The N.C. Department of Transportation has bid farewell to Director of Aviation Bobby Walston as he retired April 28 after 33 years with the program.
“From the first days joining Aviation, I have loved this industry and the opportunities aviation provides for so many – from protecting our nation to saving lives to connecting people and products to markets all over the world – I have seen it all,” Walston said. “I have loved introducing newcomers to the field, from local officials managing their public airports to young people discovering the world of aviation careers available. There are so many things about this form of transportation that inspires me and so many others.”
Walston, a registered professional engineer with extensive experience in aviation planning, programming and airport engineering and construction, was recognized earlier in April with the N.C. Governor’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award. The award is among the highest honors given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through service and exceptional accomplishments.
The Tarboro native holds a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from N.C. State University and a master’s degree in military operational art and science from the U.S. Air Force Air University's Air Command and Staff College.
He joined the N.C. Department of Transportation in 1990 through the Transportation Engineering Associate (TEA) Progam, becoming the division’s first TEA and a mentee of the late Willard G. Plentl, Jr., the state’s first aviation director. Since his time as a TEA, Walston has held numerous roles at NCDOT, including airport planning engineer, airport development engineer and manager of statewide plans and programs.
Walston has served as director of aviation for NCDOT since 2013, leading initiatives that promote a safe and robust air transportation system and vibrant economy. His work led to significant innovation in the state’s air transportation system, from developing the state’s first statewide airport contract program to save tax dollars to creating a first-of-its-kind tiered classification system with objective criteria for prioritizing grant funding.
Under his leadership, an economic development program was established within the Division to help airports recruit new businesses, state funding for airport development climbed nearly 500 percent, becoming the second-highest level of state investment in the country behind Florida, oversight of state aviation funds reached an all-time high and North Carolina has become a national leader in unmanned air transportation.
In addition to his 33 years of service within NCDOT, Walston served 28 years in the N.C. Air National Guard for years, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2010. He also served as chair on the Executive Board of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO) and received the organization’s top awards: a NASAO Exemplary Service Award, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to NASAO and lifelong dedication to the aviation industry, and the Kenneth Rowe Ambassador of Aviation Award, which honors state aviation directors who embody the award namesake’s spirit, optimism and fierce pride in the capabilities of state aviation agencies. He also received an N.C. Airport Association’s President’s Award and its Willard G. Plentl, Jr. Airport Professional of the Year Award for working tirelessly to raise awareness and the impact of aviation in North Carolina and the nation.
“I’m humbled and honored to have had the pleasure to serve this division and role in the state where manned flight began,” Walston said. “With so many leaders and great people working in this space in our state, I’m certain the forecast for continued success is clear and bright!”