formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 22-29 New Faces at the Liberty Municipal Airport

The Liberty Gazette
Feature article appearing January 22-29
New Faces at Liberty Municipal Airport
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

The Liberty Municipal Airport has been undergoing many improvements in the past few months, probably the best of which is a full time, professional airport manager. Tackling the big job since April 24, 2012 is Jose Doblado, with his very friendly and thoughtful wife, Debbie Mabery at his side. The time is long overdue for the airport to receive the attention it deserves, the break that will bring it up to its potential, and Jose is here to do the job.

As far back as he can remember Jose has been interested in aviation. His first opportunity to join the winged world came in 2001 when he secured a position with TACA Airlines in Panama City, Panama. By the time he left six years later he had become a sales executive for the airline and was eager to further his career. Upon his return to Houston he entered Texas Southern University and earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation management, graduating Magna Cum Laude. His internship at Houston Southwest Airport gave him an opportunity to experience first-hand what it’s like to manage a small general aviation airport. At large commercial airline airports everything is departmentalized and workers specialize in a particular field. Conversely, a typical small general aviation airport requires that one person, or sometimes a small group of people handle all the affairs of the airport. This is no office job. It’s hard work, often requiring physical labor, but always requiring the mental aptitude and cheerful attitude that will make an airport successful.

Jose and Debbie are a team and knew Jose’s taking on the job here would be a lot of work, and they were up to the task because they could see both the potential for the airport as well as the great experience available to them. Debbie left her job as a teacher to join Jose in this adventure, which began with daily “trash walks” just to clean up the area. She probably didn’t dream she’d be doing that back when she earned her Master’s degree in education and was teaching at the university level, but to meet this kind lady is to immediately understand what a great compliment she is to Jose.

Jose’s top priorities for the airport are safety-related, but he also has a marketing plan that will get the airport’s name out there, both with the local general public (because believe it or not there are still people who don’t know Liberty has an airport) and with the aviation community.

Jose and Debbie live on the airport property, and just their presence certainly deters the mischief that has long gone on there. More lighting and completed fencing around the property also contribute to increased safety and security for this public asset, keeping the airport secure from vandals, and more visible to passers-by, increasing awareness. Properly working runway lights also greatly improve safety for pilots, as will taxiway lights someday.

Drainage has long been a problem at the airport as mud and gunk have built up in the drainage ditch over years. Jose understands the problems this poses for the airport: everything from inhibiting development, to flooding the property and risking damage to tenants’ airplanes, to attracting wildlife.

Wildlife is a major issue for all airports, and Liberty is no exception. The pond near the runway attracts birds, which, ever since Sully’s infamous Hudson River landing, the general public is now aware of just how dangerous a collision between bird and airplane can be. And, of course, gators on a runway would be an obvious danger (hunters, put your guns away) – especially for a night landing.

There are other important safety factors that may seem small to the non-flyer, but mean a great deal to the person landing the airplane. To Jose Doblado, building trust as an airport manager is imperative. Daily checks of the fuel tanks, filters, and runway lights are just the beginning of a busy day for Jose. “It’s important that our customers know that the things that need to be done regularly at an airport are being done here now,” Jose says. “We want to build their trust. Trust goes a long way toward improving the ‘face’ of Liberty.”

As for economic contribution, Jose believes that a community airport should be so well managed and maintained that it gives back to its citizens. “If you see a Citation (jet) or King Air land here it’s a good indication that business is going on in Liberty, that money is being brought in to our area, pumping directly into our local economy. That’s a win for everyone. There are so many benefits to a city that has a healthy, well-maintained airport, but that’s something that the general public often doesn’t understand. Part of my job is to show them that an airport is very good for any town.”

Debbie and Jose welcome locals to come to the airport and see the progress and meet the new folks in town. Debbie’s smile and unpretentious air will make you feel right at home. She loves being here, volunteering, “and being an ambassador for the airport,” as she says. Now that the area feels safer, people are coming out to walk and bicycle for exercise down the long entry road from FM 160, and Debbie enjoys seeing the increased activity. She’s also having a good time on the other side of the fence, a place that’s pretty new to her. “I really enjoy talking with all the pilots and learning about their airplanes. Pilots love to talk about their airplanes,” she laughs. “Like the Russian Antonov AN-2 that stopped in one day on their journey across the country from their home base in Alaska. They came here because they saw the fuel price, and that big airplane takes a lot of fuel!”

Jose and Debbie are learning as they go and it’s really paying off for the citizens of Liberty, like the time the fuel pump was acting up. “Labor rates to call someone out here to fix it would have cost the city anywhere from $60 to $90 per hour,” Jose explains, so if something breaks, he fixes it. “There aren’t really any good manuals for running an airport; it’s mostly just experience,” he says with genuine appreciation, “and we’re getting that every day.”

In addition to the completed perimeter fence and lighting, improvements made at the Liberty airport in 2012 include two 12,000-gallon fuel tanks, a resurfaced ramp, 20 T-hangars, a terminal building with pilot lounge, including a flight planning room with access to weather information nationwide, and WiFi, a courtesy car, 24-hour access via a keyless entry, making bathrooms accessible any time, and signage at the new entrance on FM 160.

What’s important to Jose, he says, is, “I want pilots to feel safe here, to know that the runway is clear of FOD (foreign object debris), that the lights work, the drainage system works, that there’s greater security here – that they’re receiving quality here.”

The outlook for the Liberty Municipal Airport is bright, and as word spreads the airport under the management of Jose Doblado will be a critical factor for future growth and economic prosperity for south Liberty County.

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