April 30, 2022
By: Dwayne Page
Katelyn Sanders’ career is booming!
A year after being named manager of the Smithville Municipal Airport, Sanders has settled into the job she’s come to love, and her work there hasn’t gone unnoticed.
In fact, city leaders have been so impressed with her that they are considering giving her a part-time, full-time position. That’s good news for Sanders who is set to earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation management with a minor in business administration from MTSU.
Sanders could also be considered a pioneer. At 23, Sanders is not only Smithville’s first female and youngest airport manager, but she is also currently believed to be the youngest airport operator in the nation.
Although Sanders always enjoyed traveling and flying, aviation was not his intended career path. She began her college years practicing medicine as a pre-med major at Chattanooga State Community College where she earned an associate’s degree in nutrition. It wasn’t until he enrolled in MTSU, one of the top aviation schools in the country, that his passion for flying was renewed. It was also at MTSU that they learned of a job opening in Smithville.
“All my life and during my first years in university, I wanted to be in the medical field. I thought that was what I wanted to do and when I started working in the medical field I became a pharmacy technician and was a pre-med major and I hated it. I love medicine and the science behind medicine but the insurance issues and the blame that is placed on many healthcare workers for things we can’t control worried me so after graduating from a partner in Chattanooga, I came home and started at MTSU but at that point I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I found out that MTSU is actually one of the top five colleges in the country for aviation. I think it’s number three for pilots, management, air traffic controllers and drones etc. When I started there, I saw planes everywhere. People were going to fly, go to airports, and I found that really fascinating, so I started in their pilot program, but then COVID hit, and everything was put on hold. Due to the long wait due to the pandemic, I decided to take another direction and headed into aviation management and found that to be very interesting as well,” Sanders continued.
“One day we received an email that Smithville was looking for an airport manager, so I decided to respond even though I figured I wouldn’t get that job because of my age and my lacked qualifications because I was still in school and had no experience, but I was fortunate enough to meet former airport manager Mike Carpenter and members of the city airport advisory board, Roth Terrell, Shawn Jacobs and John Daniel. They were all so nice and took a chance on me and I’m glad they did. I really appreciate them and also the mayor and the aldermen, for giving me this opportunity,” Sanders said.
While she currently commutes between her home in Mount Juliet and her job in Smithville, Sanders said she doesn’t mind because she loves her job, this city and the people here. Sanders said that although it’s small, Smithville Airport has a lot to offer.
“One thing Smithville prides itself on is that we try to have the cheapest fuel in the area. It worked very well in our favor. We also have 18 residential hangars at the moment as well as our large Landergood Aviation maintenance hangar where Lee Bridges and his crew do aircraft maintenance. I am super grateful for them and their help for me. They do amazing work on the planes there,” Sanders said.
As for future airport plans, Sanders said the city has a few projects on the table. “We had a few town meetings about it. We are working on buying properties around the airport. We’re doing this big project of land acquisition and obstruction. We want to expand our minimums where pilots can land at night on our runway and for the safety of residents at the end of our runway we need to ensure we have enough space above their homes for planes to land as well , so now we are basically working on buying the airspace around the airport and properties near the airport, and then after this big project we really want to build more hangars. We would love to bring more people to the airport. It’s a big commodity right now to have a hangar and we have a waiting list for them with 20-25 people on it. Our primary sources of revenue are fuel sales and hangar rentals and our hangars can be rented monthly, annually or every five years,” Sanders said.
In addition to his studies and work, Sanders keeps busy even in his spare time. “At the same time, I go to Bravo class at the airport in Lebanon and fly planes a few mornings a week. I have met many great people in this industry and started flight training, gaining hours in view of my private pilot license I spent several years with the Women in Aviation Air Raiders chapter as a member and secretary and I am also the marketing coordinator for the MTSU Tennessee Aviation Professionals Society. aviation, I’m all for it,” Sanders added.