From Corner Office to Mobile Office

A look at the key strengths airport management experience can bring to the private sector


The U.S. has the most sophisticated, advanced, and strictly regulated aviation system in the world today. This intricate system-of-systems demands continuous adjustment, dependable safety, and nearly constant improvement derived from the introduction of new and innovative technologies and procedures.

The increasing demand to provide safe, efficient and reliable air transportation services to an ever-increasing passenger base has been the impetus behind the Congressionally mandated Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) initiative that kick-started the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) design effort, and has now evolved into a dedicated FAA NextGen Division.

A key element of successfully reaching the NextGen vision starts on the airport departure roadway, and ends on the arrivals curbside. While the vast majority of certified commercial air carrier airports (FAR Part 139) are publically operated, they tend to be managed under a “private” business model, self-sustained from revenue developed on-airport and meeting the needs of the customer: the public, the airlines, and the U.S. government.

This takes a unique mix of managerial skills and business best practices that cover a landscape between governmental bureaucracy and for-profit business processes.

All Things To All People

Good airport directors develop the knowledge and skills necessary to meet these challenges through years of experience in a variety of issues facing the daily operational demands of an airport. The depth and breadth of knowledge an airport manager/director/CEO must possess can vary somewhat from one airport to another, but all obtain exposure to a lesser or greater extent, to the internal business machinery that drives airports through growing pains, capital development, community issues and involvement, and all the daily demands of a city.

The airport director rapidly becomes all things to all people — an IT expert, aviation safety and emergency response expert; security guru; real estate baron and environmental steward … just to name a few.

These exceptional skills developed through years of operations and management of complex airport operations creates both technical and managerial expertise usually resident in senior subject matter experts (SME) found in leading consulting firms; and these very skills can prove to be highly valuable to the aviation industry in managing, designing, and supporting airport projects that demand the expertise of someone who has the “been there, done that” experience of an airport manager.

In other words, if/when an airport director decides to hang-up the spurs for something else, a consulting career is a viable option.

Directors Turned Consultants

So, what key strengths does an airport director bring consulting firms that can support their business plan — what business do they want to develop and what market channel will prove to be their focus?

Of course there is personal reputation. Airport consulting firms are as much about the ability to develop healthy relationships with their clients as they are on building winning bids. For those who can jump right in as major league rainmakers — the highly influential, Category X, top ten airport director, industry association chairman, etc. — that part of the formula comes easy. A winning attitude and professional personality is the ability to convert that positive reputation into opportunities with prospective clients — to win business; less science and more personality.

Not everyone is destined to be a partner in a major consulting firm, but can still enjoy an impressive practice by providing the expertise mentioned above. However, airport directors have a crutch of sorts that can prove to be a handicap when it comes to working as an independent member of a SME team of consultants: They need to do their own scheduling, word processing, graphic design, and other forms of administration.

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