Airport Executive Positions tend to be Challenging

Airport Executive Positions
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Airport Executive Positions

The life of an airport CEO, President, Executive Director, Manager or whatever title is assigned is most demanding. If nothing else, the eight below stories about transitions, whether voluntary or not, at this level of these important aviation infrastructure organizations, demonstrates that there is much tension in these jobs. These are attractive, interesting occupations, then why is there so much career insecurity associated with managing these public facilities. 

The job description includes comprehension of a long list of technical subjects and command of a wide array of soft skills. Prior to applying for the position at the top of an airport pyramid, an applicant for CEO or Director or Manager is expected to have either spent time working in one of these disciplines or have learned enough to exercise judgments over the specifics of this aspect:

  • Airport Executive PositionsAccounting
  • Acquisition/bidding processes
  • Airline operations
  • Air Traffic control
  • Budgeting
  • Concessions
  • Collateral revenues
  • Community relations
  • Congressional affairs
  • Construction
  • Customer service
  • DBE/EEOC/Handicapped rules
  • Employment
  • Environmental (air pollution, emissions, effluents, green energy and especially noise)
  • FAA requirements, in particular the Grants and Assurances
  • FAA Safety runway operations
  • Finance/Bonds/PFCs
  • Governance—dealing with the Mayor and/or the Board and/or whatever oversight bodies with some level of control
  • Ground access—roads, public transit, taxis/Uber, cars and parking, buses, rental cars, transportation to hotels
  • Insurance
  • Management—dealing with a large number of employees with large spectrum of skills, infinite variety of needs and varying degrees of connections above your position
  • Marketing—to airlines and to passengers
  • Security (DHS)—passengers and periphery (cargo, food and fences)
  • Rates & Charges—negotiating them and complying with the FARs
  • Tenant relationships both airlines and vendors
  • Weather impacts on your facility—floods, hurricanes, snow, rain, tornadoes, etc.

In addition, you must acquire the interpersonal skills expected of a Saint. There is no time off.

From external platforms—all politicians with any claim on your airport can call you at 11pm about some silly constituent issue; passengers feel entitled to confront you at the grocery store.

Internally, you must listen intently to all the laments of your staff, especially those whose jobs were given at the request of people of influence. You must divine how to fix these problems with challenges like budget limits, FAA regulations and common good sense.

Community leaders assault you with noise complaints while the airlines remind you that there are other airports without curfews.

Vendors bridle over TSA limitations and passengers vent about long lines, plus clever reporters relish airing videos of their beating some security systems and of them asking you why the community should not fear terrorists.

You could be fired because the lines at your airport are too long, when you have NO CONTROL over TSA (read the story about the ATL termination).

That’s a much abbreviated and carefully censored record of the daily requirements of your soft skills.

Even after reviewing that long litany of unreasonable expectations, you may still accept the job, however, before you sign on the dotted line, you need to have the straight answer of a relatively simple question:

 for whom do you actually work?

Airport Executive Positions

The organizational chart shows a line from the box labeled CEO/Executive Director/Manager to a Board or the Mayor/County Executive/Governor and yes, she or he can terminate you, usually without cause. They will issue you specific directions, but they are not prohibited from changing that guidance. The terms of your employment may include some remedy. If you exercise that option, particularly if you beat your boss(es) in court and embarrass her/him/them, do not expect to be hired for another airport leader job.

Airport Executive Positions

You also “report” to your tenants, the airlines. Their services make your city a node on regional/national/international commerce. They open up positions for people in your community. Try to charge them a compensatory rate for their counters and gates; they will assert that that number will make them uncompetitive. If unhappy, they know which lever to pull to eject you from your job. Plan to add a new runway or add to the terminal, they can either complain that the added capacity will attract new entrants or bemoan that it costs too much. Such disagreements may become disagreeable to your long term aspirations to remain.

Airport Executive Positions

There is at least a third line rising from above your box on the org chart—actually the line is composed of thousands of strands: all of the neighbors of the airport. Typically they vote for your boss and they have been known to oppose any capacity increase and even to demand the closure of the facility. Their agenda frequently directly conflicts with the airlines, thus placing the head of the airfield in an untenable position.

Airport Executive Positions

Most airport executives have managed to have the talents of a high wire artist and have balanced all of these conflicting demands with amazing aplomb. As evidenced by the list of individuals leaving these pinnacles of their professions, not all can meet these confusing conditions.


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