Career Profile: Denise Kelley

From geese to medical emergencies to snow storms

October 3, 2013

Denise Kelley 1 

Denise Kelley had planned on becoming a corporate pilot, but soon realized that flying as a career would take the fun out of being a pilot for her. 


Instead, the private pilot found a different aviation career a better fit. Kelley is an airport operations supervisor at the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wis., where she is responsible for FAR Part 139 compliance and inspection, emergency response, airfield and terminal inspections, airport security inspections, wildlife mitigation, and much more.


It’s the variety of the job that she enjoys. “Every day is different,” Kelley says. “You don’t have to sit in an office every day, all day.”


The Madison airport, a joint civil-military commercial airport, is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Kelley says airfield inspections are done four times a day. But terminal or airport security inspections must also be completed multiple times each day. On some days, she may have to deal with a medical emergency on an incoming flight, or a snow or ice storm that makes it difficult for planes to take off or land. During a winter storm, for example, the runways need to be tested several times an hour for friction and how the type of snow — a wet, slushy snow or a light, fluffy one — impacts breaking.


On other days, she may be chaperoning a construction crew working on repairs inside the airport’s perimeters, or writing or revising a manual on airport security. Kelley recommends students interested in airport operations take high school courses in business, aviation and English. It would also be helpful to earn a bachelor’s degree in business, complete additional training from the American Association of Airport Executives and be a private pilot or have other aviation background.


Kelley graduated from the University of North Dakota with a major in airport management from the College of Business and Public Administration.  She had two internships — one at a general aviation airport, Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minn. — and the other at Dane County Regional Airport, where she is back today.


The job growth rate for airport operations managers or supervisors is estimated at 8 percent through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Denise Kelley 2