Dana Nelson is the first director of stakeholder engagement for the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). She was promoted to this role in 2019 to maintain the regulatory responsibilities of the FAA-sanctioned noise program and develop engagement programs for Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and MAC’s six general aviation airports.
“We used to be called the noise program office, which was under the environment department,” said Nelson, who oversees a four-member community relations team and an events coordinator. “By expanding to community relations and working more closely with marketing and communications, we get to do some really great proactive engagements with the community outside of noise.” Examples include hosting the AirExpo at Flying Cloud Airport, an annual Girls in Aviation Day event, and creating a Meet the Fleet video series featuring common aircraft at MSP. The team also leads external long-term planning sessions and guides stakeholder advisory panels.
The noise program remains a key focus, and it’s where Nelson began in aviation. At the Florida Institute of Technology, she took a course in aviation advanced computer applications. “I realized I really like data, computer modeling and GIS applications. I discovered airports were also interested in those skills, and it gave me a foot in the door with a summer internship in the San Diego County Airport Authority noise office.
“The role of data in community engagement is to foster understanding. It’s not always going to change minds. In fact, it rarely changes minds of people who are just purely upset that there are airplanes flying over them and they want them to go away.”
That’s where soft skills come in, she said, noting she appreciates her devoted and gifted team. “Working with airport neighbors and tenants is a hard and often thankless job,” she said, “and they do it with grace and ingenuity that I find extremely admirable and enjoyable.”
She said she has found the people who work in the aviation industry are passionate about airports and airplanes. “Dedication, leadership and sound judgement organically grow out of this passion, and people with these skills shine in aviation because issues we face are complex and dynamic. I’m incredibly fortunate and inspired to work alongside many people with these skills on a daily basis.”
No stranger to awards, Nelson and her team received a Government Technology magazine award for a virtual lunch and learn program they created during the pandemic and in 2017 Airports Council International-North America recognized her team’s work quantifying fuel and carbon emission savings after new FAA aircraft arrival procedures were implemented in 2015.