Cullman Regional Airport’s Ben Harrison chosen to chair NATA subcommittee

Ben Harrison on the apron at Cullman Regional Airport (Photo courtesy of Ben Harrison)

VINEMONT, Ala. – Cullman Regional Airport General Manager Ben Harrison, named last year to the National Air Transportation Association’s (NATA) Airport Business Committee (, has recently been chosen to chair that committee’s Airport Sponsored Fixed Base Operator (FBO) Subcommittee.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Compliance Manual, “A fixed-base operator (FBO) is a commercial entity providing aeronautical services such as fueling, maintenance, storage, ground and flight instruction, etc. to the public.” Most commercial airports lease access to private or corporate FBOs, but for many smaller municipal airports like Cullman’s, which is jointly owned by Cullman County and the City of Cullman, the airport administration is its own FBO. The new subcommittee will specifically address the issues faced by such airports.

On Wednesday, Harrison told The Tribune, “Under the (FBO) subcommittee, there are a number of airports in the nation that are run by municipalities, meaning the city or the county has some form of ownership in that airport, whether it’s fully functional or partnership-like we are-things like that. There’s a need there because, within that government regulation, we have more things that we have to do, that not just an FBO has to do.”

The city/county partnership which sponsors Cullman Regional Airport is responsible for all of the regulatory issues faced by FBOs that lease airport access, but additionally has all the responsibilities of the airport owner.  

A release from the NATA reads:

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) recently formed an Airport Sponsored FBO Subcommittee under the Association’s Airport Business Committee. The NATA Executive Team has recommended Ben Harrison (Cullman Regional Airport) to act as the Subcommittee Chairman.

As the FBO industry continues to see an increasing number of airport-operated FBOs, NATA’s Airport Sponsored FBO Subcommittee will address the many challenges and opportunities this specific community encounters in today’s FBO market. NATA’s goal is to help raise the safety bar for airport-operated FBOs.

“Cullman Regional Airport is a great example of an airport that serves the community well and we wanted to tap into Ben’s expertise so others can benefit,” stated NATA Chief Operating Officer Tim Obitts. “NATA represents over 100 airport-sponsored FBOs, and this Subcommittee will provide a forum for this stakeholder group and a voice for the safety, quality, and security issues these aviation businesses are encountering on a daily basis,” noted Obitts.

In his talk with The Tribune, Harrison responded to his appointment, saying, “Number one, I’m honored they would even ask me. That’s the biggest thing, because it’s an honor to be named to that. But it’s also an effort where it’s an exciting time, because you’re going to deal with airports all over the country. So, you have the ability to learn from other people and see how they’re doing certain operations, to see how it fits within ours. It’s all an area for improvement.”

What will this mean for Cullman and its airport?

Said Harrison, “Well, I think, number one, it gives us some exposure on a national level, which is helpful. Does that mean we’re going to get a lot more traffic? No, but it does mean we get some form of national exposure, so that helps us, but it also gives us a way to learn from other entities and other cities or counties, to see how they’re running their business, to see if we can make ourselves more efficient, because we certainly don’t have all the answers. The only thing that we can do to make things more efficient here is what we’re trying to accomplish. You know, that helps all the people here, because the taxpayers are supporting this.”

The Airport Business Committee, of which Harrison is a member, according to the NATA “is made up of people who work at aeronautical businesses and are familiar with issues that arise as part of owning and operating that business. As such, members on the committee are tasked to promote the interests of the association’s airport businesses by addressing regulatory and legislative issues and industry concerns. The committee members represent the diversity of operations at airports by working on a variety of issues such as community relations, leasing, minimum standards, environmental, security, miscellaneous business concerns and regulatory compliance issues.”

Airport renovation update

The Tribune also got a report from Harrison on the continuing improvement of the airport’s paved surfaces. 

After last week’s construction-related closure, he said, “Everything’s back, totally open and operational. Of course, we still have the north taxiway closed as they’re rebuilding it. I would think we’re within maybe two to three weeks of having it finished so we can get it opened back up. That’ll put all of our taxiways completely rebuilt, and then we’ll get ready to start this runway project.”

The airport’s runway rehabilitation project, which should allow the airport to accommodate heavier aircraft than its current load capacity, is scheduled for 2020.

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W.C. Mann