Each year, individuals who have made outstanding contributions toward the development of aviation in Virginia are selected for recognition at the Virginia Aviation Awards Banquet.
While only Virginians are eligible, the four award winners were selected this year from nominations that were sent from around the country. Members of the Virginia Department of Aviation (DOAV) reviewed every nomination and then selected the recipients. These Virginians will join a distinguished group of individuals that has existed since 1976 when the awards were initiated.
The four award recipients of the 2023 Virginia Aviation Awards are:
Person of the Year – Dominic “DC” Cummings
Dominic Cummings – DC to his students – is an Airframe and Powerplant (A & P) instructor at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in Norfolk. Cummings developed and instructed an accelerated A & P program at the request of airlines. It took the program completion time from 22 months down to 12 months. Dr. Joel English, executive vice president of AIM, trumpeted Mr. Cummings’ student graduation rate of 93 percent; a 100 percent A & P certification pass rate; and a 100 percent employment rate among his students. Mr. Cummings is a veteran of the United States Navy.
Lifetime Achievement Award – Ronald Gatewood
Ronald Gatewood farmed in high school as a way to earn his Private Pilot’s License. After graduating from Purdue University, he went to Vietnam, first as a CH-46 helicopter pilot. He was later recruited to fly A-4 attack jets. Mr. Gatewood’s time in Vietnam has been chronicled in the documentaries “Under the Shadow of a Blade” and “An Ocean Away.” After the war, he started an aviation maintenance business and then managed Warrenton – Fauquier Airport. He led the airport out of bankruptcy and transformed it into a strong, regional destination. He has also mentored many men and women in the aviation industry as pilots, mechanics, and entrepreneurs. Mr. Gatewood is a member of the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame and is the recipient of the FAA’s Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award.
Director’s Award – Deborah Kendall
As the town manager for Gordonsville, VA, Deborah Kendall is also responsible for the Gordonsville Municipal Airport. Starting in 2019, she was instrumental in the reconstruction of the airport’s runway after seeking state grants and other funding. The project was completed this year, and it provided aircraft an additional 440 feet of runway length as well as 10 more feet of width. In addition, the runways lights were upgraded to efficient and long-lasting LED equipment. The completion of this project ensures that Gordonsville Municipal Airport remains an active tool for the community. Ms. Kendall is a graduate of Virginia Tech and a native of the town of Gordonsville.
Airport Manager of the Year – Mike Stewart
Since October 2021, Mike Stewart has been the executive director of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA). Improving the infrastructure of the 94-year-old airport has been a top priority for Mr. Stewart. During his tenure, he has rebooted ROA’s master planning process, which has included the upcoming parking lot capital project as well as runway improvements and extensions. Rebuilding the administrative team at ROA has also taken precedence with Mr. Stewart. With staffing issues being the norm in aviation, he has filled key positions, including general counsel; director of planning and engineering; procurement and contracts manger; public relations, marketing and media manager, and many others. Mr. Stewart’s customer-centric mindset has increased public awareness of ROA, using tools such as a 2023 Super Bowl commercial as well as ad campaigns targeting Nashville and New York City. Mr. Stewart’s nomination states that ROA, “is in the best possible position to be forward-thinking, business friendly, and ready to accommodate the region’s economic needs.”
Story & Photo credit: Virginia Department of Aviation