A recent dismissal of top aviation management from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) looks to be another step in the further marginalization of aviation in the State of Arizona. Barclay Dick, former Director for the Aeronautics Group noted, “if that’s the direction of the march, the Aeronautics Group staff will have great trouble funding the outstanding grants, issuing new grants, and continuing the improvements to the state’s airports.”
Hits to Arizona’s Aviation Fund has resulted in the State having to defer grant payments and eliminate any further state grants for the foreseeable future. Arizona was listed recently as second only to California, as having been hit the hardest in these trying economic times. We think everyone recognizes the need for making tough decisions, but one has to wonder if the impact on aviation has been disproportionate.
We wrote several months ago about a lack of vision on behalf of the Arizona Governor and Legislature for having swept over $40 million from the aviation fund to plug holes in the general fund, and there is talk of sweeping more funds from that account. We are led to believe that there are many that don’t understand what the long-term impact this action is going to have on the state’s system of airports.
The Arizona Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced the layoff of 90 Motor Vehicle Division employees at locations across the state, with another 25 layoffs to follow shortly. According to ADOT spokeswoman Laura Douglas, the layoffs are the latest in a series of moves the agency has taken to make up more than $100 million in budget cuts it suffered earlier this year to help balance the state budget deficit, estimated at more than $2 billion.
"These are very challenging times, and with this latest round of MVD employee layoffs, it’s obviously something we didn’t want to do," Douglas said Thursday. "We wanted to avoid it, but because our budget circumstances are so dire, we had to take action immediately."
We recognize that ADOT has a full time job focusing on their largest customer base – drivers and highway users, but let’s use the press release we referred to above as an example of how aviation is being marginalized. We have to assume the loss of state aviation jobs is not as important as those in other modes of transportation and therefore doesn’t warrant a news release. The State Aviation Journal had to ask for an official statement from ADOT when the top two aeronautics managers were dismissed on November 5th.
ADOT stated in defense of the dismissals that the "Aviation Fund, like other state transportation funds, is facing declining revenues and fund sweeps that requires changes to streamline their operations." Certainly aviation has to contribute its fair share as does the Aeronautics Group within ADOT. But let’s look at the situation in its totality.
On top of the sweeps in July of this year, the Arizona Department of Transportation relocated and reorganized the Aeronautics Division. Now, it did make some sense to move the employees of the Division from leased property to offices already owned by ADOT. That action alone saved a substantial amount of money. The ironic thing is that it was ADOT management that instructed Aeronautics to find leased space in the first place many years ago.
What is still open for debate is the decision to reorganize the Aeronautics Division in the first place. ADOT’s mantra was efficiency, efficiency, efficiency! Well, time will tell how efficient it was to move responsibility for the operation of the Grand Canyon National Park airport from a management team that had over 100 years of airport management experience and place it in the hands of people whose focus is on…well let’s just say, it hasn’t been airports!
Aircraft registration, which has experienced a 30% growth in registered aircraft since 2004 and a 72% growth in revenue from the same year, was moved to the Motor Vehicle Division. The Aeronautics Division worked successfully a couple of years ago in partnership with MVD to create on-line registration for aircraft owners. That action was well received by aircraft owners and a long time coming, but moving responsibility for all functions of aircraft registration in the name of efficiency to a division that has no appreciation for or understanding of airplanes and aviation – well, one has to wonder about that, especially in light of the learning curve ahead of them, the aforementioned lay-offs and the additional MVD employees they’ve had to involve in the registration process since the reorganization.
All aviation outreach and education was moved to ADOT’s Communication and Community Partnerships (CCP). That group certainly has the expertise to write about and promote ADOT, transportation and the challenges they face, but do they have a passion for, or an understanding of aviation and its importance to the state? Any outreach or education efforts will undoubtedly be token at best! We are hopeful that one or two excellent programs like “Wings to Fly” will continue, but we will have to wait and see what kind of support those programs are given.
Unless strong leadership emerges in Arizona both in the industry and in government, I’m afraid the vision and hard work promulgated by those before us, which resulted in a strong system of airports, will fade and end up costing the state much more than just dollars.
In an interview with Barclay Dick for a story in the next issue of the State Aviation Journal e-magazine, he said, “you have to wonder if the expenditure of Aviation Fund monies on airport improvement projects: keeping the money flowing, helping to mitigate unemployment, and providing tax revenue back to the state, wouldn’t, in the final analysis, be better for the state, its economy and its airports than the transfer of Aviation Fund monies to the General Fund to plug budget holes.”
Mr. Dick spent thirty years with the Tucson Airport Authority and has worked tirelessly for the betterment of that airport as well as all airports in Arizona working through organizations like the Arizona Airports Association, AAAE and the Southwest Chapter of AAAE. One thing he learned from his peers was, “that to take care of an individual airport you also have to take care for the system of airports.”
We asked Mr. Dick what surprised him the most about his five years at ADOT. His answer was "how hard it was to do the right thing." We hope that isn’t pervasive throughout ADOT, for even after dismissing Mr. Dick, ADOT might have included in their official statement a simple thank you for his years of service.
The State Aviation Journal recognizes Barclay Dick for his hard work, dedication and contributions to aviation and the State of Arizona.