Studying at a large aviation university brings tremendous opportunities for networking and professional development outside of the classroom environment. Specifically, many of the registered student organizations host guest speakers from the different parts of the industry and invite them to present to students. Last Tuesday I took advantage of one of these opportunities as I joined members of AAAE to meet with David Reid, the Airport Director for Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport (KAZO). David Reid himself is a Western graduate, earning a degree in Aviation Management in 1991. In the last 15 years since then he has worked at a variety of positions, supervising airfield operations at both Kalamazoo Airport and W. K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, MI. He shared an interesting perspective on the current state of the airport network, along with personal experiences and challenges he has faced.
For me personally, it was a chance to temporarily view the aviation industry from a management perspective, rather than as a pilot. Many new flight students (including myself) have shown excitement towards the looming “pilot shortage” that flight departments all across the country are facing. While pilots might enjoy better job prospects, other sectors of the industry could face significant losses. These losses would be caused by the increasing number of airlines reducing their feeder routes and cancelling scheduled service to smaller regional airports. In the example with Kalamazoo, the airlines aren’t reducing their flights because of poor load factor or lack of demand. They’re cutting flights because they don’t have enough pilots to justify a flight to a small city like Kalamazoo, even if the flight would be profitable. This leads to constant competition between nearby airports as they propose new routes to airlines and hope to get additional flights.
Even with these new challenges, the Kalamazoo airport has been exceptionally successful, and David Reid discussed several expansion projects that are being considered. One of the main ideas is to lengthen the runway by several thousand feet; this would allow KAZO to provide service for larger aircraft. This would directly affect new route options, allowing larger model Boeing 737’s and Airbus A320’s to fly non-stop to farther destinations.
The airport is also working on attracting new flight schools and expanding their FBO’s, along with providing more food/shopping options, parking space, and car rental service. It is a little-known fact that a large percentage of an airport’s revenue comes from commercial activities not related to aviation or flight operations.
I sincerely enjoyed the presentation, and I felt more informed after learning about the different aspects of running an airport. Events such as this one that I attended are always a great way to meet people and to network with other professionals in the industry. They are an excellent opportunity for students like myself to become more aware of changes that are occurring rapidly in aviation, and to practice communication skills in a professional environment.