A Day in the Life: Clint Johnson
by Courtney Warren
Jan 12, 2014 | 914 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The air was freezing and Bolivar County residents had been warned to not venture outside but Cleveland Municipal Airport Manager Clint Johnson still watched the blue skies and listened for planes while sitting at his desk on Monday afternoon.

Three years after taking on the job, Johnson seems like a pro and enjoys every moment at the airport, his office is decorated in diplomas, awards, model airplanes, a few pieces of artwork, and most interesting two large glass jars of what he says is FOD or foreign object debris.

One jar is full of gravel while the other has washers, screws and "basically anything that magically falls off an airplane. You get any of that in a jet engine and you're buying a new engine," he said.

Johnson's day began early with an 8 a.m. department head meeting at Cleveland City Hall.

The airport is in the process of hiring a new part-time employee to join Johnson and one other maintenance worker.

An interview panel met after the meeting to review different candidates and make a selection.

"With a new city manager there are new hiring procedures, a panel is made, which includes members of the airport commission, and the employee must be approved by the board of aldermen before he can start working at the airport," said Johnson.

Preparing to brave the cold Johnson wraps up in a warm coat and heads out the door, gloves and hat at the ready, so he can run the employee's application up to city hall and check the mailbox before stopping for some lunch.

When asked about how he enjoys Cleveland and being airport manager he immediately starts talking about airplanes and flying with the same grin a young child gets on Christmas morning.

"If I could I would be in the air every day. Flying just to fly," he said.

However, the average price for aviation fuel is $5 and change per gallon, very pricy for a joy ride and an obstacle that keeps Johnson on the ground.

"I do go whenever I can. If anyone is flying I tag along just to go," he said.

As he looks out his window and finishes his lunch he explains that despite the freezing weather, the planes are left in their hangers to fend for themselves.

In larger airports there are deicing services including large trucks that spray chemicals on the plans to break down the ice, allowing them to be safe to fly.

"With an airport so small and in an area that doesn't face temperatures like these very often, it's not something that we would have," said Johnson.

It's becoming more and more apparent how very expensive everything to do with aviation is but as Johnson continues to talk he shows just how full of information he is in regards to aviation.

He gets excited as he talks about the airport and simple tasks like making sure the runway is clean. Tasks many would not think are interesting are tasks Johnson enjoys because no matter what, he's still at the airport watching planes take off, fly, and touch back down — a love he's had for years.

Johnson points back to the jars of FOD on his desk.

"We kept finding all of that on the runway and finally ordered what's called a FOD Boss. The guy that invented that is making a whole lot of money. All it is is a big mat that’s about as long as my desk with a bunch of scoops in it. We drag it with the gator up and down the runway and it picks up stuff like this," Johnson said.

In larger airports, a truck is run daily that picks up pieces of FOD to keep the planes from running over it or sucking it into engines.

Because these trucks are incredibly pricey, Johnson decided the FOD boss would be a much better option.

He explains that one FOD Boss costs roughly $7,500 adding to the tally of expenses in aviation but it is better than several hundred thousand dollars in a truck.

Despite the costs, Cleveland Municipal Airport remains one of the less expensive airports to rent a hanger.

"Before it was $95 and recently we have raised the price so that it includes a fire extinguisher in the hanger. We had extinguishers going out at different times and it was hard to keep up with them all. Now they all are checked at the same time and are replaced at the same time. Eventually we will raise the price to $125 but I want to do it gradually," he explained.

In some areas, such as Madison, hanger prices can be around $400 and have a waiting list. Cleveland Municipal Airport has 37 hangers and a short waiting list.

Johnson hopes to expand the airport and have more hangers in different sizes.

After extending the runway he hopes this, and the new Grammy museum, will bring in more air traffic.

"It would be pretty cool to see someone famous," he said and smiled.

Despite the cold Johnson ventures out once again to show off the new runway.

He drives his truck slowly and points out the different planes that are sitting outside of hangers and then explains what the open section next to the lane is.

"That's where you can pull off and check your plane before taking off. When Delta State classes are going on it's not out of the ordinary to see about five or eight planes lined up over here getting ready to take off," he said.

He continues down towards the turnaround and as he drives to the end his face changes.

His brow furrows and his eyes turn to slits as he watches the field north of the runway where birds have congregated both on the grass and on the brand new asphalt.

He set his jaw and looked as if he is about to prepare for battle.

"Birds and airports are not friends," he said as he opened up the center compartment in the truck.

Pulling out a small gun he loaded it with what looked like a miniature firework.

"Bird poppers," he explained, "They set off loud noises and make these things scatter. Remember when Sullenberger landed that jet in the Hudson River? Know why? A flock of geese! It's never ending."

With his arm stretched all the way out the window and in the direction of the birds, which were sitting happily on the ground, cuddled up from the cold, Johnson pulled the trigger and BOOM! The popper went off, making a loud pop and whistling sound, causing the birds to fly for their lives.

"They'll come right back, but you've got to keep trying," Johnson said with a smile. He explained that even though Delta State's aviation department keeps the runway pretty busy when classes are in full swing, the Killdeer show no fear and can be found sitting in the middle of the runways.

The number of strikes annually reported to the FAA has increased 5.8-fold from 1,851 in 1990 to a record 10,726 in 2012.

After setting off two of the poppers, leaving the battle to continue on another day, Johnson checks the skies before driving back down the runway to the office to get ready to finish the day and head home.