(January 2020) – Shaun Germolus always knew he wanted to fly. “Since I was 11, I wanted to become a professional airline pilot,” he said. He enrolled in the University of North Dakota for commercial aviation, earned a private pilot license and began his career in aviation. His flight path took a slight turn, however, when he was introduced to the university’s airport management major. There, he realized he could still fly and spend his days around aircraft while enjoying the comforts of a family and home. Since earning his degree, he has held roles as airport manager for the city of Worthington, Virginia; operations supervisor for the Roanoke Regional Airport Commission in Virginia; and executive director of the Chisholm-Hibbing Airport Authority in Minnesota. Most recently, the city has announced Germolus as the new aviation director for the Kissimmee Gateway Airport Authority. Here, he discusses the road so far and what he hopes for the future of both his industry and his new home.
What drew you to the industry?
At the time of my flight training, airlines Pan American World Airways, Eastern Air Lines and Trans World Airlines were filing for bankruptcy. The Clinton administration was downsizing the military, and there was an abundance of pilots for the airline industry. I was looking at what appeared to be a troubled industry with potentially high student debt and was concerned about making a living. A friend introduced me to UND’s airport management major, and figured I could avoid potential student debt, be home in the evenings, always be around aircraft and continue to fly. Once in the program, I realized there were many opportunities in the airport industry and have enjoyed learning the various components of management, construction, safety, security and economic development, to name a few.
What was your first job? What did it teach you?
After college, I became the airport manager for the City of Worthington, Minnesota. Besides the administration duties, I was responsible for daily airfield maintenance tasks with my one full-time maintenance employee. Together, we would cut grass, repair airfield lights, perform building maintenance and, yes, remove lots of Minnesota snow! I also attended my first city council meetings and reported on the airport’s operations and purchasing requests. To this day, I value this first job because it laid the foundation for my career. It allowed me to perform all airport management and maintenance functions directly so I could relate well to every situation and challenge that airport employees encounter.
What was the process like getting accreditation through the American Association of Airport Executives?
The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) is the world’s largest professional organization for airport executives, representing thousands of airport management personnel at public-use commercial and general aviation airports. It is a great honor to have completed the accreditation program. I have been an AAAE member since 1993 and enrolled in the accreditation program early.
I completed phase one of the three-phase programs in 1998, passing a 180-multiple-question exam designating me as a Certified Member (CM). The next step was a 30-page writing requirement. I started this process but postponed it, focusing on my airport jobs and raising a family. In late 2017, when my wife applied to complete her doctoral degree in nursing and education, I told her if she was accepted, I would finish my accreditation. Well, she was accepted. I completed my writing assignment and began to study for the final oral exam. I completed a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute exam of several airport topics by three AAAE-accredited members. It was a great personal accomplishment, and I appreciate the opportunity and support I received during the process.
What brought you to this upcoming role with the Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Florida?
I have been in the airport industry for over 26 years, with the past 13 serving at the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing, Minnesota. I was fortunate to meet many of the objectives I set at Range Regional, which included improving airfield infrastructure, enhancing economic development, increasing airline service, and constructing a new airline terminal facility. I was looking for a new set of challenges, preferably in a warmer climate with less snow and ice control mitigation.
I applied for this position for several reasons. Kissimmee Gateway Airport is a valuable regional asset providing general aviation reliever services for the Orlando International Airport and supporting 120,000 annual aircraft departures and arrivals. Its proximity to the theme parks is essential as well since the airport’s air traffic control services guide aircraft through the airspace, providing a safe environment. The multiple flight schools are fundamental as today’s aviation industry faces a pilot shortage. Unlike when I was in flight training, today’s aviation environment offers ample opportunities for aviation enthusiasts. Add active warbirds and economic development, and it becomes a dream job!
What do you look forward to most about working with this community?
The City of Kissimmee has initiated its Aerospace Advancement Initiative program to aggressively develop 140-plus acres to enhance economic development and create jobs. Developing property, constructing new supportive facilities, and growing airport businesses have been the most enjoyable moments in my career. I love the enthusiasm and support I see demonstrated by the city staff for this project, and I look forward to working with the community and its business leaders.
How are you preparing for your new role?
I had the pleasure of spending five days in Kissimmee in mid-October searching for future housing and had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the airport staff (wonderful people!). The city and airport staff have been terrific by providing me specifics of the airport and keeping me apprised of airport developments. I have been researching the differences between the Minnesota and Florida state aviation departments as well.
What is your vision for the future of the airport? What kind of possibilities can it present for the city?
The airport will continue to support the regional general aviation operations and ensure it can accommodate forecasted growth in aircraft activity. To remain successful, it will help the local community’s air transportation requirements and continue to develop as one of the region’s economic development engines. The city’s Aerospace Advancement Initiative and utilizing the property to its fullest potential will provide job creation and economic enhancement opportunities.
What will a typical day be like for you in your role? What kinds of things will you oversee?
My role as the director of aviation will be to ensure the airport is operated safely, securely and efficiently, and that it provides the best customer experience for all who encounter the airport. This includes oversight of financial management, construction and maintenance, economic development, and safety and security programs. I look forward to interacting with staff to ensure they have the resources to carry out those functions. I also look forward to meeting the airport’s tenants to understand their operations better to support and assist them in growing their businesses.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
At my first airport management job in Worthington, Minnesota, I lived in a house on the airport provided by the city. When one of my airport mentors told me, “Always spend at least one hour per day at your airport,” I looked at him puzzled and responded, “What do you mean? I live on the airport!” He said, “No, always spend specific time driving your airfield, walking your buildings and, most importantly, spend quality time with your staff and airport tenants. Always personally understand your airport’s issues and environment.” To this day, you will find me doing just that at the airport.
As featured in the January 2020 edition.