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Flight planning: For Morristown Municipal's Sheridan, the goal is to educate airport's potential users on what it can provide

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A look at Morristown Municipal Airport.
A look at Morristown Municipal Airport. - ()

Morristown Municipal Airport is the third-busiest airport in New Jersey, averaging nearly 70,000 private and corporate flights per year.

It is Maria Sheridan’s job to make sure that more people, especially those in the business community, know what the 638-acre facility, known as MMU, can offer compared with Newark Liberty International and Teterboro.

“I love having the opportunity to educate the public on what we do and how we are an economic engine,” she said.

According to a study conducted by the New Jersey Department of Transportation last year, MMU’s tenants and visitors provide an estimated $187 million in spending and more than $13 million in tax benefits to the greater Morris County area — a fact that Sheridan, senior director of government affairs and business development for DM Airports Ltd., said she often refers to when helping market for the private company that operates MMU on behalf of the town of Morristown.

Her work not only has helped increase awareness and use of the airport, but also earned her a spot as one of this year’s NJBIZ Best 50 Women in Business in an industry that is often male-dominated.

Presidential visits

While Donald Trump has both arrived at and departed from Morristown Municipal Airport in the past, his visits are strictly on a “need to know” basis now that he is president.

“We don’t know ahead of time,” Maria Sheridan, senior director of government affairs and business development for DM Airports Ltd., said.

That can create some challenges whenever the president visits Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, creating traffic jams on the surrounding roads — and in the skies.

“Temporary flight restrictions dictate what our operational restrictions will be, and those are communicated through the Secret Service via the Federal Aviation Administration,” Sheridan said.

“When I attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, I didn’t realize until I showed up that it was a 20-to-1 male-to-female ratio,” Sheridan said. “It used to be that many people in the aviation industry came out of the military, which was male-dominated, too.

“Now, many more employees are coming out of colleges and universities with aviation programs, so I think that has helped to increase diversity.”

Upon graduating from Embry-Riddle, Sheridan initially planned to continue her studies at what was then ComAir Aviation Academy (now Aerosim Flight Academy).

When she decided that she no longer wished to continue pursuing a career as a pilot, Sheridan found work at MMU in airport operations.

A lot has changed since she began her career there in 1991, she said.

“Out of our 30 employees, 12 are women, so it is not as male-dominated as it can be in other places,” Sheridan said.

Today, Sheridan works with the company’s marketing and community relations coordinator to conduct outreach and marketing for DM Airports, as well as to update its social media accounts and website and attend various trade shows.

“There are also times that I may be speaking with (New Jersey lawmakers) regarding pending legislation affecting aviation, or speaking with the Department of Transportation regarding funding for projects,” Sheridan said. “But our primary responsibility is to educate the aviation and corporate communities on what MMU’s capabilities are.”

In operation since 1943, MMU currently serves as a general aviation and national reliever airport for the New Jersey and New York City metropolitan areas.

“We don’t have commercial service,” Sheridan said. “Instead, a high volume of our operations and tenants are associated with corporate and private aviation.”

The future of flying

According to Maria Sheridan, senior director of government affairs and business development for DM Airports Ltd., there currently is both a pilot and mechanic shortage in the aviation industry.

“There has been a decrease in people learning to fly,” she said. “People have not been enticed to go into these career fields.

“The industry is trying to help itself by increasing entry-level pay for pilots and the awareness that becoming an aircraft mechanic also is a good, lucrative career.”

Sheridan said she believes advocacy for aviation careers also should begin as early as junior high school.

“There are so many different avenues, too, besides being a pilot or a mechanic,” she said. “There’s airport management, customer service, hospitality — the list goes on and on.”

More than 30 companies, including Honeywell and Verizon, regularly utilize the aircraft they have stationed at MMU, while other companies simply use the airport to land at or depart from after conducting business in New Jersey or New York.

“For the corporations that are based here, there are times when they need not only to move employees, but also parts, sensitive or specialized equipment, to another location quickly and safely,” Sheridan said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is onsite for such purposes, providing nearly 780 clearances annually.

MMU also provides 12 corporate hangars, 11 individual aircraft hangars, and four flight schools for both personal and business aviation purposes. Air ambulances, military aircraft and aircraft in need of refueling or repair also are permitted to depart from and land at MMU.

Lastly, several charter companies rent space at the MMU airfield — and DM Airports has been making it easier for the public to book such an option.

“The price point will often be higher than traditional commercial service, but we are less congested and have very few delays overall,” Sheridan said. “For those looking to charter, we provide an online portal in which one can make a request of all of our available charter companies to receive multiple quotes.”

For example, Sheridan said, a seat on a scheduled daily flight to Cincinnati can run close to $700 round-trip, while renting an aircraft outright can run tens of thousands of dollars.

“The bigger challenge than cost, I think, is that everybody in the corporate community knows of Teterboro, so they are always top of mind,” Sheridan said. “Our challenge has been to communicate with and remind others that we are here as an asset as well.”

In order to stay competitive, MMU is implementing a $69 million project over the next 10 years to complete major reconstruction of its main runway, upgrade its drainage and reconfigure its approach lighting system.

Sheridan fully expects her calendar to be packed, as she also continues to serve as chair of the Morris County Economic Development Corp., as a member of the Hanover Economic Development advisory committee, as a board member of TransOptions, as a member of Employment Horizons’ community advisory board and as vice president of the executive committee of the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives.

“There’s not often a lot of opportunity to move between departments or to be promoted outside of the area that you know best in larger airports,” Sheridan said. “But, in working for a private company, I have had many more opportunities to move into different positions throughout the time that I have been here.”

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