2018 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40: Zach E. Nelson, MPA

Oct. 1, 2018

Zach E. Nelson, MPA
Senior Planner, Aviation
McFarland Johnson
Age: 33

  • Alma Mater: Florida Tech / University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Favorite Aircraft: Embraer Phenom 100EV
  • Favorite Book: The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • Favorite TV Show: Brain Games
  • Favorite Movie: Documentaries
  • Favorite Hobbies: Raising Daughter and Building Community

Zach Nelson caught the aviation bug at an early age. “For a short period of my childhood, between ages 6 to 8, I lived behind the Stillwater Municipal Airport in Stillwater, Okla. I used to ride my bike up to the airport all the time and stick my nose through the fence just to watch what was going on,” he recalled. “While I loved watching airplanes, I was always aware of the orderly operation of the airport and its airspace and really enjoyed the structure of it all.”

Whenever the airport was busy or had a fly-in of any sort, Nelson said he’d hear it from his house and would hop right on his bike. “Interestingly enough, Gary Johnson, C.M., has been the airport director there since 1986,” he said. “While I don’t recall ever meeting him personally, I’m sure he had to escort me to the right side of the fence a time or two in the early 1990s.”

Nelson went to Florida Institute of Technology and earned a Bachelor degree in aviation management. He also has Masters of Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He’s been an adjunct professor at Florida Tech since 2012, where he teaches courses including airport planning, airport design and AutoCAD for airport development.

“I really can’t think of any other industry I would work in. Early in college, I realized I didn’t want to be a pilot, but I wanted to be in aviation,” he recalled. “Airports are great and as a consultant, it gives me a broad experience.”

He thrives in his role at McFarland Johnson, where he consults with airports on their long-ranging visioning and development projects. “It’s a combination of working with people and finding creative solutions to a variety of interesting problems. One day I could be running a meeting discussing potential forecast scenarios and impacts to facilities, and another I could be engaged in discussion of economic development initiatives with decision makers from an airport or municipality,” he said. “I also work with my firm to develop and deploy innovative technological solutions for airports. Our Dynamic Analysis Tool has grown in multiple directions in the last few years as we work with airport clients on airport specific issues and concerns. It’s an exciting time to be an airport planner.”