With more than 30 years of experience as a pilot, business owner, consultant, researcher and professor, Tara Harl is the new airport management program lead at Kansas State University Salina. Harl is the first full-time faculty member hired specifically for the program since it was established in 2011.
“Aviation is in our blood — we are well known for our professional pilot and aviation maintenance programs, and we’re ready to take airport management to the next level,” said Verna Fitzsimmons, dean and CEO of K-State Salina. “With Tara’s versatile expertise in aviation, specifically workforce development, she brings many new ideas, and her industry connections will provide a substantial benefit to the program and our students. We are excited to have her join our community.”
Harl arrived at K-State Salina in February and in the few short months since she has been on campus, she is already working to grow the program. Harl says she would like to expand airport management to also include the areas of general aviation and airline management.
“K-State Salina’s program has so much potential,” Harl said. “But managing an airport is just one piece of aviation management. Adding two other tracks would mean students could lead a corporate flight department, an FBO or ag flying operations, or work for the airlines as aviation encompasses more careers than just piloting. All of this will make the university more marketable.”
Harl was previously the department chair for a similar program in Minnesota at St. Cloud State University where she established the first business and corporate aviation management degree track in the country. She was later asked to take the idea nationally, and as chair of the professional development subcommittee for the National Business Aviation Association’s Corporate Aviation Management Committee, developed it into the Industry and Collegiate Aviation Pipeline Program Guide, connecting collegiate aviation programs with the business aviation industry.
Within her passion for aviation management is also the aspiration to solve workforce development issues. Twenty years ago Harl began researching the shortage of blacks in civilian aviation in the United States. She is a research panel member for the National Academy of Science’s Airport Cooperative Research Program investigating the airport industry’s struggle to find qualified employees and the lack of strong minority numbers in the nation’s airport workforce. Harl also owns a consulting firm that advises Fortune 500 flight departments on diversifying their flight operations as well as working with military veterans transitioning into the business aviation world.
Though it does not run in her family, Harl has been linked to aviation from the beginning. She was born on the edge of a runway on the former naval base on Kodiak Island, Alaska, where her father was stationed.
“I took my first airplane ride at the age of six from the old Pan AM terminal at JKF,” said Harl. “By the age of 10, I announced I was going to be an American Airlines 747 captain.”
Harl earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Dubuque where she was a member of its flight team. She then moved to the Nashville area and received a master’s degree in aerospace education at Middle Tennessee State University. While in the Music City, Harl took a job flying for the governor of Tennessee and his cabinet and later became the first woman in Nashville to run a flight department. Harl also has a doctorate in aviation leadership development from St. Mary’s University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Harl’s career also has included co-owning a Part 141 flight school and a Part 135 charter operation, and owning a management company in Iowa that maintained turbo props and jets for corporations between Chicago and St. Louis. She is Airline Transport Pilot, or ATP, type rated in corporate jets with international experience and holds basic, instrument and multi-engine flight instructor ratings and a commercial seaplane license.
Story by: Julee Cobb / KSU Salina