Q&A with Buck Taft
Number of employees you oversee: Approximately 23
Briefly describe the Tri-Cities Airport:
PSC is a small hub commercial service airport that serves Southeast Washington and Northeast Oregon. The airport served 347,438 enplaned passengers in 2021 (Federal Aviation Administration data). This is down slightly from our peak in 2019 of 438,015.
PSC is the third largest commercial service airport in the state of Washington and the 142nd largest out of 518 in the country.
How did you land your current role? How long have you worked in airports?
I was employed at the airport as the deputy director of airports since 2011 and was promoted to airport director in 2017. I have worked at four different airports over 21 years.
Why should Tri-Citians care about the airport?
The more the community supports PSC and chooses to use it, the more it makes the airlines want to add seats, add routes, or entice new airlines to serve our region. The busier we are, the easier it is for me to recruit new services to the market.
The community is doing a great job of this!! Keep it up.
How did the pandemic affect airport operations? Has well has it recovered in 2022?
The pandemic crushed airport operations. The overall impact was much more significant than that of the September 2001 attacks. The airport has recovered most of our passengers, and we expect a full recovery by the end of 2024.
What would you like to see happen in 2023?
I would like to see a return of our pre-pandemic flight numbers and passenger enplanements. I would also like to see the addition of new destinations into our market.
Can you provide updates about additional flights? What destinations would you most like to add?
I am always working to add additional flights and new markets. Our current priorities are Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; and Portland, Oregon. My wish list city would be Palm Springs, California.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
The ability to communicate effectively throughout all levels of the organization and the community.
What is the biggest challenge facing the air transportation industry today?
The current labor shortage is impacting airports across the country.
Airlines are struggling to find pilots, and this is creating a reduction in flights. Ground handlers are struggling to hire the appropriate staff to load, deplane, park, etc., causing delays when they have a crew to fly the aircraft.
At PSC, this issue has been managed well throughout the pandemic and now during the recovery. The local managers have been good at hiring the right people and creating environments in which people want to work.
If you had a magic wand, what would you change about air travel and transportation?
I would like to make the experience enjoyable again. Everyone always seems so stressed when they come through the airport and I completely understand why. I wish traveling by air could be fun, easy and enjoyable again.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
To be as flexible as possible. As a leader you deal with so many different variables, it is important to not be rigid and to bend when you need to as well as stand firm when needed.
Who are your role models or mentors?
Eric Frankl is the current president and CEO of the Lexington Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky. I worked with Eric at my first airport in Springfield, Illinois, and he was the first person to really help guide me in my career and has continued to be a mentor to this day.
Philip Brown was the airport director in McAllen, Texas, who gave me my first opportunity in the management side of an airport. He opened a door and provided a mentorship that was priceless.
How do you keep your employees motivated?
Keeping employees motivated can be tough at times. I try to create an environment in which people enjoy coming to work. I understand not everyone is going to love their job every day, but if you can create a positive and safe environment, people will motivate themselves.
How did you decide to pursue this career?
I don’t know if “decide” is the proper term. After college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
I was looking at flying for the Air Force or the airlines, I also thought about working for the airlines on the management side.
I got offered a job as a custodian at the local airport and I took the opportunity while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. Three months later, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, and I was offered a full-time job in a newly formed Airport Operations Department.
The rest is history.
How do you measure success in your workplace?
There are so many metrics we could use to measure the success of an airport. Passenger enplanements, revenue, capital projects, grant awards, etc., but for me continuing to operate a safe and efficient operation that provides a value to the community is how I would measure it.
What do you consider your leadership style to be?
I am a collaborative leader that is not afraid to make decisions, who places a premium on communicating.
How do you balance work and family life?
I do my best to compartmentalize and try keep work at work and home at home.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
Currently I am a sports dad to three children. We are involved in soccer, basketball, swimming, wrestling and anything else they want to do. When it comes to what I like to do, I really enjoy shooting sports such as 5 stand, sporting clays and skeet.
What’s your best time management strategy?
I don’t know if it counts as time management, but I just try to prioritize the most important projects and focus my energy on the projects that really need it.
What’s your favorite TV show?
The only show that I DVR and try to watch daily would be “Pardon the Interruption” on ESPN.