Airports are usually operated by a director or manager responsible either to the private owners of the airport or to the local government authorities. The airport manager must be competent in public relations, economics, business management, civil engineering, personnel management, labor relations, and politics. The manager may be required to; make and enforce airport rules and regulations, plan and supervise maintenance and safety programs, negotiate leases with airport tenants, such as airlines, survey future needs of the airport and make recommendations, set up the airport budget, promote the use of the airport, train and supervise employees, etc.
Depending upon the size of the airport, the manager may supervise an assistant manager, engineer, controller, personnel officer, maintenance superintendent, and supporting office workers. If the manager is self employed as a small airport operator, he or she probably also runs an aircraft repair station, sells aviation fuel, gives flight lessons, and offers air taxi or charter flights.
Working conditions vary greatly, depending upon the size of the airport. At a large airport, the manager works in an office usually located in the terminal building. Office hours are regular except in times of emergencies. Travel may be required to negotiate leases with airline tenants or to confer with state and federal officials. If the manager operates a very small airport, he or she may spend long hours giving flying lessons, making charter flights, or working in the aircraft repair station. In many cases the airport manager is a part of the local government and is involved in official meetings and community projects, especially those concerned with aviation.
The greatest number of airports with a permanent, full-time work force are located in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. However, there are full-service airports in every state of the Union.
As with any managerial position, the job of an airport manager requires experience and training. And, of course, large complex airports demand more in-depth background than do smaller ones. Managers of airports that provide airline service usually are required to have a college degree in one of the following areas: airport management, business administration, or aeronautical or civil engineering.
One study evaluated the importance of a number of educational areas in airport management. Besides a college degree, the study rated as "very important a background in public relations, air transportation, business management, engineering, and personnel administration. The airport manager may need to have had experience as an assistant at an airport.
Managers of small airports can qualify in some cases if they have only a high school diploma, but usually they must have a pilot certificate and three to five years of experience in jobs associated with airport services, such as fixed base operator, superintendent of maintenance, or assistant to the airport manager.
The manager must be familiar with state and federal regulations (especially those pertaining to airports), zoning laws, environmental impact analysis, legal contracts, security, aircraft rescue and fire fighting (ARFF), and public relations. Airport managers must have strong leadership qualities, tact, initiative, good judgment, and an ability to get along with others. They should have a good understanding of the needs and concerns of the various users of the airport, including aircraft operators, concessionaires, and the general public.
The manager of a small airport may advance to an assistant director's job at a larger airport. A manager also may move upward to the position of commissioner of airports or to a state-level job concerned with state regulation of airports. appointments frequently are based on political activity and connections, especially if the job does not come under state or Federal regulations governing civil service.
Often entry-level positions are advertised locally rather than nationally because of civil service restrictions or local policy. Thus, these positions are hard to find. And even when a position is advertised nationally, competition is fierce. To lessen the number of applicants, many prospective employers require several years of experience, according to the American Association of Airport Executives.
Numerous universities offer courses and degrees in airport administration, public administration, business administration, and aeronautical or civil engineering and flight training. To meet the needs of communities that have airports, and to promote the highest degree of professionalism in airport management, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) has an airport management accreditation program. This professional program improves the manager's credentials as the responsible authority on aviation in the community, and it provides the manager national recognition as a qualified professional.
To gain accredited airport executive status, you must become an affiliate member of AAAE. Affiliate membership is open to anyone who has active responsibility for the management or administration of a public airport. As an affiliate, with at east one year of experience in airport management, you may declare your intention of becoming an accredited airport executive. If you are 21 or older and have a four-year college degree, you may then be reclassified as an executive candidate member. Executive candidates lacking a degree may substitute civil airport managerial experience on a 2-for-1 basis, with a total of eight years of experience being the equivalent of a four-year college degree. Executive candidates are expected to complete the professional membership requirement within the three-year time limit.
Once the member has completed these requirements, he or she may use the initials A.A.E. after his or her name. An accredited airport executive has voting privileges and may serve on the board of directors of the American Association of Airport Executives. For more information, you may write to:
American Association of Airport Executives
4212 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22302
Aviation's increasingly prominent role in the economy (the aviation industry annual payroll currently runs about $25 billion nationwide) and the availability of quieter aircraft appear to have affected public attitudes about airport development in some communities. There are prospects for capacity expansion at airports that serve as major airline hubs or connection points such as Atlanta, Denver, and St. Louis. At major airports serving coastal population centers, such as Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, suitable sites for airport development are scarce because most developable land is already used for various purposes. At many of these locations, smaller "reliever" airports have been upgraded to serve general aviation traffic being relocated from congested airports. These trends will provide additional opportunities for airport managers and support staff.
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