Lone Star Executive Airport Director Scott Smith walked away from the 33rd Texas Aviation Conference as the 2015 Reliever Airport Manager of the Year last month.
Smith bested 23 other airport managers in receiving the Texas Department of Transportation-sponsored honor. For him, the award was all about the support he receives from his employees and Montgomery County officials.
“With the support of the commissioners and county judge’s office, it’s really a team effort,” Smith said. “It’s great to have the award, but it reflects a lot of team effort, from the airport staff as well.”
Smith was surprised he won the award, saying he didn’t recognize that TxDOT Aviation Division Director Dave Fulton was describing him in the moments leading up to the announcement that he had won.
“I was shocked, surprised big-time,” Smith said. “I’m sitting there, and [Fulton] says, ‘Our award winner this year first started his passion for flying when his uncle took him up flying at the age of 11.’ I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, that is so cool. Somebody else’s uncle took them up flying at the age of 11. I’ve got to meet him.’ I was thinking I totally wasn’t getting it.”
The award was given to Smith in part for his hand in continuing plans that expand the airport, both with its services and physically.
“It really goes back to the early part of the 2000s when the county rebuilt the runways,” Smith said. “When I came on board, we were just starting to rebuild the main runway. Since then, we’ve finished that, built the control tower and the runway and taxiway. Our involvement in the customs facility, that’ll be our next project that will be completed. Also, there’s been a lot of development of hangar space. I think it’s those series of improvements.”
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal said he was not surprised Smith won the award after the work he had put into his position.
“Scott’s helped move this airport to the next level,” Doyal said. “I think it’s most deserved, because he’s done a phenomenal job. Having the tower built, the runway extension completed, also been very instrumental in having the Customs facility at our airport; all efforts that make the airport a strong economic engine in Montgomery County.”
LSEA opened its extended runway in March and is about to send its U.S. Customs facility project out for bid in the coming weeks, Smith said.
“The Customs facility is estimated to increase [the airport’s economic impact] by about $5 million in a year once it’s well established,” said Smith, adding that the airport’s current economic impact sits somewhere between $33 million and $50 million.
“We plan there’s going to be a couple of years off the bat where it’s going to take time to establish it in the industry until potential users know it’s there and start using it and get used to using it when coming to the north side of Houston.”
The success and development of the airport helps bring business to the Conroe area, Smith said, even if businesses aren’t aviation companies or even own jets.
He cited the recent development of Deison Technology Park as a prime example of why businesses would move close to the airport.
“It’s not just the airplanes taking off and landing,” Smith said. “If you have a high-tech company, and you’re thinking about building in Deison Technology Park, even if you don’t have an airplane, you’re going to have business visitors that want to fly in. They want to know what kind of airport you got. We have an airport now that meets all the needs of corporate and business aviation.”
MUSICIAN TO AVIATOR
Smith started his aviation career cleaning international flights during their stopovers in Seattle, Washington. As a struggling musician, he saw an advertisement for employment in a newspaper and decided to take a chance in the industry.
“In 1981, I needed to augment that meager income,” Smith said.
In Seattle, Smith moved from cleaning to maintaining aircraft, ensuring passenger comfort and safety. After changing jobs multiple times within the same airline company, he relocated to Denver, where he got a bachelor’s degree in airport management.
He spent time in Denver, California and then finally made his way to Texas.
“I’m really happy with the career in airport management,” Smith said. “It’s good when you can develop the airport, and it’s a good feeling when you operate it to the highest standards you can achieve for safety and efficiency. This job here is the best one I’ve had, because the county recognizes so much the importance of the airport and wants it developed.
“For an airport manger, that’s like a dream come true when you have bosses that want you to develop.”
FUTURE OF AVIATION
Smith encouraged parents to take their children to the airport and let them decide whether the aviation industry is one for them.
“Walk around, look at some airplanes and see if they have any kind of spark for that and encourage it,” Smith said. “We’re going to need pilots, we’re going to need mechanics and we’re going to need airport managers. When this industry continues to evolve, we’re going to need more air people to enter it.”
But above all, Smith said, he wouldn’t have been able to achieve such an award if it weren’t for his staff.
“Standing behind me for that award are the people who work for me,” Smith said. “Without them, I couldn’t be successful. They work very hard at what they do.”