2017 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40: Buck Taft

Nov. 3, 2017

Donald "Buck" Taft III
Age: 38
Director of Airports
Tri-Cities Airport, Pasco, Washington

  • Alma Mater: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
  • What is your dream job? Professional Duck Hunter
  • What person has impacted your career the most? Philip Brown, the retired airport director at McAllen-Miller International Airport in Texas and Eric Frankl, the airport director at Lexington, Kentucky’s Blue Grass Airport). Both have both had a huge impact on my professional career. If I hadn’t worked for them, I don’t know what path my career might have taken.
  • If I could visit any airport in the world, it would be?: Princess Juliana International Airport/St. Maarten International Airport.
  • If I could have dinner with anyone living or dead?: I would love to have dinner and drinks with [actor] John C. Reilly.

Buck Taft became the director of airports at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Washington, in June 2017, a culmination of 15 years of airport operations experience ranging from small commercial service airports to large hub airports. After beginning his career at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Ill., he was asked to be part of a new Airport Operations Department after the 9/11 attacks and tasked with creating and developing a new department, as well as ensuring compliance with FAA rules and regulations.

After five years in Springfield, Taft was hired by the Broward County Aviation Department as an airside senior agent at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the 23rd-largest commercial service airport in the United States. While there, he was responsible for ensuring compliance with FAA rules and regulations as well as ensuring a safe operational environment for aircraft and passengers operating into and out of the airport. He was promoted to airside operations supervisor, where he was responsible for supervising operations staff in the airside, terminal and landside operations.

Taft was hired by McAllen International Airport in Texas to become its Operations and Maintenance Manager in 2008. In this position, he was responsible for all operations, maintenance, security, and construction projects and oversaw projects such as a runway rehabilitation that maintained aircraft operations throughout construction and a terminal expansion design that integrated multiple funding agencies and jurisdictions.

At Tri-Cities Airport, Taft managed the successful completion of approximately $53 million in construction projects that included a terminal expansion and modernization, the realignment of a 7,700-foot taxiway, and the relocation of the FAA VOR. The terminal expansion won “Project of the Year” from the Washington Airport Managers Association and a Certificate of Excellence Award from the FAA.

Taft served on the board of the South Central chapter of the AAAE. Currently a member of the North West AAAE, he is a member of the airlines economics and air-services committee and the academic relationships committee.

Taft said he enjoys working with staff regarding the growth and evolution of the airport. “You always have to be thinking ahead and spotting trends and issues as early as possible. Having a staff that is all on the same page and striving to make our airport the best it can be can be difficult but very rewarding,” he said. “Seeing your hard work pay off when your community supports and uses its local airport is an amazing feeling.”

His biggest career challenge has been moving up the professional ladder. “Getting that first supervisor, manager or director job was always the most challenging,” sad Taft. “Interviewers always seemed to want someone with experience and even though I knew I was ready, I kept preparing myself for the right opportunity.”

Being around airplanes every day is what Taft loves best about his job. “I grew up flying. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t around an airplane. My grandpa introduced me to flying when I was a baby and deep down I don’t think I was cut out for anything else,” he said. “After college I decided that I did not want to be a professional pilot and airports are just where I fit in.”

Taft has two simple pieces of career advice: Always think two jobs ahead and you cannot eat your principles.