Wednesday, March 14, 2012

As the sound of airplane engines roar in the background, Mark Heefner steps out of a single engine plane, fresh from a trip to see his girlfriend, Mariah Roth’11, in Charlotte, N.C. The 2011 Fairmont State University graduate and pilot returns the plane and heads to his desk a hundred yards away at the North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport. This wasn’t Heefner’s first solo trip, but he has experienced many firsts at the airport and is anxious to create more.

“Growing up I always had two passions, football and flying,” he said. “During a family vacation to Canada when I was 9, I was offered the yoke of a float plane on our way to an outpost. After feeling the power of flying for the first time, I never imagined doing anything else.”

For Heefner, finding a school that offered an aviation program and the opportunity to play football was essential. “This was the first school I found that offered both of my passions,” he said. “Fairmont State offers a top-notch aviation program and all of the other student life activities of a typical university, so students can have the full college experience.”

Within the Bachelor of Science in Aviation Technology, Heefner could choose from several different career paths-- aviation maintenance management, aviation administration management and aviation administration/professional flight. These options are available at the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, in a convenient location near the North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport.

“My parents always told me that I should have a backup plan,” Heefner said. “By choosing the aviation administration/professional flight degree, I was able to earn my pilot’s license and get the education I needed on the administrative side.”

During his senior year at FSU, the North Central West Virginia Airport offered Heefner an internship and for the first time, he was able to put his newly learned administrative skills to the test.

“Tom Stose, Director of the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, is great at teaching the theory of aviation administration. During my internship, I would be in a meeting and begin to rattle off the information that I had been taking in. My supervisors would just nod and smile,” Heefner said.

Shortly after graduation, Heefner was offered a full-time position with the airport. He serves under the direction of Rick Rock, Airport Director, and Ron Cochran, Operations and Maintenance Supervisor.

From the moment he stepped on the airport’s grounds, Heefner took notice. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow, this is something special here,’ ” he said. “In my new position I help to keep the airport running smoothly. From the chartered planes operations to terminal oversight and community outreach, I help with it all.”

When assisting Rock and Cochran, Heefner said he is always being offered new opportunities to use his degree in making an impact on the airport. “Whether it is meeting with clients, cleaning out planes or preparing presentations, I am having first experiences every day,” he said.

Most recently, Heefner visited area schools to promote the airport’s $79 one-way fare to Washington, D.C. “We have seven schools in our catchment area, and there is no reason for our D.C. students to have to drive home when they can just hop on a plane and be home,” he said.  

Heefner said the future for regional airports will remain bright if they continue to expand.

“For example, when airports bring in low cost carriers, they provide convenience at a competitive price and boost traffic,” he said.

Expansion has always been a part of the Bridgeport location. In addition to regular flight service, the North Central West Virginia Airport offers a large variety of services including the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, various companies related to the flight industry, chartered flight services and the West Virginia Air National Guard.

Heefner said his future is unwritten but he knows that he would not be where he is if it were not for God, his parents, Timothy McAteer and Rick Rock helping him along the way. “As a new graduate in the Aviation Administration/Professional Flight program, my future can go many different ways,” he said. “But I know that wherever I am, I can be found at an airport; and whether in a plane or behind a desk, I know I will love what I’m doing.”

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