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Become an Airport Manager: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an airport manager. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career as an airport manager.

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Should I Become an Airport Manager?

Airport managers oversee the daily operations of an airport, ranging from enforcing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations to negotiating airport contracts and leases. They may be responsible for supervising personnel, devising and implementing operating procedures, monitoring airport expenditures, and coordinating construction or renovation projects with municipal officials. Because of their level of responsibility, airport managers may be on-call so that emergencies or other unexpected issues that come up can be resolved quickly; this job can include evening and weekend shifts.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field(s) Airport management, aviation administration, aviation management, public administration, business administration, or a related field
Certification Voluntary certification is available
Experience 5-10 years
Key skills Knowledge of Federal Air Regulations (FAR) and Transportation Security Agency (TSA) requirements pertaining to safety and security, good communication skills, finance and budgeting skills, management skills, supervisory skills, knowledge of word process and spreadsheets, capable of passing fingerprints and background checks
Salary $55,064 per year (Median salary from 2015 for airport managers)

Sources: Airport manager job listings (December 2012), Payscale.com, American Association of Airport Executives

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Airport managers usually hold a bachelor's degree in airport management or a related field. These 4-year degree programs cover aviation science, aerodynamics, and physics, as well as airport economics, finance, and management. Students also take classes in FAA regulations, aviation safety, and air transportation operations. Some aviation management programs may offer flight courses to prepare students for the FAA private pilot certification exam. Internship opportunities with government agencies, local airports, or commercial airlines may be offered as well.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

College graduates may need several years of airport administrative and supervisory experience before being qualified for work as airport managers. This can be accomplished through progressively advancing in departmental management within the airport. Administrative duties may include managing and supervising personnel, managing department safety, ensuring compliance with regulations, and reporting to the airport manager. With experience, college graduates may take on more advanced supervisory roles and be responsible for hiring and training airport staff, preparing fiscal budgets, and developing relationships with new and existing airlines.

Success Tip:

  • Develop communication skills. Aspiring airport managers must develop productive, non-adversarial work and communication practices in order to be competitive in this career field. Individuals who haven't studied this topic may benefit from a college-level business communication class.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

Employers often prefer applicants who possess the Accredited Airport Executive (AAE) credential offered by the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE). Airport personnel need at least one year of work experience and a bachelor's degree in order to qualify for this credential; they also need to be affiliate members of the AAAE and 21 years of age or older. Candidates who don't have a bachelor's degree must have at least eight years of airport management experience.

Additional requirements include completion of a multiple-choice exam, a written essay, and an interview. The written requirement may be satisfied by writing a research paper, a case study, or a proctored essay on an area in airport management. Applicants must then arrange to be interviewed by a group of at least three active AAEs.

Would-be airport managers who can't meet all of these requirements may consider the AAAE's Certified Member designation. That credential only requires successfully completion of a 180-question exam.

Step 4: Maintain Certification

AAEs must participate in continuing education, which involves accumulating 55 credits over a 3-year period. Credit is given for attending AAAE seminars, completing college courses and participating in other AAAE-approved events. Maintaining AAE certification often exemplifies dedication to many employers and may help individuals advance into higher roles of responsibility or promotion.

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