Walker back in public role on Aeronautics Commission

Published 9:35 pm Thursday, March 4, 2010

Former S.C. Rep. Bob Walker of Landrum wasnt out of a public role for long.
A little over a year after he completed his last S.C. House District 38 term, Walker is serving on the S.C. Aeronautics Commission. He was appointed last month to fill the seat representing Upstate South Carolina, or District 4 on the commission.
District 4 includes five airports: Greenville-Spartanburg International, Spartanburg Downtown Airport, Greenville Downtown Airport, the Donaldson Center and Troy Shelton Field in Union County. The district does not include Fairview Airport in Campobello because that airport is privately owned.
Walker knows more than a little about the S.C. Aeronautics Commission and its purpose. He created the commission while still serving in the S.C. House.
Public airports in the state receive funds to maintain and enhance infrastructure through the states general aviation fuel tax. However, Walker says, the tax revenue was going to the S.C. Department of Commerce and often was not reaching the airports. So Walker proposed legislation to create the Aeronautics Commission, which oversees distribution of the tax revenue for the airports.
He found support among fellow legislators to create the commission, but faced resistance from the governors office, he says.
“Governor Sanford wanted to keep that money for commerce,” says Walker. “He got it held up in the Senate. We had to attach it to the budget and finally got it done. Every house member signed on to the bill and approved it.”
Walker says the commission, created six years ago, ensures that public airports get funds to meet the needs in their community, particularly for existing businesses and prospective new businesses.
“The whole crux of it is economic development. All but one of the 46 counties in the state have an airport,” says Walker. “Its amazing when a company comes to look at a place in the state how much attention they pay to the airports. They want to know their people can get in and out easily.”
Walker points to Honda in Florence County as an example. Walker adds that he thinks Boeings arrival in North Charleston will boost the aeronautics industry, drawing Boeing suppliers to the state.
“The potential with a company like Boeing is amazing,” says Walker. “I look for that to improve aeronautics in the state.”
Walker says some projects are under way at airports in District 4, including improvements at Spartanburg Downtown Airport and a runway extension in Union County. Each dollar from the aviation fuel tax in the state is matched with federal money, allowing the state to stretch its funds further for such projects. Funds from the aviation tax also go to regular inspections at airports, checking the condition of runways and safety factors, such as lighting.
Walker also knows a good bit about aeronautics. He was a pilot in the Air Force and still flies on a regular basis, using the Spartanburg Downtown Airport.
The S.C. Aviation Association gave him the “Spirit of Aviation Award” in 2004 and named him the “Aviator of the Year” in 2007. In that same year he was named to the S.C. Aviation Hall of Fame. His son also is a pilot in the Air Force today.
After serving 16 years in the S.C. House, Walker says he hopes to use his experience and relationships in state government to help the Aeronautics Commission. Walker will serve out the final two years of a four-year term given to John Houston, the former manager of Spartanburg Downtown Airport.
Houston had to be replaced on the commission after he was charged with disorderly conduct and resigned his job.
Walker will serve only two years because the District 4 seat alternates between a Spartanburg County and Greenville County representative every four years, so the next term will go to a Greenville County resident.
Walker attended his first meeting in February and says he looks forward to supporting aeronautics in the state over the next two years. “The biggest thing will be getting up to speed,” he says.

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