2017 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40: Kaela N. Harmon, C.M.

Nov. 3, 2017

Kaela Harmon
Public Information Specialist, Senior
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
AGE: 34

  • Alma Mater: Washington & Lee University
  • What is your dream job? I genuinely felt like my job at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport was a dream job.
  • What person has impacted your career the most? There are three people who have made a major impact on my career. Dan Mann, executive director at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Columbia, S.C., took a chance on me and gave me my first airport job. That set me on the trajectory that I’ve been on since then. Bryant Francis, Director of Airports for the Oakland Port Authority and Brian Belcher, Director of Marketing & Air Service Development both became close mentors early in my career and these three men comprise the bedrock of my career in the industry.
  • If I could visit any airport in the world, it would be: The Singapore airport is consistently ranked as the best in the world. So I’d love to visit there.
  • If I could have dinner with anyone living or dead: My dad passed in 2014. He and my mother were always my biggest cheerleaders and I’d love to have dinner with him one last time to get his advice and tell him all about what I’ve accomplished over the past few years.

Kaela Harmon entered the airport industry in 2012 when she was hired as the public relations and governmental affairs manager for South Carolina’s Columbia Metropolitan Airport. In that role, she was the youngest person to serve on the airport’s executive staff. Her enthusiasm for the business of airports and her commitment to growing in the field immediately became evident as her most compelling attributes.

In the summer of 2014, Harmon received her AAAE certified membership and went on to become established as a respected presenter. To date, she has been invited to be a speaker or panelist at nearly a dozen trade conferences, including the 2015 AAAE Annual Meeting, the 2015 and 2016 ACI-NA Marketing and Communications Conferences, and the 2014, 2015, and 2016 AAAE Digital Media Summits.

In 2015, Harmon was elected by her colleagues to serve on the ACI-NA Marketing and Communications Steering Group, where she represented small airports until the spring of 2016, when she moved into a consulting role with Sixel Consulting Group. While at Sixel, she managed marketing and public relations projects for airports across the country and helped them grow their service and build relationships with their communities.

In February 2017, Harmon published a children’s book entitled “Zoey’s First Plane Ride,” which introduces kids to the airport experience and serves as a guide through each step of the air travel experience. It debuted at number one in its category on Amazon and has been made available in the Evansville International Airport, South Bend International Airport and in the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport also purchased more than 100 copies to give away to local students touring the airport.

The best part of her job, said Harmon is working on the marketing and air service side of the industry. “I love this part of the industry because it is the perfect blend of analytics and creativity,” she said. “Understanding how much data goes into making the case for a route and then distilling that information to create a narrative that is going to resonate with carriers is a lot of fun for me.”

There is also the thrill of winning a new route or getting an upgauge and then having to develop a creative strategy to help that win be sustainable, said Harmon. “This has been especially true for my work with smaller airports who have to be scrappy in how they approach the job because they don’t have the benefit of being in a market that carriers just want to flock to,” she said.

Harmon considers herself a budding aviation geek. “A few of my friends and colleagues throughout the industry have been helping me get better at identifying aircraft. That has been a really fun undertaking,” she said. “There is the fact that airports remain the gateway to the world. The truth of the matter is that there is a lot I love about what I do.”

As with most working professionals, it can be challenging to find the right work-life balance, said Harmon. “This is particularly true when you love what you do so much that it becomes an integral part of how you see yourself,” she stated. “I, like several of my friends and colleagues throughout the industry, have had that moment of having to remind myself to find and embrace a life outside of the industry.”
Hands down, the people in aviation are great, said Harmon. “The aviation industry has the very best community of people in the world,” she said.
The best piece of career advice Harmon has ever received is don’t be afraid of failure. “We all will make mistakes along the way, the most important thing is to learn from those mistakes. Also, embrace change,” she said.