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My first week in airport management

Posted: 8 December 2011 | William Shea, Former FAA Associate Administrator | No comments yet

My job as Airport Manager at Burlington, Vermont Municipal Airport, from 1967 to 1971 was one of the most exciting and diverse times of my working life. Back then it was a small to medium hub airport in Northern New England. I eventually persuaded the City Council to change the name from ‘Municipal’ to Burlington (BTV) which enabled the airport to be listed on all the pilot weather charts around the world.

I remember the first morning of my first week as if it was yesterday. I approached the aerodrome at dawn and surveyed the flickering of the airport’s rotating beacon light in the distance. Jetliners were approaching and departing with Vermont’s mountain range in the background. Elsewhere, Air National Guard F-102 fighters were launching into the murky, dawn sky. I could see the tails of the airline aircraft parked at the gates and beyond that, the silhouetted FAA control tower. The terminal was very busy, an upbeat environment with a rhythm of its own as travellers were arriving to catch early morning flights.

My job as Airport Manager at Burlington, Vermont Municipal Airport, from 1967 to 1971 was one of the most exciting and diverse times of my working life. Back then it was a small to medium hub airport in Northern New England. I eventually persuaded the City Council to change the name from ‘Municipal’ to Burlington (BTV) which enabled the airport to be listed on all the pilot weather charts around the world.I remember the first morning of my first week as if it was yesterday. I approached the aerodrome at dawn and surveyed the flickering of the airport’s rotating beacon light in the distance. Jetliners were approaching and departing with Vermont’s mountain range in the background. Elsewhere, Air National Guard F-102 fighters were launching into the murky, dawn sky. I could see the tails of the airline aircraft parked at the gates and beyond that, the silhouetted FAA control tower. The terminal was very busy, an upbeat environment with a rhythm of its own as travellers were arriving to catch early morning flights.

My job as Airport Manager at Burlington, Vermont Municipal Airport, from 1967 to 1971 was one of the most exciting and diverse times of my working life. Back then it was a small to medium hub airport in Northern New England. I eventually persuaded the City Council to change the name from ‘Municipal’ to Burlington (BTV) which enabled the airport to be listed on all the pilot weather charts around the world.

I remember the first morning of my first week as if it was yesterday. I approached the aerodrome at dawn and surveyed the flickering of the airport’s rotating beacon light in the distance. Jetliners were approaching and departing with Vermont’s mountain range in the background. Elsewhere, Air National Guard F-102 fighters were launching into the murky, dawn sky. I could see the tails of the airline aircraft parked at the gates and beyond that, the silhouetted FAA control tower. The terminal was very busy, an upbeat environment with a rhythm of its own as travellers were arriving to catch early morning flights.

I proceeded directly to the Airport Manager’s office. My desk area doubled as an emergency medical room and a VIP location! We had two custodians, four airport maintenance workers and one secretary. At that time, the local police department handled the security duties.

A heavy snowstorm was underway and I could see the snow-removal team feverishly clearing the runways. They would need my help – I thought – so I grabbed a small airport truck with a roll-over plough. Within 20 minutes I was lost. I had been ploughing an area by a tiny building that contained grass cutting equipment and completely lost my bearings. I sheepishly called for assistance and was escorted back to the terminal.

Airport safety and security, aircraft servicing and rental car agencies all benefited from the new ‘international’ status. Furthermore, when Montreal’s Dorval International Airport in Canada was closed for bad weather we closed one runway at BTV in order to park the in-bound international flights coming in from Europe. Substantial landing fees were collected leaving city officials ecstatic. It seemed that the Canadian Department of Transport were extremely helpful in teaching me the intricacies of international airport requirements!

With a US customs office in place at Burlington our airport revenues started to soar. This was due to the many new different types of aircraft being built in Europe (and then being sold to the US) which would now land for customs at BTV and supplement the revenue at the airport.

Everyday at Burlington was one of wonder and excitement. Safety and security, as it is today, was paramount. From my office I could see airlines readying themselves for take-off, air cargo being transferred, powerful tugs, luggage carts and refuelling vehicles. On the opposite side of the airport I could see the military aircraft that supported the North America Air Defence Mission. Wildlife also affected the dayto- day workings of the airport. It was not uncommon to receive a phone call from a pilot warning of possible bird strikes. Once it was even reported that there was a zebra loose on the air cargo area!

Indeed, air and ground side administrative responsibilities at the airport remained very important. Public hearings, contract negotiations, noise contours were all part of the job, as was the relationship with the political representatives, the airport advisory board and various city and State officials.

We remained affiliated to the ICAO and IATA and conformed to their activities. Our membership with the AOCI was very important as was our bond with the American Association of Airport Executives. These affiliations played a huge role within the workings of our airport, providing a foundation that enabled us to move forward, with their support and guidance.

It is interesting to compare these times to the modern day airport manager. Of course, the world, technology and people have changed but at the heart of an airport team is an enthusiasm to the industry – and that is perhaps the most important thing.

 

About the Author

Bill Shea is a national and international aviation expert. His former positions include Associate Administrator for Airports at the FAA as well as advocate for the National System of Airports. He has published numerous aviation articles, two books and a memoir.

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