Employee Spotlight: Carlos Bustos, Airfield Operations Manager
Chasing his early love for aviation, Bustos is now living his dream career, patrolling the runways of America’s Favorite Airport to ensure aircraft can take off and land safely.
After Hurricane Idalia swept across the region in August, dropping torrential rain and pushing storm surge up into Tampa Bay, the first person out onto the airfield to inspect Tampa International Airport for damage was Airport Operations Manager Carlos Bustos.
With TPA’s Air Traffic Control Tower still closed, Bustos drove his Operations truck out onto the runway.
He could immediately see the southern part of the airfield and the access road closest to Tampa Bay were still covered with water. Luckily, he was able to report back the flooding had remained outside of the runway safety area. The airfield was mostly clear of debris and only a single runway light was damaged by Idalia’s winds.
But the hurricane had actually blown in something Bustos wasn’t expecting: Hundreds and hundreds of shore birds were now resting on one of TPA’s main runways. Bustos called back to the Airport Operations Center to alert his bosses that all of the birds would have to be cleared from the runway before the Airport could reopen.
“Birds can be one of the biggest threats to passenger planes,” said Bustos, whose main job is to keep Tampa International Airport’s runways and taxiways safe for aircraft attempting to take off and land. “What I feel the most proud of is being part of the team that helps keep our customers and the community safe.”
Bustos, who was born in Colombia but grew up in Tampa, developed a love for aviation from an early age.
His father, Olivo, began working in the Airport’s Maintenance department, and Carlos was fascinated by planes and flying. When he was 8 years old, his father set him up for a tour with co-worker Marilyn Gauthier, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s Director of General Aviation, who helps oversee the county's three smaller airports, Peter O. Knight, Tampa Executive and Plant City.
“She gave me a personal tour, and that’s where it all started,” Bustos said.
By the time he was in high school, he was determined to work in aviation. He reconnected with Gauthier, who was able to introduce him to the GM for Atlas Aviation, the fixed-based operator for Peter O. Knight Airport. The meeting led to a part-time job working the ramp and fueling planes.
“That’s where the aviation bug really started gaining some traction,” said Bustos, who worked to earn money while also starting flying lessons on the side.
After graduating high school, Bustos wanted even more. He attended a Tampa International Airport job fair and was hired on full-time at TPA directing airport traffic and guarding security gates.
The position got his foot in the door and allowed him to get to know other Airport employees. But it wasn’t until an evening airfield tour, when Bustos finally learned about what would become his dream job. He and Chris Giokas from Airport Operations drove out onto the airfield, up close to massive commercial jetliners and along the rows of glowing blue runway lights.
“I never knew that job existed before that day,” Bustos said. “I thought it was a very cool, very particular, very unique job and I asked what I needed to do to be considered for that type of position.”
Within six months, Bustos had enrolled in school to receive the necessary certification to work in Airport Operations and was taking time to study the Airport’s safety and certification manuals.
“There was a lot of research I was doing on my own,” Bustos said.
The preparation apparently paid off. Despite his lack of experience working at a major international airport, his prior general aviation experience and impressive knowledge of TPA’s procedures helped win Bustos the job.
“I believe they took a chance on me, and hopefully they’re happy with the decision they made," he said.
Now, just over four years later, Bustos has already been promoted from an Airport Operations Specialist to an Airport Operations Manager. He’s twice helped coordinate a Presidential visit and the landing of Air Force One.
“I worked with the Secret Service and U.S. Special Forces to inspect the runway just before Air Force One touched down," he said.
Bustos says the job of an Airport Operations Manager is all about attention to detail. Even a tiny piece of debris on the runway can cause major damage to an aircraft engine; leaking fluids could cause a landing plane to lose traction on the runway; a damaged taxiway sign could lead a pilot to make a wrong turn. Making sure no detail is overlooked is essential in keeping the Airport safe.
Along with his eye for detail, Bustos also has an eye for the perfect picture. While patrolling the runways, he almost always has his camera by his side and is known for taking amazing images of planes coming and going from TPA.
While plane spotters gather on the rooftops of the Airport parking garages, Bustos considers himself lucky to be able to photograph planes from up close, right on the runway.
“The best part is being able to share those photos with everybody and not keep them to myself," he said.
So what comes next after landing your dream job?
Bustos said he still determined to continue the flight training he started at Peter O. Knight and to one day earn his private pilot’s license. He loves being in the air, perhaps even more than working on the runway. He has already had the opportunity to fly some unique aircraft including an old-time Stearman Model 75 biplane, an Extra 300 acrobatics aircraft, and even a fighter jet trainer, an Aero L-39 Albatros.
“All three of those planes, I had to strap on a parachute,” Bustos said. “I even got to fly while doing a loop!”
He dreams of one day taking vacations overseas and touring foreign lands from behind the controls of an airplane. And judging by his track record, Bustos will have no problem making that dream come true, too.