New AzAA President Says Membership Well Positioned to Tackle Future Challenges, Opportunities

As with any membership organization, the year ahead for the Arizona Airports Association (AzAA), promises to bring both challenges and opportunities. Matthew Smith, AzAA’s new President, says the organization is well positioned and equipped to deal with both.     

Matthew Smith

“The biggest challenge could be working through some legislative issues,” said Smith. “Some legislators want to cut into sources of revenue that feed the State Aviation Fund. The State Aviation Fund is paid for by airport users, not by general taxpayers, so it is about as fair as one could hope for in a government setting,” said Smith. “Users pay for what they use.” This isn’t the first time that this issue has come up and Smith recognizes that there is work to do helping these legislators understand the positive impact the Fund has on the State, and the negative impact of reducing the Fund. “Mix this weakening of the State Aviation Fund with the current rate of inflation and the imminent recession, and we have a recipe for hurting the whole state aviation system,” said Smith.

Smith says that the biggest opportunity for AZAA is through the membership. “We have started a mentoring program that pairs up and coming airport staff with more experienced managers in long-term relationships. We also have a “wingman” program at our conferences that pairs first-time attendees with regular attendees for the night to help the new person meet everyone and have a good time.” According to Smith, the opportunity for members, new and old, to grow and develop and to help bring the best out of each other is phenomenal. “Never underestimate the power of people.”

As the director of the Grand Canyon National Park Airport (GCN), owned and operated by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), Smith understands how a reduction in revenue can impact airports. “Having worked in the ADOT Aeronautics office and having been deep in the effort to recover the State Aviation Fund after the last sweep, I understand the Fund and the Aeronautics programs extremely well,” noted Smith. “Working at GCN has been invaluable.”  Smith said he learned a great deal working in the Aeronautics office, but it wasn’t until he had his own airport, did he gain a new perspective on how decisions made at that level either helped or hurt airports and the state system.

AzAA has long been considered one of the best run and strongest airport associations in the country. Smith attributes that to two things. “First, we like each other–we’re friends,” said Smith. It may seem silly to some people, but Smith believes members of AZAA really enjoy spending time with each other. “Each conference is like a class reunion or something. I speak for myself here, but I live for our conferences. There’s nothing like meeting everyone face to face and catching up with each other. Members love each other and the organization, and it shows.” Second, Smith says they found a great association management firm that keeps them a “well-oiled machine” on the business side. “They have been a true partner and they are a real part of the AZAA family.”

After serving at ADOT Aeronautics Group for several years, Smith was promoted to Airport Manager at the Grand Canyon National Park Airport in 2018. He says he is a totally self-motivated person, who likes to win, not sit on his duff. And what does winning look like? To Smith, it means reviving the capital improvement program. “We used to give away our FAA entitlement almost every year,” said Smith. “Next fiscal year I will exhaust my entitlements and start dipping into discretionary. I am going to reconstruct my runway, and in the following years reconstruct the parallel and connecting taxiways followed by reconstructing the apron.” Smith says he is also working on a total remodel and expansion of the terminal in hopes of getting a BIL grant to do construction. “These are projects that are usually once in a lifetime opportunities for an airport manager,” said Smith. “It also means trying to make the airport profitable for the first time in decades.”

In his spare time Smith volunteers with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. He was most recently the Division Commander for Arizona. Matt’s primary interests at work are capital improvements and hosting barbecue luncheons for employees and guests.

Smith tells the State Aviation Journal that ADOT has been very supportive, both of his AzAA involvement and of the airport itself. “It’s been great.”