From Corner Office to Mobile Office

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


It is very easy to get used to an efficient executive assistant directors enjoy to handle all the mundane tasks they don’t have time to do. Making the plunge to consulting from the rarified air of the director’s office can be a culture shock.

Most airport directors don’t get to that lofty post if they are uncomfortable or otherwise don’t like to write. But consultants spend most of their waking hours writing. The mastery of the English language is as critically important to consulting as technical prowess and experience.

Facilitation and Technological Abilities

Successful directors also don’t get to the corner office unless they have strong facilitation and collaborative skills. Sure there are those who are more comfortable and successful with things happening in response to a wave of a hand, but when consulting, there is usually a number of key stakeholders who have strong opinions and ‘votes’ in the outcome of a particular program.

There’s an art to helping a given vision solidify in active discourse, especially if there is a conflict of direction or expectation. The artful consultant is able to craft a solution that is not only best for the client and operation, but doesn’t leave a trail of broken egos in the wake of ‘success.’

Then there’s the technological ability that an ex-director brings. Here’s where some directors might be challenged. They all tend to be multi-taskers, over-achievers, jack-of-all-trades and masters of two or three. There is usually something that you love doing more than others.

For instance, a director that gravitates to operations and safety will find a natural home on that side of airport operations procedures, safety management systems, etc. If developing business and policy is the hot button, there is need there as well. When you start to get into more technical programs, such as airport pavement construction, IT system development, or environmental programs, it clearly helps to have an associated technical degree.

Finally, whether part of a firm or operating as an independent consultant, you have to have the following strengths: Detail-oriented, organization, flexibility, strong communications skills, problem solving to solution, and of course, a strong sense of humor always comes in handy. In essence, the blood, sweat and tears you’ve invested into a career of managing airports and the associated systems can prove to be highly valuable to solving the problems airports will face in the future, and can translate into a ‘second’ career with little effort on your part.

Consulting has its advantages and drawbacks to holding a ‘real’ job with an airport. The things I miss most include a sense of belonging to a mission-oriented group, the excitement of the daily ‘thing’ that seems to be endemic at airports, and the dependable paycheck for doing something you love.

That said, there are real advantages to consulting — whether under your own colors or for a firm. They include owning your own hours, having new and interesting projects to tackle, and not necessarily having to ‘marry’ any particular board of directors, city councils, mayors, and governors, which can be interesting at times.

In the final analysis, few if any people in an airport organization can carry the ball on so many subjects as the director. Born from experience, both good and bad, the airport director is someone who can flex to almost any challenge.

about the author

Mike Cheston has over 32 years of aviation experience, most of which was spent in Part 139 airport operations and management, including tenure as an airport authority CEO. He is a SME in a broad spectrum of topics, including NextGen, aviation security, SMS, airport security program management, national security topics, emergency management, and unmanned aircraft systems; he currently works as a consultant with Faith Group, LLC.

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