Winsome Lenfert’s expertise enables her to keep tabs on 3,300 airports comes from her experiences on land and in the air.
Lenfert, a 1995 Indiana State graduate who is the deputy associate administrator for the Office of Airports within the Federal Aviation Administration, is leader of a team who oversees a staff of 564 people in charge of safety oversight, planning, environmental, design, construction and financial resource distribution (more than $3 billion) for 3,300 U.S. airports in the National Integrated Airport System. It is a spectrum that covers a wide range of facilities that must maintain safe and efficient operation for aircraft ranging from a Cessna 172 to a Boeing 747.
“Once you have seen one airport … you have seen one airport.” Lenfert said.
Lenfert’s preparation for those responsibilities took her from her hometown of Greenville, Ind., through State and eventually south to Atlanta, where she served as the director for the Airports Division Southern Region for the previous eight years, 2009-17. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has maintained its title as the busiest airport in the world for well over a decade, averaging 275,000 passengers a day.
Experiencing the atmosphere of Atlanta was one part of Lenfert’s growth process. Before she set foot in Georgia’s state capital, Lenfert worked as the chief airport inspector for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division. That job involved flying to airports throughout the state to conduct inspections.
“Everything from doing airport inspections to walking and talking with airport directors has helped me learn about the complexity of airports,” Lenfert said. “Whether it is Marietta, Ind., or Hartsfield-Jackson, you run into some of the same issues.”
One of those main hurdles for local airport administrators is finding the funding to complete desired in-house projects. Lenfert’s frequent discussions with mayors, county councilmen and legislators give many people a chance to advocate for specific needs. As various appropriations bills and infrastructure funding bills come up for debate nationally, Lenfert and her peers will see how the legislative process will impact available financial resources for airports.
“A lot of things are coming together all at once,” Lenfert said. “Having that opportunity to be here now is very exciting. These are great folks to work with and to have that workforce working toward safety and efficiency — it’s an exciting place to be.”
The scope of that effort carries beyond U.S. borders. The Office of Airports has conducted outreach programs to share information and ideas with peers in Africa and Asia, the Caribbean and South America. Lenfert traveled to the Dominican Republic in August to serve as a guest speaker at the Airports Conference of the Americas, a three-day meeting where airport CEOs, airline personnel and government officials discussed safety issues.
“We focus on being a world leader in protecting the traveling public,” Lenfert said. “We do outreach to any country who asks. It’s an important focus.”
Lenfert’s focus on a daily basis is working with the Office of Airports staff to develop policy, standards and financial plans to assist airports based on their needs and available funds.
“If you look at Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — both are large hub airports, but there are differences in how they operate and the system needs they serve,” Lenfert said. “The bottom line is to find a win/win situation (for each airport).”
Coming to Washington, D.C., has been a win for Lenfert’s family. Her husband also works in aviation, and they have three children. The surrounding area has provided some memorable trips and views.
“We camp, swim and hike, so we have made a real effort to get out and see the area,” Lenfert said.
The benefits for the children have been more than just a bunch of fun times. “When the kids go to the local monuments and museums, they say, ‘we studied that in school!’”
Lenfert’s own experiences as a student at State provided her a foundation of knowledge that she has relied upon throughout her career.
“The things that you learn are amazing,” Lenfert said. “It’s everything from aviation law to learning about airport master planning and laying out a runway.”
Those topics come up during a lot of meetings and conversations. It leads to Lenfert asking questions such as: Is that (runway) alignment going to work based on the winds or is that the best taxiway structure for aircraft movement? Lenfert also pondered those issues as a pilot when she went through the pilot program at State.
“Even though I don’t fly today, I rely on that experience as a pilot,” Lenfert said. “I still use a lot of the advice that Craig Simpson (Class of ’82) and my professors gave me. It’s amazing what happens in your career. I wanted to be a pilot, but life took me in a different direction. I couldn’t have gotten there without Indiana State University.
“I love ISU. I still keep in contact today with many ISU graduates and students through the ISU Alumni Association and my sorority, Sigma Kappa. It is part of my life.”