A Flagstaff native and avid pilot, Amanda Shankland brings a wealth of experience, ranging from starting her own business, to helping run Flagstaff Pulliam Airport, to being the mother of five teenagers. “That might not seem like a valuable trait, but it’s also all about communication!” said a smiling Shankland, who occasionally flies to work in a taildragger, the original WACO biplane she owns.
Shankland is not the only steward of the Northern Arizona skies in her home; her husband, Paul, is an officer and former Navy pilot who directs the Naval Observatory – Flagstaff Station. Conversation-starting memorabilia like Paul’s F-14 flight gear adorn her open-door office. However, her first critical conversations as airport manager were off the mesa and in the offices of Sedona Mayor Sandy Moriarty and Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis.
“Communications are vital for this airport to be transparent and approachable. What better place to start than with our community’s leaders?” said Shankland, who arrived on the job already serving as an executive director of the Arizona Airports Association.
In addition to a new airport manager, the Sedona-Oak Creek Airport Authority (SOCAA) has a new president and a new board with relevant skills and interests, including three pilots. For example, board member Bill DeGroff has helped run major engineering projects at Lowell Observatory for a decade and is an aviation enthusiast who used to work in the aerospace industry. The new leaders and their attributes were quickly noticed by one of the airport’s important but sometimes overlooked constituents.
“The airport has had some management challenges over the past two to three years,” said pilot Jim Hergert of the Sedona Aircraft and Hangar Owners (SAHO) Association. “However, all prior airport board positions have turned over and the new board was chosen after discussions between county leaders, local stakeholders and past board members, which established a more robust selection process. The current airport board is comprised of a very effective mix of aviation enthusiasts, business persons, stakeholders and individuals with passion for the position. The result is a very strong and proactive airport board under president Giorgio Cagliero. Add to this a new airport manager, who in her short time in the position has only added more synergy to the airport management team. Great dialogue and routine communication has been established not only with both county and city leadership but also with the local pilot and hangar owner communities and the businesses that operate on airport property. The airport is in really good position now to address some of its weaknesses and move forward to ensure it remains and grows as the vital resource and economic engine it is to the Sedona.”
Making sure the community and commercial engine continues to rev is part of Shankland’s focus. While she passionately promotes existing businesses like the Mesa Grill and the airport-owned FBO operator Red Rock Aviation, she is assessing what kind of sustainable development is permitted on the mesa. “One FAA requirement is directing airports to become self-sustained. We have a new opportunity to accomplish just that,” Shankland said. Recently, the airport has again served as a base of operations for local wildfire operations, hosting several tactical helicopters and their crews. Federal and military operations will continue to add to total aircraft operations and bring in subsidies, though Shankland is planning for when those subsidies disappear.
Perhaps the best known attributes of the airport – the Airport Vortex hiking trail halfway up the hill, Overlook Point and the annual Airport Day in September – are also on her mind, as is the narrow Airport Road. “I’m balancing an important mix of existing offerings and seeing what else can be done with the land in a way that best serves the airport and community,” added Shankland. “It seems all too often that the word ‘community’ was not given proper consideration when making decisions about the airport’s future. Let there be no doubt: this is a community airport, here to serve the community, not just pilots, not just business, but all those invested in its future.” FBN
By Tom Vitron, FBN
Photo by Tom Vitron