2024 GAAHOF Inductees

Meet the 2024 GAAHOF Inductees

Stephen ”Steve” Dickson

To watch the induction video of Steve Dickson, please CLICK HERE.

Stephen “Steve” Dickson was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1957, where his father was serving as a B-47 pilot at Chennault Air Force Base. As he grew up, his family moved frequently within the US and internationally, but always considered Georgia “home” since Steve’s father was born in Fayetteville, Georgia, and the family’s history in the state went back several generations to 1825. After graduating from high school, Steve entered the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, leading the 4,400-strong Cadet Wing as its commander his senior year.

After graduation from the Academy in 1979, Steve began his military career by completing pilot training as an Outstanding Graduate at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas. He was then hand-picked to serve in the initial cadre of T-38 instructors in the new Euro-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, Texas. This program focused on training tactical fighter pilots for the US and its NATO partners. Over the next three years, Steve instructed US and international students in the ENJJPT program as well as incoming instructor trainees from all the participating NATO air forces.

In 1984, he completed his initial F-15 qualification at Luke AFB, Arizona, graduating as the Top Gun of his class. Over the next two and a half years, he was stationed at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, where he served as an F-15 flight commander, instructor pilot and large force employment mission commander where he frequently led large missions of 75 or more aircraft from multiple units in tactical scenarios at Red Flag and other exercises. In 1987, Steve was selected for the prestigious Air Staff Training Program (ASTRA) at the Pentagon. During his ASTRA tour, he served on the Joint Staff in the European Policy division of the J-5 Policy Directorate.

After his tour in Washington, Steve moved to Bitburg Air Base, Federal Republic of Germany, as an F-15 flight commander and instructor in the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron. The “Big 22” was honored during this period with selection as the winner of the Hughes Trophy, awarded to the best air superiority squadron in the USAF. The squadron also was awarded the Commander in-Chief United States Air Forces in Europe (CINC USAFE) Trophy two years running. Steve himself was a key leader in the squadron and was honored with his selection as the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing Pilot of the Year and Flight Commander of the year in 1989.

After completing his service in the Air Force in late 1990, Steve began a career as a pilot with Delta Air Lines. He flew as a line pilot on the Boeing 727 until June 1999, when he was asked to become the executive assistant for the director of Flight Operations. During the period of 1994-1999 he completed his Juris Doctor degree at the Georgia State University College of Law, served as the associate lead articles editor on the law review, and graduated magna cum laude.

Steve continued to progress through several leadership positions at Delta over the next several years. These positions included manager of crew scheduling, manager of strategy and communications, and chief pilot-Atlanta. He was serving as the manager of pilot crew scheduling on 9/11 and was flying that day. After the airspace was closed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), he drove back to Atlanta to lead his team in reconstituting Delta’s operations over the next four days. In 2005, he was selected to be Director-Flight Operations and then Senior Vice President (SVP)-Flight Operations. In this role, he was responsible for the safety and operational performance of the carrier’s 3,300+ daily global flight operations, as well as pilot training, crew resources, crew scheduling, and regulatory compliance.

During his Delta career, Steve flew the Airbus A319/320/321 series and the Boeing 727, 737, 757, and 767. In addition to his government and private sector accomplishments, Captain Dickson has consistently been recognized as one of the foremost leaders in the aerospace industry, serving as chairman of several industry stakeholder groups and federal advisory committees.

Steve retired from Delta in 2018 as the longest-tenured SVP-Flight Ops in the company’s history. He was then asked whether he would consider serving his country a second time as Administrator of the FAA. Subsequently, after being confirmed by the United States Senate, Steve served as the 18th Administrator of the FAA from August 2019 until April 2022. 

At the FAA, Administrator Dickson led the agency’s turnaround, ensuring the FAA regained the public’s trust and its stature as the premier aviation authority in the world. His hands-on leadership clearly prioritized aerospace safety, global leadership, operational excellence, and the health, welfare, and development of the FAA's workforce. During his tenure, he presided over the recertification of the 737 MAX, in the process flying the airplane himself, to validate that it was safe to resume commercial passenger service. He also oversaw the continued availability and the safe and efficient operation of the air traffic control system throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, during his tenure, the commercial space, drone, and advanced air mobility sectors achieved unprecedented levels of growth and innovation.

Administrator Dickson retired from the FAA in April 2022. He now consults for several aviation and aerospace industry companies and continues to give back through his service on the United States Air Force Academy Foundation. He resides with his wife, Janice, in Indialantic, Florida and, enjoys spending time with his adult children and grandchildren who continue to live in Atlanta.

Bill Lavender

To watch the induction video of Bill Lavender, please CLICK HERE.

Bill Lavender began his aviation career in 1973 when he obtained his private/commercial and Certified Flying Instructor (CFI) certificates. He progressed from flying banners and skydivers to active ag (agricultural) flying as an operator and pilot in Central Georgia until the early 2000s. Bill has amassed over 14,000 flight hours doing precision aerial application at low levels protecting crops for central Georgia farmers. 

During his time as an agricultural aviation operator, Bill became involved with the Georgia Agricultural Aviation Association. He served as its representative to the National Agricultural Aviation Association for many years. As a Director, Bill assumed responsibility for the small, 8 1/2" x 11," association newsletter. Bill purchased the rights to this newsletter in 1985 and started what today is called AgAir Update. It is the leading source of information for the aerial application industry. Before his retirement, Bill had grown AgAir Update into a magazine with a worldwide readership in three different languages: English, Portuguese, and Spanish. 

As the leading voice in aerial application from 1980 through the 2000s, Bill had the opportunity to fly and evaluate over 150 different agricultural aircraft, each with its unique modification and handling characteristics. His evaluation flights provided critical insight, information, and safety applications to the agricultural aviation industry.

In the mid-1990s, the agricultural aviation industry found itself with an emergent need to self-regulate. Their goal was to decrease fatalities and increase professionalism within the industry. Bill was an integral part of the development of the Professional Aerial Applicator Support System (PAASS). He was a member of its steering committee, which formed the framework for the program going forward. Facing relentless opposition during its early days, Bill wrote countless articles about the program's importance which indirectly influenced its continued development and acceptance by championing it in his publication, AgAir Update. Since its founding, PAASS has decreased the agricultural aviation fatality rate by over 80%, a goal which was initially set forth during the program’s inception.

Bill’s contribution to the agricultural aviation industry spans over 40 years. Every month, without fail, readers worldwide were brought together by articles, new product announcements, safety messages and the basic desire to learn and read about agricultural aviation. This continuous insight, some say, can be attributed to the advancement of an industry so vital to the world’s food and fiber production.

Throughout his career, Bill has achieved the following awards and commendations:

  • Outstanding Director Service Award, GAAA, 1984-1985
  • Related Industry Service Award, NAAA, 1992
  • Exemplary Service Award, SEAF, 1995
  • Outstanding Exhibitor Award, PNWAA, 2003
  • Associate of the Year Award, ArAAA, 2004 2012
  • 31 years of service to the SEAF, 2013
  • Multiple awards from various South American Agricultural Aviation associations throughout the 20 plus years of bringing agricultural aviation information to all parts of Central and South America.

Bill retired from active ag flying in 2000 to focus on his publications and retired from general aviation flying in 2021. During his four-decade aviation career, he has owned and operated over 15 aircraft, from AgWagons to Turbine Thrush and Barons. Bill taught his son to fly at a very early age, continuing the family aviation tradition. AgAir Update is currently owned by Bill’s son; however, he still works as a consultant for the publication. Bill resides in Perry, Georgia.

Mark H. Thompson

To watch the induction video of Mark H. Thompson, please CLICK HERE.

Mark H. Thompson was born in Atlanta, GA in 1951, the son of Tommy and Margaret Thompson. Both parents learned to fly at Parkaire Field in Cobb County, GA in the 1940’s in a Stearman PT-17.

Mark attended Northside High School in Atlanta, graduating in 1969. After one year of college, he joined the United States Army as a Warrant Officer Candidate and trained to fly helicopters. By 1972, the Army had too many helicopter pilots and Mark was offered an early release from his military commitment. He used his G.I. Bill benefits to transition to fixed wing aircraft. While attending West Georgia College, he opened his first business – a local skydiving center - and got it included as an official Physical Education course at West Georgia College. Mark began offering Skydiving 101 and 102 to fellow students.

After moving back to Atlanta, Mark became Chief Pilot for Modern Professional Air based at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK). He later partnered with Georgia Air Freight based at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. He also continued to fly skydivers and personally amassed over 2,000 aerial jumps in his logbook.

In the mid-1970’s, Mark started a passenger airline known as Phoenix Airlines at PDK, operating De Havilland DH-114 Herons across the Southeast. In 1978 he stood up Phoenix Air, later moving it from PDK to the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport, soon after becoming Phoenix Air Group, Inc.

Phoenix Air grew over the years and today employs 350 aviation professionals, owns and operates over 45 aircraft, and has offices in several states, Germany, Malta and Crete. Phoenix Air developed the world’s first airborne biocontainment system called the Aeromedical Biological Containment System (ABCS) first pressed into service during the 2014 Ebola epidemic making over 40 lifesaving transports of extremely contagious Ebola patients out of western Africa to advanced medical treatment centers.

Today, Phoenix Air is a major contractor to the U.S. Government, holding 11 different federal contracts. It is the U.S. Department of State’s primary air ambulance provider worldwide and is the air services contractor to Department of Defense (DOD) U.S. Africa Command flying to over 110 locations on the African continent.

Mark Thompson is president of Phoenix Air Group, Inc. and has over 30,000 hours Total Time, over 1,000 hours helicopter time, and is Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)-typed in Falcon 20, Learjet, Gulfstream G-159, Gulfstream G1159, CE500, Airplane Single Engine Land & Sea, and Rotorcraft Helicopter.

Mark annually flies his AugustaWestland AW109 helicopter from Cartersville, GA to Anchorage, AK for use all summer fishing outside Anchorage where he has a cabin.

Mark lives on his 250-acre horse farm in rural Bartow County, GA and his son, Matthew, is now a First Officer flying Gulfstream jets for Phoenix Air.

Mark was also a prominent National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) driver and holds the NASCAR record as the oldest driver to ever complete the Daytona 500 Race.

Enshrinement Banquet and Ceremony

For information about the Enshrinement Banquet and Ceremony and to purchase sponsorships, tickets, or tables, please CLICK HERE.