On Tuesday, April 23, the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority got a surprise visit from a very important guest – U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, who clearly delighted the board members and airport staff with his unannounced visit.
Tillis arrived suddenly with his aide, came strolling into the conference room, and went straight to the head of the room – something that halted the Airport Authority right in the middle of a vote on a motion. Normally, if someone created that kind of distraction, security would be called; however, since Tillis is a U.S. senator who’s helped the airport out with many causes, he was able to interrupt the meeting with no worries.
Among other things, Tillis played a big role in helping the airport get funding for the new taxiway bridge that makes the airport’s new aviation mega site possible. Piedmont Triad International Airport Executive Director Kevin Baker, who introduced Tillis even though the Senator clearly needed no introduction, spoke on how valuable Tillis had been to the airport.
“One of the running jokes is, anytime that I come into his office now, he’ll look me in the eye and say, ‘You got your damn bridge – what do you want now?’”
The Senator said he was recently with people who served on the governing authority for Dulles International Airport and Washington National Airport.
“I told them how proud I was of the work that you all do,” Tillis said.
He spoke briefly on ways the board could use him as a resource and he also spoke on matters and procedures now in motion in Washington. He said his goal was always to let the Airport Authority control the direction of the airport rather than politicians.
“Y’all have got a great reputation as a board and you’ve got a great story to tell as an airport,” Tillis said, “which is why it only took what – I don’t know – maybe 15 minutes to say I’d help you with the bridge. That’s because it made sense.”
He added that it is already becoming clear how important the bridge to the mega site is going to be to economic development in the area.
Tillis, who previously served as the Speaker of the House in the NC General Assembly, said he was glad to help the airport out at the state level as well.
“I still have a couple of friends down at the legislature, so if you ever get to a point where you’re in a dustup with them, I’m happy to be an unpaid lobbyist for the ones who aren’t crazy.”
Airport Authority Chairman Steve Showfety, who was attending the meeting by phone, had words of praise for the efforts of Tillis over the years.
“Mr. Senator, your allegiance, support and endorsement are invaluable to us and the success that we’re on the threshold of bringing to Piedmont North Carolina,” the chairman said. “Thank you very much.”
Tillis got a round of applause as he left the room.