The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) was founded in September 1928 when 10 airport directors met at the National Air Races at Mines Field (now Los Angeles International Airport). Air races manager Cliff Henderson, acting on the suggestion of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Francis J. Geng, sent letters to airport managers across the country to attend an organizational meeting with the goal of forming a group to represent airport management throughout the U.S.
The association’s early years were challenging for several reasons. Lean economic times in the early 1930s meant AAAE survived on the backs of a few dedicated volunteer leaders. World War II meant the cessation of meetings.
In 1954, the association formally adopted a professional standards accreditation program. Since that time, no one has been awarded Accredited Airport Executive (A.A.E.) status without meeting the requirements established by the Board of Directors. That same year, AAAE’s annual conference, held each year since its founding, expanded to include exhibitors of airport services, products and equipment.
In 1959, AAAE added its first full-time staff member: F. Russell Hoyt, A.A.E. Hoyt would lead the association staff until his retirement in 1983. During this time. Hoyt and AAAE’s volunteer leaders built the foundation that the association stands upon today, making it an organization in which members from the smallest airports to the largest airports could be heard and have a hand in its leadership. AAAE also became an organization that fostered the development of life-long professional and personal bonds among its members and leaders.
By 1983, with Hoyt approaching retirement, a new generation of business-oriented and politically astute members began to assume volunteer leadership positions within AAAE. At the same time, federal regulation and legislation affecting airports was growing exponentially. AAAE’s volunteer leaders determined that the association’s new staff leadership should meet these challenges directly.
In late 1983, AAAE’s Executive Committee selected Charles “Chip” Barclay, A.A.E., as the association’s new staff leader. Barclay’s experience at a federal agency, as a Capitol Hill staffer and as an assistant to Hoyt in the early 1970s gave him the ideal mix of experience to lead the AAAE staff.
With the staff under strong leadership, the volunteer leaders addressed the association’s other pressing need: resources. With a budget of $600,000 and a total staff of five, AAAE was modest by trade-association standards. The board and elected leaders understood the importance of growth to serve the membership’s needs, but insisted that AAAE’s dues not be used as the primary revenue-generating means. While this has kept dues low enough to remain affordable to the individual airport executive, it forced AAAE to develop an innovative, entrepreneurial business model.
AAAE has succeeded over the years, creating a suite of products and services that address airport industry needs, and generate the revenue required to support core association services, such as the Airport Legislative Alliance, Regulatory Affairs, and the Transportation Security Policy departments. Products like the patented, computer-based Interactive Employee Training (IET) demonstrate both AAAE’s commitment to providing the airport community with cost-effective tools and its ability to create a successful business model that does not lean heavily on membership dues.
AAAE’s nearly 5,000 individual members includes some 3,000 airport professionals representing nearly 850 different airports, from large hubs to general aviation facilities. The association’s 600 corporate members are dedicated to serving airports and the aviation industry, and provide critical support to the association through their participation in meetings and workshops.
Since its inception in 1928, AAAE has continued to move forward and grow, not only in size but in expertise. As the world’s premier association of airport executives, AAAE delivers results-oriented representation in Washington, D.C. and offers a wide range of cost-effective industry services and professional development opportunities for airport executives worldwide.