by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine December 2022/January 2023 Digital Issue
EAU CLAIRE, WIS. – Welcoming attendees to the Wisconsin Aviation Conference, October 3 – 5, 2022, was the President of the Wisconsin Airport Management Association (WAMA), Greg Cullen, Director at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville, Wisconsin; and Benny Anderson, Executive Director of “Visit Eau Claire.”
Eau Claire may be home for “Menards” building supply company, which operates a large fleet of aircraft, but nearby Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, is home for “Leinenkugel Brewing Company.” Host airport director, Charity Zich, welcomed guest speaker, Katie Leinenkugel, to the conference, October 4. The opening reception and dinner were held the evening prior at the beautiful “Leinie Lodge.” Katie’s presentation was entertaining and learning the history of the brewery was interesting.
A general session followed featuring Dave Greene of the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics, Deb Bartell of FAA’s Chicago Airports District Office, and others.
Faye Malarkey Black, President and CEO of the Regional Airline Association, and Michael Mooney of Volaire Aviation Consulting, discussed how pilot shortages are affecting regional airline service to smaller Wisconsin communities. They noted how the airlines are replacing their small regional jets with larger jets, and that career opportunities within the airline industry are plentiful.
An awards luncheon recognized individuals who have made contributions to aviation in Wisconsin.
Ryan Falch of the engineering and consulting firm, Short Elliott Henderson (SEH), received the “Airport Engineer Award.” Falch, now a senior engineer with the company, has assisted many airports in Part 139 inspections, capital improvement and master planning, and runway reconstruction. He designed, engineered, and managed several large-scale projects at Alexander Field (KISW) in Wisconsin Rapids, and is dedicated to familiarizing himself with an airfield, its community, and stakeholders. SEH is headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, has offices in 11 states, and employees in more than 24 states.
Michael Stephens of Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin, received the “Distinguished Service Award.” Stephens currently serves as the Director of Operations and Public Safety for the airport. He has been an invaluable resource and friend to Wisconsin airports in many professional capacities, including as a former FAA Certification Safety Inspector for the Great Lakes Region. Stephens is always willing to assist airport operators when called upon, and his vast knowledge and extensive connections will be missed as he retires.
Receiving the “Lifetime Service Award” was Randy Van Natta of Becher Hoppe, an engineering and consulting firm in Wausau, Wisconsin. Van Natta served as President and CEO of Becher-Hoppe Associates from 2004 through 2021. While president, he actively consulted on airport improvement projects and provided quality assurance reviews. Since the beginning of 2022, Van Natta has served as a senior consultant for the company. Among his many credentials, Van Natta holds a Private Pilot Certificate.
Frank Pipia, Jr. of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) received the “Blue Light Award” for his work in communications. Pipia provides strategic communications and public affairs, graphic design, and public and media relations for TSA. He works closely with Wisconsin’s congressional delegation and often invites delegation members to tour Wisconsin airports while Congress is in recess. Pipia also coordinates and promotes TSA Pre-Check enrollment events. During COVID, Pipia was a steadying presence, relaying to the public the positive things airports did to keep the traveling public safe.
Josh Holbrook, a project manager with the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics, was named “Person of the Year.” Project managers typically are only assigned one commercial service airport, but Holbrook has juggled between two airports on multiple occasions – Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (KEAU) and Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport (KGRB). Both airports have extensive capital improvement programs and have added additional projects with CARES and AIG funding. Holbrook always supports airports, aggressively pursuing funding opportunities and never says no when asked to help with other projects, despite recent staffing shortages and additional federal grant programs.
Also recognized at the awards luncheon were Phil Peterson and Mark Peterson of Oregon, Wisconsin, for completing the “Fly Wisconsin Passport Program,” having visited all 125 participating public airports. This Gold Level accomplishment earned the Petersons leather flight jackets. For additional information on the program, go to http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/travel/air/pilot-info/flywi-howto.aspx, email email@example.com or call (608) 266-3351. The Fly Wisconsin Passport Program is sponsored by the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics and Wisconsin Airport Management Association. Since the program launched in 2017, 2,200 pilots have registered.
Additional conference topics included commercial air service, general aviation and airport board roundtables; lease management; first responder preparedness at airports; a Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics update; general aviation airport planning; unleaded aviation fuels; industry advocacy; marketing strategies; general aviation airports and the airport manager’s role; understanding the certification and commissioning of an airport’s AWOS/ASOS; FAA’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding; and preserving, improving and creating airstrips for recreational access.
It was announced during the conference, that the Wisconsin Airport Management Association created five state chapters to provide networking opportunities to help solve airport connectivity problems. Each chapter is led by an airport director and WAMA board member.
The effort that goes into planning and executing the Wisconsin Aviation Conference, and other state aviation and airport conferences, does not go unrecognized. Each conference requires hundreds of man hours and extensive committee work by its members, and financial support from their exhibitors.
The 2023 Wisconsin Aviation Conference will be September 20-22 in Appleton. Appleton International Airport will host the conference at the Hilton Appleton Paper Valley Hotel.