Barbara Tolbert, mayor of Arlington, Washington, is one of the newest members of the Alliance for Aviation Across America Board of Directors. In May, the organization announced that Tolbert and Bob Brock, director of aviation and unmanned aerial systems for the Kansas Department of Transportation, have joined the Board. Tolbert, a private pilot, grew up in an aviation family. Her father developed an ultralight airport at the Arlington airport.
Q. Why were you interested in joining the Board of the Alliance for Aviation Across America?
I think it’s a really exciting time in aviation. I haven’t been this excited about the future of aviation since about a decade ago when we were talking about sport pilot license and sport pilot aircraft and how that was going to be transformative to the industry. I see what’s happening now with all of the technological advancements, and I feel like we’re really on the cusp of aviation changing drastically for the future and setting us up for the next 50 years. We’ve got a lot of infrastructure to get ready for what aviation is going to look like in five years.
Q. This is hitting home in your town of Arlington, Washington, right?
In my city, Arlington, Washington, we recruited an electric commercial aircraft manufacturer called Eviation. The engines come from a company called MagniX. Eviation was an Israeli-born company that’s producing a nine-passenger and also a freight, all-electric aircraft. They debuted the first model at the Paris Airshow in 2019. They’re in flight test mode for their original aircraft that hopefully will be doing their first flight this summer. They’ve already acquired orders from companies, so they will be going into manufacturing of the aircraft hopefully late this year or early next year.
Q. What does the AAM market meant for Arlington, a town of more than 20,000 people north of Seattle, and its airport?
It’s a time to update our master plan for our airport due in 2024, so that’s lining up really well. We’re working close with Eviation and with the Alliance for Aviation Across America to understand how we build the airport of the future. We’re a strong general aviation airport and we still want to support general aviation in every facet, but we also want to be able to build the infrastructure, charging ports and things that are needed for the airport of the future—and vertiports, too. We’re really interested in that being that we’re out on the suburban edge. The way that suburban airports will be able to feed the rural communities is intriguing to me to really open up access and provide more equity in moving people and goods.
Q. How is the Alliance for Aviation Across America taking a role in all of this?
Our job is to ensure that Congress keeps moving forward and understands the opportunities that are there, particularly while this administration is investing in infrastructure, dollars and technology for the future. We want to assure that aviation has a place in there particular as impacts to climate are important to the administration. A lot of this new technology will address some of those issues for aviation. Lobbying and advocacy are the strong roles, and then education, because we need to have the population come along to help Congress keep moving. We want to raise the importance of the amount of jobs and economic impact that comes from general aviation from across the United States ….. We were big proponents advocating for the safer fuel bills that passed for the blended fuels. I think that any industry, particularly after the pandemic, that isn’t looking at sustainability would be missing a really important leg to their stool.
Q. What do you see is the biggest challenge?
I think the biggest challenge is going to be integrating these new technologies, these new aircraft perhaps, into existing airspace and networks …. Nothing in aviation seems to come easy …. And when there’s change, it just seems to elicit the fear factors. I think we have a big job to bring that rhetoric down—that fear—around change.
Q. What do you see as the time frame for this new technology to become reality?
I think there’s a chance to have significant shifts in the next five years.
Q. You’re a pilot and as mayor, keenly involved with your airport. How did you get interested in aviation?
I have a family who’s been involved in aviation for a long period of time. When the Part 103 came out for ultralights, my father developed an ultralight and built an ultralight air park at the airport in Arlington, Washington.