On his journey from being a pilot instructor to an assistant airport director, Jason Terreri has learned the ins-and-outs of the vast, exciting aviation industry.
Terreri’s passion for aviation is contagious upon speaking with him.
“It’s amazing how big the industry is in terms of the sheer number of opportunities and roles,” Terreri says. “Most people never think about aviation as an industry that has so many parts, but it is. Once you get into the field, you learn quickly that there’s always something new and exciting to discover. You may start in the area of planning and end up doing Airline Affairs. One door seems to always open another, and that’s the best part.”
After graduating with his bachelor’s in aviation management on-campus in 2001, Terreri intended to become a commercial pilot. When this didn’t happen due to the impact on the industry after the events on September 11, Terreri took his career in a different direction since his Florida Tech degree encompassed aviation management knowledge in addition to pilot training.
The dynamic, multi-faceted career path Terreri experienced as a result ultimately led to his current position as Senior Operations Project Director at Airports Worldwide, in which he focuses on airport planning, operations, and air service development.
“It’s a lot of fun, it really is – you never have the same day twice.”
We talked to Terreri about his career goals, trends in the industry, advice he has for students and more.
Can you tell me about your background? What has led you to where you are today?
I graduated FIT in the spring of 2001 and began working as a flight instructor in Orlando. My ultimate career goal was to be a commercial pilot. The week leading up to September 11, 2001, I was prepping for an airline interview. Shortly thereafter, because of the events, the airlines instituted a hiring freeze. I went back to flight instruction and did some charter flying. Thankfully, my degree from Florida Tech included aviation management and flight. I changed course and ended up with an offer to be an airport planner at Washington Dulles. I had never thought about working in the planning and management side of the industry. It turned out, I really enjoyed the airport side of the industry! By the time the airlines started hiring again, I had found a new passion. Ever since, I have spent my career learning every piece of this industry in order to one day run a major airport.
Since Washington Dulles, I’ve been lucky to land many great opportunities. I took a job with Atlanta International Airport where I stayed for nine years, and had a hand in nearly everything – from operations to planning to business development and contracts. This experience set me up for the position of Assistant Director of the Department of Airports at Myrtle Beach. For two years, I was part of the team responsible for the Myrtle Beach International Airport and three general aviation airports. After talking with people I know in the industry, I learned about an opportunity with Airports Worldwide. They were going through some corporate organizational changes and my background, having touched all pieces of airport management, was something they wanted.
I joined Airports Worldwide a little over two years ago as Senior Operations Project Director. I assist and provide oversight to several of the locations we run. I spend a lot of my time down in Costa Rica where we are responsible for operating the two airports, and I also work at other airports around the United States as needed.
What got you first interested in aviation?
I grew up overseas, and on flights back to the U.S., I was always that little kid who ran to the cockpit and had to say “Hi” to the pilots. I’ve been in love with it ever since. I started flying airplanes when I was 15 years old.
Florida Tech is the only college I applied to because at the time it was the only program that had both a management program and flight, which was a big draw for me. Luckily, I got accepted!
What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your job?
One of the things I really love to do, and get the most satisfaction from, is mentoring aspiring airport professionals. I take a lot of ownership in helping people develop and serving in a mentor role. I would not be where I am had people not done the same for me. I believe in paying it forward.
A lot of people come to me with the inquiry: “Tell me about aviation.” They know they’re drawn to aviation for some reason, but don’t know all the different roles and parts in the industry. So, I dive in. Some people love airplanes, but they also like number crunching — that’s the planning side of the house, doing forecasting and coming up with long-term plans of how would you develop an airport. Other people are hands-on and thrive on chaos – that’s airport operations, where you’re dealing with running a machine, a machine that is sometimes unpredictable, like when a weather phenomenon pops up. Then, of course, there are those whose talents excel in marketing and business development, and so they would be a great fit going out and recruiting airlines to help build connections for the community.
What’s fun about this industry is that it’s so broad — you can really find your niche. When I talk to people about the industry, my first question is, “What do you want to do on a day-to-day? What motivates you?” Once I know those answers, I can easily help point them in the best direction in the industry to reach that goal.
What are the biggest trends or challenges you’re seeing in the industry?
The big one everybody talks about now is the pilot shortage. That’s going to affect not only the airlines, but airports in small communities as well. If there aren’t enough pilots to fly the planes, cities and communities are going to be impacted because there won’t be enough flights to connect the communities to the world. There’s going to have to be some changes in pilot training and recruiting in order to fill this gap.
The other challenge I see is in the next few years is a need for investment in airport and aviation infrastructure, not only in airports but also in the national airspace system. The whole industry will need updating because it hasn’t kept up with the growth of the industry.
What do you think small airports can do to compete with the larger ones?
You have to tell the story of your community to an airline. An airline is a business. They need to know the value of your community – if they are going to be able to fill seats on an airplane, if people are going to support the airline. Airlines can crunch numbers all day long but they don’t know what’s happening in your community. I do it for Costa Rica, and it’s really easy to sell Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful place to go and tourism is big.
Airports are all competing for airlines and their aircraft, but you need to figure out which airline is right for your community. Will a low-cost carrier, like Allegiant Air, providing point-to-point service be more successful than a network airline like United Airlines? Knowing your market and then finding the airline or airlines that complement your community is key, regardless of airport size.
Can you tell me a little about airport privatization? What are the advantages of privately owned airports?
The majority of U.S. airports are publicly owned, typically run by a local government. Outside of the U.S., the majority of commercial airports are privately operated. We are starting to see pockets of privatization in the U.S. through terminal and infrastructure development.
Airport privatization allows for some efficiencies and innovations. It allows you to be a little bit more free in how airports are developed. There are also efficiencies of the private sector that you would not gain at a public airport
Can you take me through a typical day on the job?
Right now, a lot of my time is spent on the development and operations of the airports in Costa Rica, both from an infrastructure perspective as well as marketing and business development. So yesterday, I spent a lot of time on the phone dealing with airlines for upcoming meetings. We are heading to Europe to recruit new nonstop service from several potential markets.
On the other side, we have major capital investment and development going on in Costa Rica. New taxiways, terminal expansion, roadway expansion — so I’m dealing with that as well. How do you build a taxiway and a new terminal in the middle of an airport that is fully functioning? How do you coordinate it? Those are the kinds of things I’m dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
What does air service development entail?
It’s basically your efforts from an airport perspective to attract and retain airlines to your airport. That’s really the crux of it. Whether you’re bringing a new airline to your community or you’re looking to connect a new city to your city, that’s what air service development is. For example, in Tampa, Lufthansa initiated nonstop service to that airport. There was likely three years of air service development work to get Lufthansa. It takes a long time to do it, especially for an international flight. It is a lot of coordination and people working together because it’s not just the airport. You’ve got your chamber of commerce, a lot of times you’ve got businesses, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got tour operators on the other side who are going to fill the airplane both ways. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of work — that’s the best way to describe air service. And in the Tampa example, the result is a nonstop flight to Frankfurt.
What are the some of the greatest challenges in your position?
One of the challenges is mentoring and educating the community and leaders. You don’t really think about having to tell the story of your community. You may be dealing with everyone from local leaders and politicians to other coworkers and people who are involved in your industry. You have to explain why things are important. As an airport professional, I understand them, but it can be a challenge getting the message across to people outside of the airport industry so that they see both the opportunities that you’re bringing forward and the reality that sometimes in an airport you have to do things a little bit differently than you would in other businesses or industries. The best example I can give you is that you can shut down part of a road for construction, but you can’t completely shut down a runway for maintenance and repairs if you only have one. You have to be able to articulate why you have to do things a certain way. That’s a challenge, especially when you’re dealing with different cultures and different languages, like with my work in Costa Rica and elsewhere. But I enjoy a good challenge!
What advice would you have for students and grads of Florida Tech’s aviation management program?
What I tell people is, the aviation industry is incredibly small. Students at Florida Tech have access to an alumni network that touches every facet of this industry. Whether it’s a chief pilot at a major airline or an airport director or a leader at the FAA, we touch it all.
So, reach out. Ask questions. If there is a piece of the industry that you find interesting, we can put students in touch with somebody who can answer their questions. As a student coming into this program, early on in your studies, you are exposed to parts of the industry that you had no idea even existed. For some people, that’s very interesting, and to learn more about it, they should talk to people who do it for a living. That’s the one piece of advice that I tell people: explore this industry if you’re interested in it because you will be exposed to aspects that you may not have ever thought about. You will know the minute you find your passion in the aviation industry.