At its Wednesday, Oct. 14 meeting, the seven-member Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission accepted the retirement of long-time State Director of Aeronautics Victor Bird. Bird leaves a long legacy of state policymaking with 36 years of public service to the State of Oklahoma. During his 18-year tenure with OAC, Bird’s emphasized promotion of the aerospace industry, one of the state’s largest industries and top employers; critical planning and development for the state’s air transportation system; upgrading as many of the state’s 49 regional business airports as possible to be jet-capable; and encouraging public-private partnerships to promote the aerospace industry. Under his leadership, the Commission has invested $71 million in state funds and directed $189 million in federal funds into airport infrastructure statewide.
“Being Director for the last 18 years has, indeed, been the honor of a lifetime,” Bird told the State Aviation Journal. “Representing my constituents, airports, the aerospace industry, military aviation, pilots, and other professionals in our aviation workforce has been a profound privilege.”
Bird not only has had an impact on the State of Oklahoma, but nationwide as well, serving on the Board of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO). He was the Association’s Chair in 2010 and co-chaired the Legislative Committee for many years. “Having the ability to call upon the wealth of expertise among my NASAO brethren was always my secret weapon,” quipped Bird.
Bird’s career in state government started in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office under Mike Turpen in 1983. He subsequently served at Oklahoma State University, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and again in the Attorney General’s office under two different attorneys general. Bird earned his juris doctorate and bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa, leading to him to a career in law within the public sector. It was this legal background and his knowledge of state government that ultimately led him to the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission as Director in 2002. Although he was a newcomer to aviation and aerospace, he saw the amazing opportunities to help foster and grow the industry and immediately put his knowledge and connections within state government to work.
In the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, Bird had a great deal of interaction with other attorneys general offices, and many other public officials. “My brethren in NASAO are the most dedicated public servants that I have I have ever had the privilege of associating with,” said Bird. “Each and all of them are committed to improving all sectors and aspects of aviation for their respective states. Serving alongside them has been an honor and a privilege.”
Greg Pecoraro, NASAO’s President & CEO, said Director Bird has been critical to the success of NASAO over the years, particularly in the Association’s legislative endeavors. “We cannot thank him enough for his dedication and continuous leadership.”
In 2017 Bird was the recipient of NASAO’s Kenneth A. Rowe Ambassador of Aviation Award – the Association’s most prestigious.
Bird developed many important friendships during his tenure in Oklahoma including U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) “Congratulations to my longtime friend on his retirement after 18 years of service as director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission,” said Sen. Inhofe. “As the longest serving director in Oklahoma history, he has been a tireless advocate for aviation and aerospace.” The Senator said Bird’s efforts have resulted in pro-aviation legislation in Oklahoma, growing its annual economic impact to $44 billion that has resulted in tens of thousands of jobs.
Throughout his career Bird has championed general aviation, supporting pilots and airport investments across the state. His tenure as director has been marked with distinction from his peers and professional firsts. “He is the first and only non-elected public official to receive the Joseph B. “Doc” Hartranft Jr. Award from the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA). I am proud of his service to Oklahoma and the aviation community as whole,” said Sen. Inhofe. “Thank you, Vic.”
Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz also congratulated Vic on a lifetime of service to the State of Oklahoma and thanked him for bringing a vision and energy to the Aeronautics Commission at a critical time in its history. “Vic is a nationally respected leader in the aerospace sector and his expertise and advocacy have helped grow the industry and ensure that Oklahoma has a long-term plan for keeping our air transportation system safe and effective,” said Gatz.
Highlights of Bird’s tenure include formation of the Governor’s Aerospace Task Force in 2004, which resulted in several recommendations to ensure the viability and growth of the state’s aerospace industry. One of those recommendations that Bird was instrumental in bringing to fruition was the Legislature’s creation of Engineer Tax Credits for Aerospace, which provides tax credits to engineers that go to work in aerospace and the aerospace companies that hire them. Engineers that go to work for Tinker AFB, the FAA Monroney Aeronautical Center, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and others, and the employers that hire them have greatly benefitted from these tax credits. Bird also championed a sales tax exemption on purchases of products and services from the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) sector of the aerospace industry. Up to 80% of aerospace companies in Oklahoma are engaged in MRO and this provided them a critical competitive advantage.
Other legislative successes include the Aerospace Development Act of 2008, which transferred two key aerospace programs, the Center for Aerospace Supplier Quality and the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute, to OAC. These programs evolved into the very successful Aerospace Commerce Economic Services (ACES) program now operated by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. The Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act, which became law in 2010, was also accomplished under Bird’s watch and ensured that public-use airports and military airports were provided legal protections from encroaching development. It was this accomplishment that led to Bird receiving AOPA’s coveted Hartranft Award.
“Vic has been a personal friend of mine for years,” said Oklahoma native and retired astronaut Gen. Thomas Stafford. “He has done more for aviation and aerospace in Oklahoma than anyone I know. He is our #1 “Airvangelist” and has spread the good news about how important aviation is in Oklahoma to everyone.
Gen. Stafford said Bird’s expertise and experience advocating in Congress and at the State Capitol will be sorely missed. “I am so proud of the fact that Vic received the award bearing my name for his outstanding contribution to the Oklahoma aerospace industry for his authoring and championing of the engineer tax credits for aerospace that are the most unique tax incentives for aerospace in the country. This isn’t the end of Vic’s service to aviation. I can’t wait to see what he does next, concluded Stafford.”
Bird said he knows that it will surprise none of his colleagues and friends in aviation that he could go on for hours about the innumerable gratifying rewards that he has been the beneficiary of in serving as the Director of Aeronautics for the State of Oklahoma. “I’ll see my aviation friends and colleagues again as I’ll be doing a little consulting for an aviation and aerospace company,” said Bird. “No way I’d go back into practicing law and billing hours. I’ve learned that a job where you just do a little lawyerin’ on the side is much better! See you down the flight path!”
Grayson Ardies, Deputy Director for the OAC, was appointed by the Commission at the same meeting as the new Director.