predict general and business aviation will be targeted. What can be done to show decision-makers the importance of these segments of aviation?
The federal government is going through a rough period. The FAA gets about $16 billion from the federal government. The infrastructure is aging. That includes airports, navigational aids, runways and taxiways, and airplanes. We’ve got to keep reinvesting in this industry that creates so much value, not only for just aviation but for all businesses.
One of the challenges we have is educating Congress and the general public about the importance of all segments of the aviation economy. There is no place like the U.S. in terms of our ability to transport goods and services, the job creation, the freedom we have to fly … no other place on the planet can bring these sorts of capabilities to bear. We need to continually remind Congress and the public that we have to be careful about taking aviation for granted because it’s become ubiquitous.
Ronald Donner, editor of Aircraft Maintenance Technology (AMT) magazine, will receive the Aviation Journalism Award.
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