2017 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40: Justin Towles

Nov. 3, 2017

Justin Towles
Vice President, Regulatory and Legislative Affairs,
American Association of Airport Executives
AGE : 34 

  • Alma Mater: Stevenson University, Maryland
  • What is your dream job?  CEO of AAAE or Director of FEMA
  • Favorite airport restaurant/food: Obrycki’s at my home airport, BWI. Get the Crabcake!
  • What person has impacted your career the most? Larry Krauter, A.A.E., the CEO of Spokane International Airport 
  • If I could visit any airport in the world, it would be: Lukla Airport in Nepal
  • If I could have dinner with anyone living or dead:  Elon Musk

Justin Towles is a rising star in the aviation industry who has proven himself to be a creative, effective and passionate advocate not only for the interests of airports on behalf of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), but for the broader aviation system. He plays an active role interacting with the FAA and other federal agencies on behalf of airport executives serving on the Runway Safety Council and the NEPA ARFF Working Group. He has served on several RTCA Task Forces, including the Construction Safety Task Force. He successfully manages several active AAAE committees, helping to shape the airport agenda and advocate for its adoption in Washington.

Towles calls what he enjoys most about what he does a cliche. “But it’s definitely the staff of AAAE and our members. AAAE is different from any other place I’ve worked. We have so many ways to converge and create touch points with our members, so that allows us to get to know them,” he said. “So when I travel now, wherever I go, I have a friend. If I’m going skiing in Aspen, I know I can call [director of aviation] John Kinney for tips.”

And in addition to members based in the U.S., Towles said he’s gotten to know people from all over the world. “An airport is a microcosm of society, and almost every community has an airport,” he noted.

The biggest challenges Towles said he faced in his career is the a huge learning curve. “Before coming to AAAE, I did air service development at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Plus I handle regulatory issues, which is very niche,” he said. “That is a learning process and requires gaining institutional memory quickly. I have a  big portfolio, including operations, safety, planning, emergency management, environmental issues, unmanned vehicles, general aviation and experimental aircraft. In all those areas, I’m the expert AAAE turns to.”

The job requires a lot of specific information, such as rules, regulations and advisory circulars, said Towles. “So it took awhile to build that knowledge base and keep ahead of it. I chair a coalition of 27 aviation associations, and that’s a tiny part of my job,” he said. “I also manage my life at home, with my wife and three kids. I’m also a volunteer firefighter.”

There’s something new to do every day in aviation and it’s very exciting, said Towles. “My nightmare is waking up in a cubicle and doing the same thing every day. Aviation is on  the verge of changing how people think about mobility. Innovative aviation technology will bring a third dimension to our daily lives in our lifetime,” he stated.

A friend told Towles that when you wake up and look forward to going to work, you have a great job. “And it’s even better if you’re willing to do that same job for free. I get to attend events with people from airports, along with great companies like Airbus and Google,” he said. “I sometimes feel like I’m cheating. When you love what you do, you’ve found your calling.”