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Beatrice airport manager being inducted to Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame

January 23, 2019

A longtime worker at the Beatrice Municipal Airport will be recognized this year for her decades of work.

Diana Smith has been with the Beatrice airport for 47 years, 18 as the manager.

Smith will be inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame at the 27th annual Nebraska Aviation Symposium in Kearney on Thursday.

“To be a part of that is very humbling,” she said. “You meet so many people and I’ve gotten to work with so many people during that time… It’s a love for aviation and the people, not only that I work with, but who I’ve met through the years. Everyone in the aviation world is just wonderful and the people who fly in are just amazing and easy to work with.”

Smith is a founding member of the Nebraska Aviation Council and was instrumental in the creation of the symposium.

In 2013, Gov. Dave Heineman appointed Smith to the Nebraska Aeronautics Commission where she works closely with federal programs to develop airports. She served as chairperson of the committee 2015.

Smith’s love of aviation dates back to a young age, and she’s been able to accomplish so much thanks to strong leadership when she started working at the airport.

“I had thought about it when I was younger, although I was fortunate enough that the airport manager at that time was Don Fitzwater and he hired me,” she said. “They were needing someone and he hired me and I felt like when he was here he shared everything about the job. When he retired in 2000 it was an easy transition.”

Smith has been instrumental in numerous changes, additions and upgrades at the Beatrice airport.

The airport has two runways, one running north-south and the other diagonal. The main north-south runway was expanded an additional 1,600 feet several years ago. Both runways, which date back to the 1950s, have been redone, one around five years ago and the other last year.

A taxiway now runs the entire length of the main runway. Lighting has been all upgraded to LED. New hangers have been built. A building to house snow removal equipment was added. The main building at the airport was built around 15 years ago.

The landscape at the Beatrice airport has changed significantly, but Smith said new technology has made the biggest difference and drastically changed what it’s like working at the airport.

“When I first started here everyone had to be a weather observer,” she said. “You had to go outside every hour and get in this small little box. Inside that box would be the temperature and a wet bulb. The wet bulb you would dip and have a fan blow to come up with the dew point.

“Then we would have to decide how high the clouds were and what the visibility was. We would fill up a helium balloon and time it with a stopwatch. When it disappeared we would know how high the clouds were. It would go 500 feet a minute.”

Airport workers would report the information to the National Weather Service. Manual reporting was eventually replaced by an automated weather observation system, though the change wasn’t initially embraced.

“We were replaced with a machine, which my boss at that time was not thrilled about,” Smith recalled. “We also found out when they first put that machine in that it was not accurate.”

Smith sad one accomplishment she’s proud of has been the purchase of properties around the airport to protect its approaches.

“That’s a huge thing for airport managers because not only does an airport manager need to run the airport, but protect those approaches,” she said. “You have to make sure nobody builds in the runway protection zone.”

She added that the airport plays an important role in Beatrice’s economy. It brings in visitors who stay in area hotels and eat at local restaurants. The airport has also been a factor in some business’s decision to locate to Beatrice.

“Through the years we’ve seen a lot of businesses that have flown into the airport to check out Beatrice,” she said. “If they’re impressed with Beatrice it might make a difference and has in the past. I’ve heard that has made their decision to locate here in Beatrice because they can fly in and out easily.”

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