Job Growth, Business Expansion Needed at Napa Airport, National Leader Says

Tom Hendricks, new NATA CEO, visits Napa Airport Wednesday.

NATA CEO Tom Hendricks, right, chats with Mark Willey, Napa Jet Center CEO, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. credit Keri Brenner
NATA CEO Tom Hendricks, right, chats with Mark Willey, Napa Jet Center CEO, on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. credit Keri Brenner
Napa Airport's new friend in Washington vowed Wednesday to push for policies and money to grow prosperity at the 69-year-old, 263-acre facility south of Napa.

"Do people want to have an airport here in Napa Valley that's vibrant and creates jobs or not?" said Tom Hendricks, president and CEO of the National Air Transportation Association.

Hendricks, 56, of Alexandria, Va., made his remarks prior to a reception Wednesday at the airport for private airplane owners and businesspeople who wanted to hear about the current status of aviation amid federal budget cuts.

Hendricks, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and Delta Airlines pilot, has been visiting all 2,000-plus members of NATA since he started in his current post on Sept. 1, 2012.

"We're concerned for the small business operator," he said. "Everybody loves aviation, but it's hard to make a buck -- there's only a slim profit margin, usually in the single digits."

NATA members are mostly businesses at so-called "general aviation" (i.e. non-commercial-airline) airports -- such as Napa Jet Center at Napa Airport. Napa Jet Center and the County of Napa control almost all the property and facilities at the airport, which houses almost 300 planes.

Other NATA members at airports include gas stations, airline services, charter plane operators, airplane catering companies, or the "fixed base operators," or central airport service centers.

"Tom has a lot of respect in Washington," said Napa Jet Center CEO Mark Willey, a former NATA board member who helped recruit Hendricks for the job. "It takes strong leadership to get the right word out."

Napa Jet Center employs about 50 people, Willey said.

Hendrick said he is lobbying on several fronts in Washington to make sure general aviation airports don't get lost in the budget shuffle.

Those include:

-- Monitoring proposed "sequestration" cuts after the current budget cycle ends Sept. 30. The industry was able to hold off cuts at airport control towers and furlough days planned in the spring, but Hendricks said there were no guarantees in the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

-- Working with the IRS to make sure federal excise tax agreements for certain airport businesses are appropriate and justified.

-- Supporting research on reducing or eliminating lead in fuels for piston engine airplanes.

"We want to promote policies that allow the airport to be financially viable, that create jobs and business expansion," Hendricks said.


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