"Who's Driving Your Plane"
Marion C. Blakey, Great Falls, MT
October 31, 2006

Great Falls Runway Dedication

Thank you all for that. I appreciate it. But really, the pleasure’s all mine. Believe me — any day in Great Falls is a pleasure.

When we came in to Great Falls late yesterday, my staff and I were pressed up against the windows of the plane to see the majesty of the countryside in all its splendor. I tell you, I had half a mind to tell the pilot to pull up and let’s circle again.

Hey, quick question. How many of you out there caught the Rolling Stones a few weeks ago in Missoula? Keith, Ron, Charlie and Mick. They drew a huge crowd at Grizzly Stadium.

Did you hear what Keith Richards said about playing Montana for the first time? He goes — and I’m quoting the great one himself — he says “This is new territory for me, and I’ve been around a lot. You’ve got beautiful country here. I’m thinking about moving in.”

Well, with all due respect to the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, take a number and get in line, Keith because everybody’s moving here.

Let’s talk numbers for a second. In the decade between 1990 and 2000, Montana’s population grew at a higher percentage than thirty other states. That includes Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas.

I tell you, I’ve always felt that an airport was like one great big welcome mat, enticing visitors and businesses. And from what I’ve seen, that’s certainly the case here at Great Falls International.

You’ve got FedEx’s biggest distribution center in the state right here, the National Guard, and AvMax, which chose to call here home after being wooed by eight other much larger airports.

Now this is commerce and aviation at their best, right here for all to see.

When you get right down to it, aviation projects make Montana even more attractive to companies that rely on safe, dependable and efficient transportation to do business. That’s why we were behind the rehabilitation of the runway one hundred percent. And I have to say, what a beautiful thing it is, smooth from end to end.

Of course, we know how it used to be.

A deep, five-foot dip at one end of the runway posed a serious safety issue. Now we’ve got a clear line-of-sight. Problem solved.

And how about the matter of the runway being too high on one side? The tilt was so bad that if a water drop fell, it’d run the entire 150 width before it ran off the edge. Now problem solved. No more grade issues.

This endeavor took many years, I know. It also took vision, determination, and yes, a whole lot of money. Some $42 million worth.

There’s a lot of folks to thank for making all this happen. Let’s start with this guy right here — your Senator, Conrad Burns, for being a problem-solver. The Senator’s a trusted friend of aviation. As chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, he’s making important decisions that affect anyone who travels by air. I’d say that applies to just about everybody. Sir, thanks for always being there.

Let me also give a nod to Cynthia Shultz and her team — congratulations for seeing this through from start to finish.

And of course, to all of you. You ought to be proud of the fact that Montana’s such an enviable place to live.

So hey, don’t be surprised if one day a moving van pulls up and out jumps a rock star wearing a bandana and leopard print jacket. We’ll all know why he’s here.

Thank you.