For airport manager Margaret Pittman, the ever-changing nature of her work at Marion County Regional Airport (KMAO) in South Carolina, has been the best part of her more than three decades in the job.
To demonstrate the variety of airport life she pointed to the aircraft parked in front of the terminal on the day General Aviation News visited.
“It’s a Citation jet,” she said. “We’re a small place but we get all kinds of pilots and guests dropping in here.”
The Citation, N797MM out of Raleigh, N.C. carried a high profile passenger.
“That was Roy Williams, the North Carolina basketball coach,” Pittman said, pointing to the silver-haired man climbing the jet stairs. “He was visiting a high school basketball player in the area. Just like today, there always seems to be an interesting person or aircraft pulling up out front.”
Pittman said she had no thought of a career in management when she took a temporary job behind the counter at the airport in 1983 to help cover education expenses.
“Walter Byrd was our manager and he and I worked all shifts at that time, 365 days a year,” she said. “I was off Tuesdays and every other weekend.”
She said Byrd, the World War II Army Air Corps veteran who ran the airport, died unexpectedly in 1986 and she was asked to take over the manager’s job.
“I wish he had been around longer for me to learn more, but I had to make a decision on taking the job,” Pittman recalled.
“But at the time, people with my degree weren’t making much more than I was making here,” she continued. “Plus, I enjoyed the job. I met a lot of pilots and the days were interesting.”
After she took the top job the work days continued to be long, Pittman said. “I worked with Tully Dozier, another World War II Army Air Corps veteran, and we covered all the shifts,” she added.
Pittman said that in the 1980s there weren’t many females in airport operations.
“I was told by the state aviation people that I was the only female airport manager in the state at the time I took the job,” she said. “In the beginning I met some pilots who told me they didn’t like women on the flight line. But I did the job and things changed after a few months. I guess it was trust in me.”
She also began taking flying lessons and with the guidance and training of local pilot Randolph Battle, a member of the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame, earned her private pilot’s license in 1991.
“In recent years, I have pretty much stopped flying,” Pittman said. “But I wouldn’t mind owning an airplane with my brother Wesley. He is working on his license and is in the Civil Air Patrol Squadron here at the airport.”
“We’ve got good people working here and they’ve made a big difference over the years,” Pittman said.
Jim Drew, Dan Farrow and Leslie Crawford make up the current KMAO service team along with Pittman and keep the airport open 362 days a year from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. “We are officially closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s,” Pittman said. “But technically, I am on call outside those hours and I do get called in.”
Pittman, Drew and Farrow are experienced pilots and Crawford, the newest member of the team, is active in the Civil Air Patrol and hopes to earn his license, Pittman said.
“It is good when the people running the terminal are pilots. It makes things more comfortable for the variety of pilots we have coming in here.”
Nine aircraft are based at KMAO, plus an Air Reach Air Ambulance helicopter servicing the various facilities of McLeod Health in the region, including the hospital at Florence.
“We have a new hangar for the helicopter which they haven’t yet occupied,” she noted. “And we have completed a new row of hangars with an additional five spaces for aircraft. We hope we will be getting more aircraft in here this year.”
Pittman said she had been lucky during her years in the job to work with county administrators who supported aviation.
“I did have two administrators who said they didn’t know anything about the airport and I had to educate them,” she recalled. She said her current supervisor, county administrator Tim Harper, “completely supports aviation and understands that airport improvements are important.”
“My job has always been to get stuff done — to keep things on track,” Pittman said.
In recent years she managed operations around the difficulties imposed by installation of new runway lighting and a PAPI, precision approach path indicator light landing system. “In addition, we’ve updated our Jet A pump with new filters and a water sensor,” she added.
Pittman, who hopes to continue her work for at least six more years, said one important improvement remains high on her list.
“We have the land for a 500-foot extension for Runway 22 and a taxiway,” she said. “I hope we can get that done because a 5,000-foot runway will allow more corporate aircraft to come in. Right now some planes are not allowed by the insurance companies on a field less than 5,000 feet long. Our extension from 4,500 to 5,000 feet will take care of that problem.”