New airport manager aims to promote aviation, make airport ‘pillar of the community’
Katie Shawver joined the Knoxville Municipal Airport as its manager six months ago, but her experience with aviation and flying began 20 years ago. Growing up in Las Vegas, she was fascinated by Thunderbirds air shows and trained to be a pilot starting in high school. She has flown professionally for corporate companies and for the U.S. military in a civilian capacity. She moved to Iowa from Las Vegas with her husband, Kyle, who grew up near Knoxville.
In her new role, Shawver is working to expand the airport’s reach to develop interest in aviation careers among youths and add to Knoxville’s sense of community.
“My biggest role with being new at the airport is I want it to be more of a pillar of the community. I don’t want it to be if you’re not a pilot, you can’t be here. I want to show a movie projected on the hangar where families can come do stuff that’s not really aviation related,” Shawver said.
One of Shawver’s goals is for the airport to be a partner in making pilot training more accessible. The airport is currently training several students as pilots, but Shawver said given the higher expenses related to aviation, she is looking toward creating a model that is sustainable long term.
Shawver shares more about the airport and her goals below.
What type of activity is the Knoxville airport currently used for?
It’s used primarily for general aviation, which is probably more hobby flying, and then we also have the skydivers here now too, and all their sales tax goes back to Knoxville. They’ve brought a lot of people that are from outside Knoxville into Knoxville. They’ve had a tremendous impact, I think, on the city. With jumpers every weekend, it stimulates the adrenaline, the fun. Knoxville is predominantly known for the racetrack, the sprint car races, so this adds to that.
How do you want to grow its presence in the community and Central Iowa?
I want to grow from a flight school perspective, because our heart and soul is general aviation. To have these kids, to be able to completely change the trajectory of their entire life is important, and somebody has to do it. We have the wherewithal, we have the passion to do it. I did a career day at the local high school here a couple months ago. These are kids who sign up for aviation, and I asked how many kids, how many of you guys, know that there’s an airport right down the street? Two kids. How many know that you can start your professional pilot career path right here in Knoxville? Not a single one. That’s important that kids know that. It’s important that we are more, we have a stronger presence in the community. I want to do a big fundraiser for a local organization where people run the runway. There’s a lot of fundraising opportunities that the airport can be utilized for to support our local community. We can be used more as a tool, more of an asset instead of a draw.
How do you think growing the airport’s presence will affect Knoxville’s economic development?
Airports will always tend to have a quite large economic impact on any community that they serve. Knoxville’s economic impact is about $4 million a year, but if we grow the airport, grow hangar space, that would grow corporate companies that could potentially move in here. You can’t rejuvenate an airport without flying airplanes. That’s another big thing, is getting every airplane on the airport flying again. That does promote activity. It generates fuel cells, it generates taxes. Even from a hotel standpoint, we own a maintenance shop, we have pilots who will fly in here and stay at the hotels, they’re eating at our restaurants, drinking at our bars or staying in our hotels. Growing the airport touches every part of the city and surrounding communities too.