Aviation Career Profile: Airport Management and Administration

Airport control tower
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Airport managers are at the center of the airport. They are the decision-makers and policy-makers for airports. They create jobs and manage each airport department. The job is multi-faceted and vital to aviation safety. And bad management of an airport can have severe consequences to the local economy and beyond.

Airports are often one of the largest employers in a local area. Large airports like JFK can have upwards of 30,000 people employed.

Small airports may only employ an airport manager and a couple of linemen. Regardless, someone has to manage the daily operations and plan for the future, and that job lies within the "airport management" title. 

An average sized airport will likely employ a few different managers, like an airport manager, a director of operations or operations manager, and department managers.

Airport Manager

The airport manager is often employed by the city the airport is located in, and he or she is responsible for all airport operations. The airport manager oversees all other employees and departments and manages the day-to-day operations as well as future airport planning.

Airport managers may deal with many different issues, but are primarily responsible for airport safety, regulations and budget planning.

Managers may have to deal with noise complaints, emissions testing, and airport equipment management.

They work closely with the FAA and other industry groups to manage and develop air traffic procedures, install air navigation equipment, mitigate safety hazards and manage the airport budget. They must work closely with numerous people, including the FAA, NTSB, airline management, air traffic controllers, firefighters, security personnel linemen, and maintenance personnel, as well as administrative workers, food workers and sometimes retail managers.

Airport managers will generally work with city, state and federal officials to make their airport safe and efficient while following rules and regulations. They sometimes lobby to make important changes and will work with legislative officials to promote aviation.

Operations Manager

An operations manager works under an airport manager, but in some cases, the airport manager and operations manager can be combined into a single position. The operations manager oversees the daily operations of the airports, which may include specific departments such as maintenance, line personnel, security personnel and the overall safety of the airport.

The operations manager will be familiar with all incoming and outgoing air traffic, passenger numbers and fuel usage. They will usually be responsible for implementing regulatory practices, ensuring safety manuals and procedures are up to date and that programs are planned and implemented as necessary.

Hazardous weather operations, snow removal, environmental factors (such as bird strike avoidance) and airport safety practices (such as an emergency response plan) are primary responsibilities for an operations manager.

Department Managers

At larger airports, there will usually be different airport departments and multiple managers.

There might be a budget manager, a vehicle maintenance manager, and a food service manager. There is usually a safety program manager, an emergency response team manager and a building maintenance manager.

At really large airports, there is a multitude of management positions. For example, an airport as large as Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) is organized by a board of directors, in which each director is tasked with a different job. For example, DFW airport has directors for the following departments, each with an executive vice president in charge: Finance, Administration & Diversity, Operations, Revenue Management, Government Affairs, and Airport Development and Engineering. Under the EVP of each of these departments are vice presidents for smaller departments, such as I.T., human resources, environmental affairs, public safety, public affairs, marketing, concessions, and parking, to name a few.

In this case, all of these managers or directors will work together with the airport manager to maintain a safe, efficient airport for everyone.

Administrative Assistant

Depending on how large the airport is, there might be one or many administrative assistants. Large airports might also employ specialists, such as legal specialists, accountants, and bookkeepers.

Sometimes there are one or two assistants to the airport managers, and other times there are administrative assistants for each department, such as maintenance, fuel, engineering, environmental, and sales departments, to name a few.