Are you an aspiring aviation professional who thinks your only two options are to become a pilot or air traffic controller? For many people, that's how their journey begins; I know because that's how it started for me. I was too busy with school and baseball in college to fly, so I never considered it. Thus, I thought my only option was to be an air traffic controller, which I was still excited about.
Fast forward. I ended up where I am today, thanks to a kind person. I was looking for summer internships with the FAA. However, I had no accurate guidance on how to go about finding one. I was given a contact in Human Resources with the airport authority at a major airport nearby, who informed me he couldn't help, either. Thankfully, after 30 minutes or so, he called back and told me there was an internship he was looking to fill in Airport Operations. Confused, I asked him what it was. He laughed and said it was mine if I was interested, and I would not be disappointed. The rest is history.
Today, I continue to come across many similar cases of people in the field who know where they want to go but have no idea how to get there. Networking is essential (understatement of the day), and I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people who perform various roles. I hope some of them will help share their experiences and show what a fascinating little world we live in. Naturally, I will get the ball rolling by showing what I do.
"What is Airport Operations?" - anyone I have ever met.
This question is complex and largely depends on what is efficient at a specific airport. There is a saying, "When you have seen one airport, you have seen one airport." Generally, it can be thought of as the foundation for keeping an airport running. Most airport managers start their career in Airport Operations mainly due to the vast skillset they develop, being that you touch essentially every component that goes into making an airport run. Simply put, the universal responsibility of Operations is the safety of both flight operations and the airport community. Any time there is a deviation from "normal," our job is to restore the condition as quickly and safely as possible.
For me, this career path is a perfect fit. My family is all police/fire/EMS, so this is the best way to contribute to a similar role in aviation. My job responsibilities include the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) at my airport. It is often financially impractical at smaller airports to station a dedicated all-hazard fire department. Other airports even elect to dedicate a fire department and give them other responsibilities, such as airfield inspections or public safety.
We would be here all day if I continued to get into specifics. A general Google search will shed more light on what else might be a part of your daily responsibilities. I am here to talk about why I love it and what doors this may open down the road.
The immersion within the airport environment jumped out to me during the first day of my internship. Everything from aircraft coming and going, passengers transitioning in and out of the terminals, down to more specific things like airfield maintenance and wildlife mitigation, you see everything. So much more goes on behind the scenes, but the overall theme is maintaining a smooth experience for airport consumers. I like to say we do our jobs so others can do theirs. Just driving around the airport during my inspections reminds me why I am blessed to do what I do.
This one certainly is not unique to my job, but the nature of the unpredictability draws me in. One moment you inspect taxiways; the next, you can respond to a disabled aircraft (you also can see why, given my family history, this is in my blood). When talking about unpredictability, people tend to assume the worst immediately. But unpredictable things that are good happen, too! For example, I have met some celebrities passing through our little airport. I was responsible for inspecting a runway minutes before Air Force 1 landed, and I see so many dogs I'm sure my little guy back home gets jealous.
I wasn't always this way. For most of my life, anyone who knew me would likely describe me as an introvert. But even for the most introverted, if you let it, this job will bring you out of your shell. The number of people you meet and develop relationships with grows daily. You will see a direct impact on your personal life, some faster than others. The airport I am at now has about 1500 employees alone, and the airport I interned at had over 15,000! Who knows who you will meet and what that will bring to your life?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to helping others in the field as best as possible. That's why you are reading this now! Combined with my post-grad studies, I find this interest has developed me as a leader to help bring out the best in me and everyone else. It's not just about work, either. Life is short; we spend more time at work than anywhere else (sometimes too much). The responsibility of managers should always be to ensure their employees are living happy and fulfilling lives, both on and off the clock.
Okay, the last one on my list may sound obvious - but there is more to it than you probably think. I grew up next to an airport with limited commercial service, so the only way to see what else was out there was through planespotting websites. From there, I fell in love with learning about as many aircraft as possible. I eventually developed my interest in aviation photography, but the ability to capture aviation in its most basic form is challenging for the general public for security reasons. However, if you are part of the security function, you are provided the trust and leeway to explore your hobby with access no one else has!
Being around aircraft landing and departing, I am still in awe over man's feat of flight. I also love looking at planes and imagining all the cool places they have been. I have a spreadsheet of all aircraft I have flown on to see where they live now in the world. Oh, and for the record, I am a Boeing guy.
Nothing in life is perfect, and our jobs are no exception. Even the most prominent celebrities will tell you there are things they don't like about their work.
Schedule. Most Operations departments are 24/7/365 and usually bid on a scheduled basis and in order of seniority. Other departments choose to rotate monthly. I'm sure there are other examples, but especially early on, you can expect to make some sacrifices in your personal life.
Overnights. If you are not open to overnights, this limits your options. The only departments that don't have overnights are usually small enough that they don't need to meet FAA requirements.
Overtime. This may sound like a positive, and usually it is. There is no shortage of overtime. But sometimes, overtime can take a toll on personal health. Some people live to make every dollar they can; that's just not me.
Snow. If you want to work somewhere exposed to prolonged periods of winter weather and currently like when it snows, know that will not last much longer.
People. I like to remind our team Operations is a customer service role in many ways. That means that when things go wrong, you often have to deal with unpleasant customers.
I'm sure others are more like inconveniences, but these are the big ones. If I forgot something, let me know below!!
I used to think I knew, but now I am unsure. This may sound daunting to some, but I look at it positively. My travels over the past couple of years have opened my mind up to many possibilities, and due to the diverse skillset I have built, I can rest assured I will be competitive no matter where or what I want to do. For some, their decisions come down to aspects like pay or power. It will come down to where I think I will be happy and live my whole life.
I will likely continue to work in some form of management. Air Service Development is one career path that has generated some interest recently. You may not think of it this way now. Still, air service provides a resource to a community, and it is ASD's responsibility to develop and maintain reliable and affordable service. The business aspect of commercial aviation has always fascinated me, which is why I chose to pursue my MBA for post-grad studies. I'll get into this more down the road!