From Kathy Vesely
Assistant Director, MnDOT Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2020 issue
In the year 2000, already 22 years into my MnDOT career, I applied for a transfer to the Airport Development Section (ADS) of the Aeronautics Office. I thought I might have “fun at work” in an office where my job and hobby would match; my husband Mikey and I were already flying a 1968 Cessna Cardinal “for fun”. At the time, I imagined I’d stay long enough to qualify for the state’s early retirement formula and then head out. With my new job, I actually got PAID to fly in airplanes and visit airports! How COOL was that?
You might remember that 2000 was the first year the U.S. Congress rolled out General Aviation (GA) Entitlement. That meant more of Minnesota’s airports could get an FAA grant every year – like 97 of them, almost all of which had never had a federal grant before. We (Aeronautics ADS) decided to roll out a GA Entitlement training program and hold regional classes around the state. I also made it a point to meet one to one with each airport in my region – I’d attend an airport commission meeting or get together with the airport manager to develop a proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for consideration by the city’s elected officials. I would also use the opportunity to ask about the community’s hopes and dreams for the airport (it usually only took one question to start a good conversation). In this way I would learn about the longer term needs for the airport and we could begin to plan for them. My job got to be “personal” and I was privileged to meet some of the heroes our Minnesota airports are named after.
Part of the GA Entitlement training focused on building a realistic qualifying CIP. In the early 2000s CIPs were only focused on the immediate project at hand, rather than the long range. By 2001 all of “my” airports had a 5 to 7-year CIP which qualified them for a full entitlement of $150,000. FAA grant workload skyrocketed. Later, as Planning Director, it became obvious that 5 to 7 years of project planning was still not enough. As work on the 2012 State Aviation System Plan (SASP) went on, our team thoughtfully delivered an easy to read, informative plan. However big gaps still existed in project lists for the system 10 to 20 years out. As a result, we were unable to inform the Minnesota Legislature and the U.S. Congress of the true monetary cost estimate of the future needs for the system.
Since Cassandra Isackson became Aeronautics Director, and selected me as Assistant Director, we’ve been able to create changes. After inviting ourselves to a “Needs Meeting” hosted at each airport in the state, a 20-year statewide CIP developed, illustrating the cash demand for airport projects. With the return of $15 million, borrowed by the general fund in earlier deficit years, we were able to add a 5% State share to FAA grant projects, increase participation rates for state-only airports so they had percentages similar to FAA supported projects, recalculate the Maintenance & Operation (M&O) grant program infrastructure and add dollars to the M&O base, and successfully request two increases to the base for the State Airports Fund (SAF) budget at the Minnesota Legislature. These are things a strong team can accomplish only when all are working together – airports, consultants, federal, state, and local governments, and you!
All of the work in my past has been challenging; therefore, interesting and fun. Now, here I am in the year 2020, and although I am STILL having fun at work, it’s time to retire so Mikey and I can fly more often. I will truly miss all the folks I’ve worked with at airports across the state and am incredibly grateful for everything I’ve learned from you! Hopefully we’ll see each other again soon, when Mikey and I land at your airport.