Airport managers are the decision-makers and policy-makers for airports. They create jobs and oversee the management of each airport department. The job is multi-faceted and vital to aviation safety. Large airports that serve commercial airlines need managers to oversee several departments, but smaller airports may need airport managers to be more hands-on with areas such as finance, security, maintenance, and more.
Airports often are one of the largest employers in a local area. Major airports like JFK in New York can have upwards of 30,000 people employed. Small airports may employ only 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 with the airport manager.
Airport Manager Duties & Responsibilities
This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:
- Comply with FAA regulations and other guidelines.
- Supervise managers and staff.
- Plan budgets.
- Adapt to outside factors, such as weather.
- Work with community leaders.
- Maintain accurate records.
- Oversee the maintenance and repair of airport equipment.
Airport managers often are employed by the city where the airport is located, and they are 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. They may deal with many different issues, but they are primarily responsible for airport safety, regulations, and budget planning.
Airport managers may have to deal with noise complaints, emissions testing, and airport equipment management. They work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (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, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), airline management, air traffic controllers, firefighters, security personnel linemen, and maintenance personnel, administrative staff, food staff, and sometimes retail managers.
Airport managers generally work with city, state, and federal officials to make their airports safe and efficient while following rules and regulations. They sometimes lobby to make important changes and work with legislative officials to promote aviation.
Airport Manager Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track salaries specifically for airport managers, but the median annual salary for administrative service managers was $96,180, as reported in 2018. AVJobs.com tracks salaries for aviation-related jobs posted on its site, including management jobs. Positions at the nation's largest or smallest airports potentially could pay more or less than the highest and lowest figures on this list:
- Mean Annual Salary: $100,052 ($48.10/hour)
- Highest Annual Salary: $109,778 ($52.78/hour)
- Lowest Annual Salary: $90,327 ($43.43/hour)
Education, Training, & Certification
At a minimum, someone seeking work as an airport manager should have a bachelor's degree. Those with advanced degrees will be more competitive.
- Education: It's not necessary to be a pilot to manage an airport, but the most competitive candidates have studied aviation or aviation management. A strong business background also is helpful, so general business or management degrees are beneficial.
- Experience: Larger commercial airports expect managers to have several years of experience in airport management as department heads before being ready to manage an entire airport. Managing a smaller airport requires less experience, but significant time working in such an environment is needed.
Airport Manager Skills & Competencies
Good business skills and familiarity with aviation and aviation regulations are important in this field, but being a good airport manager also requires broader soft skills.
- Multitasking: From maintenance to scheduling to customer service to security and more, airports have a lot going on. Effective airport managers constantly need to stay on top of issues within multiple departments.
- Leadership skills: A well-run airport needs a strong team of department heads and other staff members. An airport manager needs to be an effective leader of this team to get the most out of them.
- Effective under pressure: Whether airports are small, privately owned operations or serve large commercial airlines, they deal with issues related to safety and security every day, and unpredictable weather can wreak havoc with schedules. To deal with this, airport managers need to provide calm leadership during a crisis.
- Communication skills: In addition to listening and giving direction to department heads and other staff members, airport managers need to communicate effectively with representatives from outside agencies, such as the FAA, and leaders in surrounding communities.
Job opportunities for all air transportation workers are expected to grow by about 7% for the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Avjobs.com projects that growth among smaller commercial airlines and in shipping demands from online retailers will keep airports busy, resulting in a constant need for airport management.
Even small airports take up a lot of space, with department managers spread out over many acres. Airport managers usually have an office in the main terminal, but they also spend a lot of time in other parts of the airport, depending on how hands-on they are. It's also common for airport managers to be active in their communities, so they may spend some time in the surrounding municipalities their airports serve, working with community leaders.
Airport managers typically work during normal business hours, but they may need to be available to respond to emergencies or when weather or other factors impact flight schedules.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in airport management also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018