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A Day in the Life of an Airport Executive Director | Greg Donovan at Orlando Melbourne International Airport

“We saw social media posts from our passengers enjoying free breakfast and showing their children making bead necklaces and drinking fresh orange juice at the gate. It just knocked our socks off.” – Brad Cicero, spokesperson for Porter Airlines

It ended the way most days end at the airport. As dusk descends and another breathtaking sunset hovers over the western horizon, beautiful blue lights mark the taxiways, creating a visual masterpiece that only pilots can appreciate. It’s a majestic welcome to the air eld recently declared as “the most beautiful air field approach in the United States and #8 in the world.”

Greg Donovan is familiar with both views of the air field — from the left seat of a cockpit and from the perch over baggage claim where airport offices have a panoramic view of the 2,500 acres he manages. Both seats inspire him. Both venues feel right at home to this nationally-accredited airport executive director and former president of the Florida Airports Council.

So what does a typical day at Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB) look like from the airport executive director’s point of view? The magazine was afforded the opportunity to accompany Donovan and his senior staff through a few typical days at MLB. As you can imagine, they were far from typical when compared to your average office job.

To begin with, you won’t find these folks in their offices very often. Cellphones chirp throughout the airport as they carry on their business. Director of Capital Improvements Dave Perley is riding a Gator four-wheeler down the air field perimeter road, donning a hard hat as he oversees $84 million in airside construction. Recent hire Rob Himler is jogging quietly in the back hall, hoping to track down a disgruntled passenger whose favorite parking space is being re-striped. The young employee delivers the free parking pass before the senior citizen boards his flight to Biloxi, Mississippi. “It’s his lucky day,” says one of the TSA officers observing the conversation. “This wouldn’t have happened at any other airport.”

Where It Starts
So why do acts of courtesy happen every day at MLB? It starts at the top … and the bottom. Donovan empowers his staff to “take whatever measures necessary to ensure a positive customer experience.” Customer? Not passenger? Already you know this place is different.

“We fly to nearly a dozen airports throughout Canada and the United States,” said Brad Cicero, spokesperson for Porter Airlines. “We work with just as many airports, and the MLB team consistently goes above and beyond to make our passengers feel at home.”

Case in point: Porter’s nonstop flight from Toronto to Orlando Melbourne was once grounded due to fog. “We saw social media posts from our passengers enjoying free breakfast and showing their children making bead necklaces and drinking fresh orange juice at the gate. It just knocked our socks off.” Not surprisingly, Porter Airlines just announced it’s returning to MLB for its third season.

Donovan starts his day with fresh coffee, steaming out of a rare U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Airborne Division mug he brought with him from his former post in Destin-Ft. Walton Beach, a dual service airport that serves all branches of the military. It was given to him by a friend, a highly decorated Green Beret, who told him, “Fight to win, win to flight again.”

Before any meeting, Donovan can be found standing in front of the coffeemaker with a thoughtful look on his face as he pours a fresh cup. Like any general, he’s mentally preparing for “next.”

Coffee in hand, he leans against the corner of his desk, all six feet, four inches of him, going over the day’s priorities with senior staffers.

Business Development Director Mark Busalacchi fills him in on a prospective new tenant who’s asking how many duplicates of the massive 83,000-sq.- . MRO hangar would t around that apron. Donovan knows the answer off the top of his head. Senior Director of Finance and Administration Marilyn Hively then updates him on the financials. The coffee mug lowers as Donovan looks over the rim, raises an eyebrow and says, “Say that again?” She confirms airport total assets have increased by $44.1 million the past fiscal year, and total operating revenues are up by $1.07 million. He turns to the airport communications director, who assures him it’s already on the PowerPoint presentation. “We all just wanted to see your face when it was confirmed.”

Airport Authority Chairman Jack L. Ryals sticks his head into the meeting to say hello when Donovan tells him, “I just got the numbers confirmed and it’s a good day.” Donovan and Ryals chat about the milestone and its significance to the self- sustaining operation. “We continue to run this airport like a true business,” said Ryals. “It’s important this community understands how remarkable this profit number is and how it was attained without local tax monies.” The dollars will be reinvested back into the airport as required by the FAA.

All in a Day’s Work
Less than an hour later, Donovan and Communications Director Lori Booker are on a conference call with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s office, then become engrossed in yet another call related to a large European carrier. “Closest to cruises will always be a selling point,” points out the airline representative. “But your airport’s concierge atmosphere and ease of entry into the country are what will seal this deal.”

While developing the strategy, Donovan’s executive secretary, Tammy Till, steps into the room with an apologetic look on her face. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Donovan, but the city says this can’t wait. Their finance department wants to know immediately, and I’m not exaggerating here, the names of staff who ate the donuts we provided before the air show.”

For a minute, Donovan looks confused and Booker’s grin was full of mirth. “You can’t make these things up,” she says.

Suddenly, a text message buzzes onto cellphones throughout the floor and a change in atmosphere is immediately detected. Donovan reaches for his binoculars and Booker heads to the elevator. The text reads: Alert two, 9R, GA, 4 SOB. In aviation terms, a general aviation aircraft has a reported emergency on MLB’s largest runway with four “souls on board.” Subsequent communications clarify it’s a minor scrape due to faulty landing gear with no injuries to those on board. Airport Operations Director Cliff Graham continues to update the leadership team with the particulars, and a combined sense of relief is felt. With 1,850 general aviation flights and 160 commercial flights a week, this air field is one of the safest in the country.

Not long after this incident, airport Police Chief Reneé Purden steps into Donovan’s office to go over her department’s report about the recent air show. “Let me know the attendance records as soon as they’re totaled,” he says. “Your force did an amazing job. Four air shows and no major safety incidents. It’s gotta be some kind of record, and you should feel very proud. I know I am.”

He chats with Chief Purden on the way down to her office on the first floor and stops by to check on the $7 million in renovations to the airport’s customs facility. With a 55 percent increase in international passengers, he’s getting the airport ready for the climbing numbers. The new air traffic control tower is next on his list to visit, since the first large outside panel is supposed to be raised any day now.

The baggage area is bustling. A passenger with a 3-year-old child drops his Disney-themed luggage and Donovan gets down on one knee, picks up the suitcase and asks the little boy if he’s going to see Mickey Mouse. He nods and grins, mom smiles, and with hands in his pockets, the long-legged executive director heads out to the air field as a Boeing 777 glides by to have its electronics suite updated by one of MLB’s commercial tenants. All is right with his world, and he gets to do it all over again tomorrow.

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i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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