State Director of Aeronautics Grayson Ardies reported on the state of the aviation, aerospace, and airport industries as the agency looks to bring a successful 2021 to a close. Recent highlights reported on by Director Ardies and staff include the agency’s best-ever Oklahoma Women in Aviation and Aerospace Day event that saw over 600 people attend to hear famed aviator Wally Funk share her passion for aviation along with state dignitaries including Governor Kevin Stitt, Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz, Mayor David Holt, and former NASA astronaut, Commander John Herrington. Other successes that were reported on include the Aero Caucus’ discovery flights event that was held in partnership with the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) local chapters and Aeronautics Commission at the Guthrie/Edmond Regional Airport in October. Over 25 legislators experienced their first flight in a general aviation (GA) aircraft. EAA chapter members helped to educate legislators on the basic principles of flight and how important the GA sector is the overall aviation and aerospace industry in Oklahoma.
Building on the general aviation theme and the importance of making Oklahomans aware of what aviation and aerospace can mean to their communities, Director Ardies and aviation and aerospace education coordinator Paula Kedy reported to the Commission on the progress of the agency’s aviation and aerospace education program. Staff was excited to report on the announcement of the agency receiving one of the FAA’s Section 625 Workforce Development Grants.
“We look forward to implementing this grant program with our statewide consortium of partners to bring more aviation and aerospace curriculum, STEM training, and career awareness to Oklahoma’s youth. Workforce is one of the biggest challenges we face in our industry and we need to do everything we can to ensure our students are prepared to join a career in aviation and aerospace,” said Director Ardies. Education coordinator Paula Kedy also discussed her efforts to reach out to school superintendents, encouraging them to sign up for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) “You Can Fly” high school curriculum. Currently, 31 Oklahoma high schools are teaching this program and the agency hopes to increase that to 50 schools for the 2022-2023 school year.
OAC Airports Division staff reported on their airport outreach efforts throughout 2021 including many site visits to help airports conduct strategic visioning meetings, airport safety inspections, and pavement evaluations. These inspections help municipalities with the technical expertise on how to operate, develop, and maintain an airport. In 2021, agency staff utilized their newly created GIS based Airport Pavement Management System (APMS) to inspect 31 airports. This APMS information helps public officials determine the condition of the pavement and is available to the public through the OAC website at the link below:
The Commission was briefed on projects in the Airport Construction Program that were completed during the 2021 calendar year. Projects totaling nearly $30 million of federal, state, and local funding were highlighted, including several notable projects. The agency’s largest, single-phase project at a GA airport occurred in Ponca City with the reconstruction of its runway for $8.1 million. Other notable projects included $4.4 million for phase 1 of the terminal building reconstruction at Lawton/Ft. Sill Regional, reconstruction of the runway at Skiatook for $2.2 million, and phase 1 reconstruction of the parallel taxiway system at Max Westheimer Airport in Norman for $5.7 million. The agency also reported on its progress in a focus area that has been highlighted over the last several years by conducting lighting and navigational aid improvements across the airport system including 2021 projects at Alva, Atoka, Chattanooga, Christman Airfield (Okeene), Cordell, Lindsay, Mignon-Laird (Cheyenne), Mid-America Industrial Airport (Pryor), Robert S Kerr (Poteau), Seminole, and Tahlequah.
The Commission also approved adding seven hangar development projects to the current 5-year Airport Construction Program as part of the agency’s newly created hangar program. New hangars will be constructed ranging from large, multi-thousand square foot hangars intended to help increase the aerospace business or corporate aircraft presence at our airports all the way down to smaller sized T-hangars for single-engine aircraft that will spur additional growth and activity for airports. Communities and airports that will participate in this newly formed program include Ardmore Municipal Airport, Grove Regional Airport, Okemah Municipal Airport, Pauls Valley Municipal Airport, Stan Stamper Municipal Airport in Hugo, Stroud Municipal Airport, and Thomas Municipal Airport.