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Appleton Airport director named WI aviation Person of the Year

Abe Weber received the recognition at the 67th Annual Wisconsin Aviation Management Conference late last month

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October 3, 2023

APPLETON – Growing up in a small farm town in northwestern Illinois, Abe Weber – airport director at Appleton International Airport – said his fascination with aviation started at a young age.

“My neighbor flew for John Deere, and when I was little, he took me on a tour of the John Deere hangar,” he said. “Looking at all of the aircraft, I was like, ‘whoa, I want to be in aviation for the rest of my life.’”

That childhood passion led to an associate’s degree in aviation flight and a bachelor’s degree in aviation management from Southern Illinois University.

“When I graduated in May 2005, there weren’t a lot of pilot jobs available at the time – a lot of the airlines were still recovering from Sept. 11,” he said. “So, I cast my resume out to the masses and wound up being hired by the Appleton International Airport as an intern.”

From 2005 to 2013, Weber said he worked his way through a variety of roles and responsibilities before eventually being named airport director in 2013.

“I was the custodial and maintenance supervisor here at the airport, operations supervisor, operations supervisor landside, operations manager and then ultimately becoming the airport director in 2013,” he said. “So, it’s been about 10 years as airport director here at Appleton International Airport.”

In his role as director, Weber said much of his focus is on team building and helping ensure the airport serves the Greater Northeast Wisconsin community by providing fast, easy, convenient and reliable air travel.

“Whether that be for business, leisure or operating out of the FBO (fixed base operator) Appleton Flight Center – it is all focused on customer service and how we can continue to elevate that,” he said. “And then there is also a fair amount of business development, air service development that falls under my purview as the airport director.”

With an original intention of becoming a pilot, Weber said the pivot he’s made into aviation management fulfills “what I call my aviation geekery.”

“I love aviation,” he said. “So, being around it, being at the airport, being able to look out my window and see airplanes, being able to interact with our airlines and our tenants fulfills that childhood dream.”

Weber said he still does love flying and his role at the airport does allow him to get out of the office and visit with clients and tenants that are based in Northeast Wisconsin.

“I would say now that I have four kids and have kind of settled down, it becomes more and more difficult to go back and actually fly myself,” he said.

An ever-changing industry
Being in the aviation industry for nearly 20 years – the last 10 as an airport director – Weber said he has definitely been witness to many changes.

Locally, much of that has focused on encouraging people to fly locally.

“That hasn’t changed, although, in some aspects, it has gotten more difficult at times with airlines having to deal with workforce issues,” he said. “The smaller aircraft in their fleets have left, and everybody is vying for airplanes – they aren’t producing a tremendous amount of new airplanes, so resources for equipment are constrained.”

When demand is prompting a need for new flights or new destinations, Weber said Appleton is in competition with the many other communities throughout the country vying for those new flights, destinations and crew as well.

“It’s become much more competitive on the air service landscape,” he said.

Weber said it’s been an exciting time at Appleton International Airport as of late – announcing additional flights and destinations and undergoing a $65-million expansion project.

Earlier this year, the airport announced it was on track to its busiest year on record in 2023.

All of this, Weber said, goes back to making sure the airport serves the community to the best of its ability.

Abe Weber
“We spent a tremendous amount of time interacting with our business leaders, our community businesses – understanding where they need to travel,” he said. “What are their travel trends? What do they like about Appleton airport? More importantly, what do they dislike – and then defining our products to meet the needs in Northeast Wisconsin. So we give them every opportunity to use our airport versus driving to an airport two and three hours away.”

In order to accomplish this, Weber said the airport team looked at air travel through a manufacturing process lens.

“Break the travel journey down into its core parts – pull out all the wasteful pieces of that travel journey and then put it back together almost like a lean program, so that we can offer the fastest, easiest and most convenient travel,” he said.

Weber said that relates to business and leisure travelers.

“Business travelers – they want to come in, get to where they need to be, conduct their business and get home,” he said. “And then on the leisure side, you want to get to your vacation destination or get to your adventure with as little hassle as possible.”

Person of the Year
Having a passion for the aviation industry – more specifically the Wisconsin aviation industry – has been a significant part of Weber’s professional life for the last decade.

“I sit on the legislative committee for the Wisconsin Airport Managers Association,” he said. “I have a love of aviation. So, whether it be an initiative, trying to make our aviation system more efficient, talking with state legislators or the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics to try to improve the system overall for everyone – that’s my goal as part of that committee.”

His consistent efforts toward the betterment of not only the Appleton International Airport but the overall aviation in the State of Wisconsin were recently recognized at the 7th Annual Wisconsin Aviation Management Conference held in Appleton late last month.

Weber was named Person of the Year – which recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in Wisconsin aviation during the past calendar year.

“Knowing I was nominated by my peers, it was a real honor to be selected for the Person of the Year award,” he said.

More work to be done
Though his recent efforts in his role as Appleton International Airport director received recognition, Weber said there is more work to be done.

“I think we have a tremendous opportunity for continued growth and development,” he said. “We’re working on a terminal expansion process based solely on more users choosing to fly out of the Appleton airport.”

Weber said they anticipate even more growth ahead.

“That excites me and our team here at Appleton airport,” he said. “We’ve seen some great growth and development from our partners on the airfield like Gulfstream, Air Wisconsin, Allegiant and at the local technical college – and we think by building those partnerships, there should be more growth and development that come out of them as well.”

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