Winsome Lenfert: FAA's Southern Region Airports Division manager

By Maria José Subiria


Visitors to Winsome Lenfert's office are greeted with a warm smile and a firm handshake.

Lenfert has been the manager of the Airports Division, of the Federal Aviation Administration's Southern Region, since January of this year, and said she has loved every minute of it.

Asked if her job becomes overwhelming at times, she said, "Not really. I love it. That's the bottom line."

According to Kathleen Bergen, external communications manager for the FAA Southern Region, Lenfert is responsible for managing four Airport District Offices, which include locations in Atlanta, Orlando, Fla., and the cities of Jackson and Memphis, Tenn.

According to FAA officials, Lenfert leads a staff of 69 FAA engineers and planners, at the four Airport District Offices in the Southern Region, who oversee FAA activities at 605 airports.

"The majority of the work that takes place between the airport [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] and the FAA goes through our Atlanta Airport District Office," Lenfert said.

The Southern Region is the largest of the nine FAA regions, and includes the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, said Bergen. It also includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In addition, the Southern Region has the most airports and the largest FAA grant program.

Bergen said that in fiscal year 2009, Lenfert's Airport Division issued $843.4 million in FAA grants.

"Since 1982, we've issued about $768 million in grants, in airport improvement funding, to the City of Atlanta Department of Aviation," said Lenfert.

Lenfert said she recently met with Ben DeCosta, aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson, to discuss the second phase in a capacity study for the world's busiest airport, which she described as a study of flight delays.

Lenfert said studies have shown that by 2018, air-traffic congestion at the airport could reach levels beyond FAA standards, so both she and DeCosta are discussing plans for the future.

According to Lenfert, she also approves the passenger facility charge applications for Hartsfield-Jackson, and all the other airports in the FAA's Southern Region. Airports are required to explain to Airport Division officials why they must raise the passenger facility charges, which go toward certain construction projects.

Lenfert said the charge is assessed on a per-ticket basis.

"An airport can charge up to $4.50 per ticket," she said.

Lenfert said she was born in New Albany, Ind., in 1972. Ever since she could remember, she said, she has been interested in airplanes, and piloting.

She said she graduated from North Harrison High School, in Ramsey, Ind., in 1990. She then packed up her things and left for Indiana State University, in Terre Haute, Ind.

"Where you go through life, you take advantage of opportunities as they are presented," Lenfert said.

According to FAA officials, Lenfert attained a bachelor of science degree in aviation management and professional aviation flight technology, and a master's degree in public administration.

Lenfert said while attending college, she was hired as an airport inspector at the Indiana Department of Transportation, and worked there from 1994 to 1998. She inspected all of the airports in the state of Indiana, and discovered that she held a strong interest in the regulation of the aviation industry.

According to Bergen, Lenfert continued to climb the ladder in her career and landed a job, in May 1998, as an airport certification safety inspector for the FAA in Chicago, Ill. In March 2001, she filled the position of airport certification safety specialist at the FAA's headquarters in Washington, D.C. From there, she ventured back to Chicago, in February 2003, to work as a community planner for the FAA, for the modernization program at O'Hare International Airport.

She became, in October 2003, an assistant manager of the FAA Detroit Airports District Office, in Romulus, Mich. Her most recent position was as a manager of regional operations for the Southern Region Airports Division for the FAA, from December 2005 to January 2009.

"A lot of family support," Lenfert said of how she manages to balance her job responsibilities and her family, which includes her husband and two daughters, ages 2 and 4. "It is a balancing act, and I think it is important that my kids see that I am a good role model for them," she said.

Though Lenfert said she is passionate about what she does, she said navigating the political issues that come along with her responsibilities can be tricky.

"It is difficult. The most difficult thing to deal with is the politics," Lenfert said of her constant communications with governments. "You have to know what the community's needs are for each governmental body, and you have to work within those needs."

Lenfert also said she has great respect for her employees at the Atlanta District Office.

"The great people that are in the Atlanta District Office, those are the folks that work with airport sponsors [operators] every day, and help ... the good relationship we have with Atlanta."