April 14, 2010
ATLANTA -Winsome Lenfert sat on the swing in the backyard of her family's Greenville, Ind., home, studying the airplanes soaring overhead on their way to land at the Louisville, Ky., International Airport.
"Somebody has to fly those airplanes," she thought. "That's a job, that's a career."
That initial realization as a junior high student coupled with determination and perseverance recently landed the 1995 Indiana State University graduate the position as the Federal Aviation Administration's Southern Region Airports Division manager in Atlanta.
Her journey to Georgia began with that look to the skies.
"I went in and told my mom I wanted to be a pilot," Lenfert recalled about her realization. "My mom said - she was always very encouraging of anything I wanted to do - she said, ‘OK, let's find out how you do it.'"
That investigation led Lenfert to Indiana State University and its aviation program.
Lenfert had flown twice before she signed up for the program. Once on an airline and once when a friend, who was an aviation student at Indiana State, offered to show her what she would learn her first year in the pilot's seat.
"I was so sick to my stomach. I was so airsick," she said. "I didn't want to tell my parents because this is what I wanted to do, and one way or another I was going to overcome it. I was going to be a pilot."
After two weeks of flying at ISU, Lenfert no longer suffered from motion sickness. But that focus and determination has enabled Lenfert to excel in a profession that remains her passion.
"It's a feeling of freedom. It's a feeling of globalness. You can go anywhere, see anything in the world," she said about soaring in the air. "Flying is something... you know the moment you decide that's what you want to do."
When Lenfert graduated, she worked as the chief airport inspector for the Indiana Department of Transportation's aeronautics division. She flew the state-owned Piper Cherokee Six to inspect more than 100 public airports.
Lenfert also seized on opportunities that came her way. She helped to write the ultralight flight protocols as part of the Indiana Administrative Code. She also assisted with changes to the code through legislative action. She earned her master's degree in public affairs.
Then she discovered the FAA had an airport inspection program and that 1978 ISU graduate John Lott worked as an inspector. She called, introduced herself, and asked if she could go on an airport inspection with him.
When an opening came up at the FAA, he suggested she apply for the position.
"It was pretty obvious that she had a high degree of interest in advancing her career," said Lott, who works as the runway safety program manager for the FAA's Great Lakes Region. "Winsome's academic background at ISU and experience as an airport inspector with the Indiana division of aeronautics made her a perfect candidate for the position."
Once hired by the FAA, she began working her way through the organization and across the nation as airport certification inspector, safety specialist, community planner, assistant airport district office manager and then manager of regional operations. Then in early 2009, she accepted the position of the FAA Southern Region's Airports Division manager.
"You take opportunities as they're presented," she said. "If you're willing to move, willing to work, willing to take on additional assignments - that's what led me to where I am today."
Lenfert oversees four airport district offices and the Airports staff in the Regional Office in Atlanta. Her 70 employees work closely with 605 airports in eight states stretching south from Kentucky to Mississippi, and includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2009, Southern Region distributed $843 million in federal Airport Improvement Program grants to airports; about $180 million of that came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Southern Region administers the largest portion of the $3.4 billion federal AIP program.
Bruce Kirkendoll, a 1979 ISU graduate who is the FAA air traffic safety inspector in Dallas-Fort Worth, agrees that Lenfert's experience makes her a good fit for her position.
"She brings a lot to the job with well-rounded experience from the field and FAA headquarters, not to mention her work for the state of Indiana, and being a pilot," he said. "In her position as the manager of a regional airports division, I'm sure that her time spent in both airport certification and the district office, are invaluable-just as is the education she received at ISU."
Lenfert's background only helps her with her day-to-day responsibilities.
"As a pilot, it gives me an understanding of how airports operate. As a frequent flyer, I experience how we're using our terminals and the ease of access," she said. "As an inspector, the experience it gives me is the safety side of it. With every decision I make, one of the things I ask is, ‘How does this relate to safety?' and ‘Is it safe for what we're doing?' That's one of the FAA's top missions - safety."
Lenfert still gets inspired when she looks to the skies, especially on the morning commute to her Atlanta office from the suburban home she shares with her pilot husband and two daughters.
"When you're coming in in the morning and you're coming up the expressway, the airplanes are coming straight over your head and landing," she said. "You look up and you're like, ‘Oh man! That's why I do what I do.' It just gives you goose bumps."
Contact: Kathleen Bergen, FAA Southern Region, manager of external communications/public affairs, at 404-305-5100 or Kathleen.Bergen@FAA.GOV.
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or Jennifer.Sicking@indstate.edu
Cutline: Winsome Lenfert ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
Cutline: Winsome Lenfert, FAA Airports Division manager for the Southern Region, listens to another employee in an Atlanta control room. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
A 1995 Indiana State University graduate has landed the position as the Federal Aviation Administration's Southern Region Airports Division manager in Atlanta.