Jeff Mulder received his pilot’s license at age 16, and his passion for planes hasn’t dimmed since. Now executive director of Southwest Florida International Airport and Page Field, he’s in charge of a business that contributes more than $4.4 billion annually to the region’s economy.
What inspired your interest in aviation?
Flying piqued my interest starting in childhood. It was just completely different—how an airplane flies, the freedom it provides, and the view of the earth from above.
Can you walk us through a typical day on the job?
There isn’t a typical day. The airlines have their normal schedules, but we spend every day making sure everything is working from a maintenance perspective and that security is in place. We do lots of long-range planning—thinking about facilities that we would need or need to expand. We also deal with customer issues that come up throughout the day, either complaints or baggage system problems, that require us to respond. We also deal with weather events. The range of different issues that pop up every day makes it an interesting job.
What’s the most challenging part of managing Lee County Port Authority?
Historically the aviation industry has had lots of instability, with airlines coming and going. The airlines that are flying today aren’t the same ones that we had 10 years ago. Thinking back to 15 years ago when we had the terrorist attacks on 9/11, that was a dramatic change for the industry. [What’s challenging] is trying to think ahead and plan for lots of different events and making adjustments. The industry will change a lot in the upcoming years.
What projects or initiatives have you taken on, or expect to take on, this year?
One of the things we’re focused on right now is trying to build capacity in our terminal building because of the growth we’ve seen over the last 10 years. We’re seeing a constraint in airport security, especially during the peak season, which is the springtime. We are in the middle of a study now to see how we can increase our checkpoint capacity. We have three checkpoints today, one in each concourse, and we’re looking at whether we can expand those or even combine them. Since 2010, we’ve added about a million passengers. We now have 9.6 million passengers each year, and we’re going to be up again this year.