2023 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40: Neil Szymczak

Dec. 19, 2023
Neil Szymczak, MBA, Sky Harbour Group Vice President, Real Estate

Neil Szymczak remembers listening to his grandparents tell him WW2 stories as a young child. Those stories left a lasting impact on him, fostering a deep passion for the aviation industry and desire to earn his pilot’s certificate and eventually work in the industry.

“At a young age I knew I wanted to serve and after my first flight as a midshipman at the Naval Academy in an acrobatic training jet, I knew I had to become a pilot,” he said. “As a young naval officer, flying my submarine-hunting aircraft and leading my crew, my love for aviation deepened as I accomplished missions with my squadron. When I left active-duty service my goal was to pursue a career in aviation outside the flight deck. For me, aviation has always been an adventure and I know it’s an adventure for many others as well.”

Today, Szymczak is the Vice President of Real Estate at Sky Harbour Group. His role at Sky Harbour involves establishing aviation infrastructure at premier airports across North America. The company is pioneering the development of the first nationwide network of hangars, known as the home basing model. This innovative model allows aircraft owners and operators to house their aircraft in private and semi-private hangars, maximizing privacy, control, and utility. Szymczak plays a crucial role in acquiring new land for Sky Harbour's development sites, contributing to the success of the company's hangar campuses in Houston (SGR), Nashville (BNA), and Miami (OPF), with Phoenix (DVT) and Denver (APA) set to open in early 2024, and Dallas (ADS) later in the same year.

He holds a BS in Ocean Engineering from the United States Naval Academy and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, he is also a rated commercial pilot with Boeing 737 and King Air type ratings. His ten years of active-duty service as a naval aviator, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander, reflects his extensive experience in aviation.

One of Szymczak's notable achievements is spearheading the delivery of the Nashville International Sky Harbour Campus. Through a competitive bid process, he led the Sky Harbour team in securing a long-term lease for a 15-acre campus at BNA. The campus was completed in 2023 with 122,000 SF of hangar and office space and is fully leased out.

“My efforts with the Sky Harbour team, we maintain an outstanding working relationship with the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and our based tenants,” Szymczak said. “I hope to repeat the success of our BNA campus at many other marquis airports across North America.”

In his capacity at Sky Harbour, Szymczak is responsible for securing development sites and collaborating with Airport Sponsors to maximize value for aircraft operators and aviation stakeholders. Beyond his real estate and aviation roles, he serves as a Navy reservist, flying the Navy's unmanned maritime patrol aircraft, the MQ-4C Triton, contributing to critical surveillance for national security.

His commitment to the aviation industry manifests in various ways. He actively engages with cutting-edge technologies, supporting electric aviation initiatives. Sky Harbour's hangars are pre-wired to accommodate EVTOL and AAM aircraft, with Szymczak working closely with leading names in the electric aviation industry to develop common charging ports and infrastructure. Szymczak's role is crucial in ensuring that Sky Harbour's infrastructure is ready to support the growing electric aviation industry.

“I am motivated to succeed in aviation because I want to expand aviation’s reach in new and innovative ways so it can have an impact on others lives, like it has impacted mine,” he said. “As an executive at the Sky Harbour Group, I am at the tip of the spear when it comes to identifying where our company will build future business aviation infrastructure. This infrastructure will improve the current business aviation experience and will unlock the full potential of electric aviation.”

Moreover, Szymczak demonstrates a commitment to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. He actively supports programs such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the RedTail Flight Academy, collaborating to provide flight discovery classrooms, training facilities, and hangar space for pilot training aircraft. Through these partnerships, Sky Harbour contributes to aviation training for underrepresented youth, promoting diversity in the industry.

“Sky Harbour is in rapid growth mode as we recently raised capital and were listed on the NYSE. So, my first priority as a Vice President of Real Estate is to ensure our growth trajectory at the best airports in North America,” he said. “Second, I would also like to impact my organization by establishing a high-performance and innovative culture where people look for creative solutions to problems. When I was in the military, I often heard the phrase “we can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way,” I always challenged my sailors to look at things differently to arrive at a better or more efficient result. That’s the type of culture we are building at Sky Harbour and I hope it has an impact on the industry as a whole. Third, I would like Sky Harbour to not only tremendously benefit its tenant members, but also have an impact on the community. Through partnerships with the RedTail Flight Academy of the Tuskegee Airmen and the Sky Harbour Academy I hope to expand the talent base available to aviation and airports. Both programs will introduce aviation to underrepresented youth as a viable career path to high paying jobs that impact local communities and strengthen the aviation workforce.”