Alaska's superintendent of the skies
by J. Besl |
In most places, Americans can commute by road, rail, or even the second airport on the other side of town. Options like that, though, are rarely available in Alaska, where aviation is the most important (and often the only) source of transportation.
"The term that gets thrown around a lot is lifeline. That is aviation in Alaska," said Jeremy Worrall, B.S. Aviation Technology '02, who works as statewide airport operations superintendent for the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT).
"Every day, every person in Alaska is impacted in some way by [aviation], whether they feel it or see it or not," he added. "It's not just recreation. It's not just business. It's everyday life."
Safety and security
Jeremy grew up in Anchorage, where one in 10 jobs - 15,577 at the last estimate - is tied directly to the airport. "I always had a love for aviation," he said. He earned his private pilot certificate in high school and enrolled at UAA specifically for its aviation management program.
Though the curriculum prepared him for a career in any location, his professors brought specific Alaska expertise. One professor was an airport director for Alaska DOT. Others had careers as bush pilots and rural operators.
"There was a lot of Alaska focus, and professors with tremendous industry experience. People like Paul Bowers, Leonard Kirk, Mark Madden and Ron Haney," Jeremy said. "That piece of the program was very beneficial."
As a lifelong Alaskan, he reluctantly headed Outside after graduation to start his career (despite its hundreds of airports, there are few entry-level management jobs in Alaska, which Jeremy hopes will change over time). He first gained experience in airport operations in South Bend, Indiana, then in San Jose, California. Along the way, he earned an M.B.A. from Arizona State University.
Jeremy returned to Alaska in 2005 to work for the state DOT. In the Lower 48, most airports are under the control of a city, county or local government body, but in Alaska - with small communities scattered across a massive area - nearly every commercial-service airport is managed by the state.
Based in Juneau, Jeremy worked as a regional airport safety and security officer, focused on operation issues and regulatory compliance for the Southeast region's five FAA-certified airports.
In January 2016, DOT promoted Jeremy to statewide superintendent. Now based in Fairbanks, he oversees the state's three regional safety and security officers (including his former post in Juneau) and manages regulatory compliance for all 19 rural airports certified by the FAA for large air carrier operations.
Jeremy's statewide aviation team looks for the most effective and efficient ways to comply with federal regulations while balancing the realities of limited staff, equipment, budgets and other resources. The small but dedicated staff at DOT's remote airports meanwhile keeps Alaska moving by clearing snow in winter, painting runway markings in summer, performing aircraft rescue firefighting, inspecting runways for hazards and completing a myriad of other critical tasks that go on in the background at FAA-certified airports.
Overall, it's an extremely complex and unique system, requiring serious aviation expertise (and, occasionally, the need to coax a 450-pound seal from the runway).
Challenges and opportunities
Outside of work, Jeremy's life still revolves around the industry. He's accredited under the American Association of Airport Executives and co-chairs the group's UAS (drone) working group, which occasionally brings him to meetings in Washington, D.C. Much closer to home, he works with an Aviation Explorer Post in Fairbanks, encouraging teenagers to pursue aviation careers through site visits, internships and industry connections. He participates in the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce transportation and infrastructure committee and is president-elect of his local Rotary Club. In 2017, he received the Aviation Excellence Award from the Northwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives.
Amid all that, Jeremy's also happy to be making the most of Alaska. Along with his wife and their six kids, they squeeze in as much hiking, biking, rafting, ice fishing, hunting and skiing as they can.
He clearly loves Alaska, and he hopes to encourage more homegrown kids to pursue careers in a much-needed field that's vital to the state.
"We have a tremendous challenges in Alaska," he noted, "but we also have many opportunities. Aviation is very unique in Alaska and it's very important. Because of that, it's really valuable work.
"There are a lot of opportunities to have a positive impact and do work that matters."
Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement