Q&A: Veatch has big plans for SBY Regional Airport

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Dawn Veatch, airport manager of the SBY Regional Airport. (Todd Dudek Photo)

Wicomico County has a new star who is wowing everyone she meets.

Since Dawn Veatch took control of the Salisbury-Wicomico-Ocean City Regional Airport in February, the facility has launched a rebranding campaign, has a new website, planned a festival for May 20, all while winning attention as Veatch has publicly poured out ideas for ways to make the airport more economically centric to the region.

Veatch’s primary mission is to ensure the airport fully exploits its potential as an economic engine, and in doing so promotes economic development and opportunities across the region.

Veatch’s career in aviation includes piloting firefighting aircraft, working for the Federal Aviation Administration, and serving as the Senior Director of Government Affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in Washington, D.C. She holds an airline-transport pilot’s license and is a certified flight instructor.

Her marketing prowess can be seen through her role as executive producer of the film “America’s Community Airport: Going Higher,” which is now being used to showcase the network of America’s airports.

While working for the FAA, Veatch advanced the government’s international aviation goal of increasing economic growth and negotiated high-level public-private partnerships, implementing advanced new technologies and best practices benefitting airports, communities, and governments.

Married to Raymond Veatch, a retired FAA attorney, she’s the mother of three daughters.

Q. Tell me about the “Wings and Wheels” event you have planned for this weekend.

A. We are excited to invite the community to celebrate Aviation Appreciation Month and Armed Forces Day at our first big event.

We’re calling our event “Wings and Wheels” because it combines airplanes and cars, and people love both of those. It will be held on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and we kick it off with a free pancake breakfast at Bay Land Aviation.

We are going to have lots of planes flying in including some military aircraft, helicopters, antique aircraft and more. Folks will be able to take a helicopter ride or an airplane ride, and Piedmont will have a plane or two open for people to explore.

Classic cars will be on display along with food vendors, and other vendors to visit.

Oh, and don’t for forget to stop by the Aviation Parts Swap Meet!

We are also offering tours of the control tower to get a better understanding of how the airport operates on a daily basis.

After 9/11, all these fences went up at airports everywhere and people stopped coming out to the airports. You don’t get to come out and look in the windows and walk around the aircraft anymore, and we’ve lost a whole generation of aviators as a result.

We want the community to appreciate their airport and develop a love of flying.

Q. It seems that, with little fanfare, there’s been a rebranding of the airport’s name.

A. We’ve been marketing the airport differently.

SBY is the three letter identifier for the airport and makes a lot of sense when referring to it. For branding purposes, we’ve been calling it SBY Regional Airport and it does help people instantly recognize where we are.

Q. What, an airport name with six big words and bunch of hyphens is cumbersome?

A. We want people to know this is a regional airport, but we had to go with a shorter name to fit on the new signs that the State Highway Administration is printing. (Laughs.)

It’s really just a branding decision.

Q. What condition have you found our airport to be in?

A. In my first 60 days we completed a complete regulatory compliance review, just to make sure we were complying with the operating regulation.

So we had to tweak a few minor things like gates and locks, and start reviewing some of the bigger projects that needed our attention. We’ve been reviewing all the lease agreements and going to be changing those as necessary.

We have done a major renovation upstairs in the terminal building and will begin renovations downstairs in the public areas.

We are looking to do a complete major remodeling project downstairs by 2019 that we think the public will be very pleased with. But if you’ve been in the airport lately, we’ve brought in a beautiful piece from the Ward Museum collection and we’re looking for some more pieces that help tell the story of our area and the heritage of the Eastern Shore.

I have a long To Do list! I want to develop the industrial park here at the airport, with business related to the airport and business that aren’t. One of the holdups was the availability of city water and sewer and that is coming in about 18 months.

I want to attract all kinds of business to the airport property.

We are talking to a company that manufacturers drones and we are planning to have a drone landing facility.

We will be tearing down three old hangars with plans to build a new 38,000-square-foot hangar that might attract a jet service provider. We’ve found some grants to help us with that project because it will bring jobs to our area and that’s critical.

The firehouse project is also on my priority list because we feel a dual purpose facility will provide better service and fire coverage for our airport, industrial park and the local residents. That’s a few years away and lots of issues needs to be worked out.  

Q. We’ve always felt like we’ve had a nice airport here, but have had the sense it’s underutilized and more could be done with it. Is that true?

A. Yes. We need to bring community awareness to the airport so that people understand the value this airport brings to this community.

We want to bring new business out here, both aviation related and business that is not aviation related. We want to bring general aviation to the airport, which is why we are hosting this “Wings and Wheels” so that private pilots all across the region can fly in here and understand what this region has to offer.

Q. Tell me about your plan for new hangar space.

A. We are planning to build another set of T Hangars near Bay Land Aviation. We’ve had a waiting list for space here at the airport so these new hangars will serve both the tenants that we’re displacing plus take care of those folks on our waiting list.

And we’re hoping that a larger free span hangar will house a flight school at the airport which we’re very excited about.

Q. I understand the runway expansion to accommodate Piedmont jets might not be necessary after all, given the upcoming changes to the airframes in updated models.

A. We are still in discussions with Piedmont about their requirements and what our obligations will be for them.

Obviously, Piedmont is an important tenant at our airport and we are working hard to ensure that we are meeting their needs.  

Q. Have the airport’s surrounding residents made any complaints yet about noise concerns?

A. We haven’t heard any complaints yet but we aren’t going to wait for them to come to us.

We are going to be hosting an information session for them in June. We will be reaching out to all our neighbors and invite them to come and learn about their coummunity airport and what our plans and goals are for the facility.

There’s a perception that with Piedmont switching to regional jets that noise levels will be increasing but in fact, they will be decreasing.

So we welcome the chance to talk to our neighbors and educate them on the airport and our operations.

Q. People seem to like to complain about the lack of a restaurant on site. I understand you have a plan for that.

A. I do. We are putting together what we’re calling Foodies – it’s not catering and it’s not a restaurant, but we are going to have to our community restaurants sponsor timeslots: breakfast from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., lunch from 11 to 1:30 p.m., and happy-hour/dinner from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

They will be able to sponsor that session and bring their food, offer adult beverages, get free advertising and promotion.

We will give them a free space to operate, and they will get to keep the proceeds. The goal is to not only provide our airport visitors with food and drinks, but hopefully, find a restaurant who sees the need and the opportunity to partner in a real restaurant at the airport.

We are looking at plans now to build a restaurant, plus an observation deck on top of one of our new structures, that would be open to the public, so folks could come for lunch or dinner and watch the airplanes take off.

Q. What do you like about flying? About airplanes?

A. The freedom. There’s nothing like being up in the sky.

I am a pilot and I use to fly King Air 200s, doing forest fire suppression missions.

Airplanes offer the chance to take flight and find that freedom, and there is nothing else like that experience.

I also love sailing, and aviation started from the maritime laws and maritime concepts, and I absolutely am passionate about both.

Q. Where would you like to see our airport within a decade?

A. I’d like to see it operating with double the number of commercial flights, with at least four more destinations, including Baltimore-Washington International.

I would like to see the jet hangar operational with a bustling business and the need to expand to another one.

I would like to see the industrial park booming with all kinds of businesses who value the airport and all that it brings to this community.

Dawn Veatch, airport manager of SBY Regional Airport, will host “Wings and Wheels” this Saturday. The event will celebrate Aviation Appreciation Month and Armed Forces Day, and begins at 8 a.m. with a free pancake breakfast at Bay Land Aviation.


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