Employee Spotlight: James Duncan, Airborne Facilities, GSE, and Tooling Manager
“I tell people all the time that to work with us, you must be a jack of all trades and a master of none. So, if you know how to use a wrench, you're off to a good start.”
James Duncan knows he's lucky to work up close with large aircraft.
The north and south hangars leased by Airborne on Tampa International Airport's east side, where James works, serve as a home to aircraft undergoing repair or a refresh. These facilities employ about 1,000 workers who convert passenger planes to cargo planes or perform routine maintenance.
And James, who is the Facilities, Ground Support Equipment, and Tooling Manager at Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services, will quickly tell you that it's the team he leads that makes his job worthwhile.
“You know, I’d take my team and put them up against anyone in the world to get stuff done," James said. "The quality of the work my guys do is just superior. There’s no me without them. It’s a very demanding job and you must be creative at finding solutions to big problems.”
With a career that has spanned years in the Armed Forces and eventually led to the management of a large warehouse, James knows how to help a team find solutions.
“I’m really a warehouse guy,” James mused. “If I see something that needs to be fixed, I’m on it. I’m the guy you call when you want things done.”
A Florida guy through and through, James grew up in Hollywood, with many members of his family working in the citrus industry. As a kid, he would wander through the factory where his family worked and marvel at the piles of oranges that had been harvested.
James and his family eventually moved to Pensacola, then Tallahassee. As a Florida Gator fan, he knew he was in contentious territory.
“I love cheering on the Gators, so it would be an understatement that living in Tallahassee was a bit tough at times,” James chuckled.
After graduating high school, James signed up for the Army. Little did he know that his career in the military would take him all over the world, beginning with a stay in Hawaii.
In 1991, his platoon was activated for Operation Desert Storm. James spent about 6 months in Kuwait and Iraq.
“If you’ve seen the movie ‘Blackhawk Down,’ the commanders portrayed in that movie were my real-life commanders," he said. "It was an unreal experience."
He eventually wrapped up his time in the service and decided to join the National Guard before transferring to the United States Army Reserve. There, he became a Communications Instructor and eventually wound up teaching classes about fiber optic cables.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, James thought he would be heading back toward the Gulf Region. Instead, he was asked to head to Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia, to train trainees.
After winding down his time with the military, James joined the team at Winn-Dixie in Jacksonville. He quickly moved up and became a supervisor and manager. Eventually, James would be offered a job at Airborne in Tampa.
“I knew it would be a great opportunity for me, but my wife works for the City of Jacksonville and is nearing retirement," he said. "I didn’t want her to have to give up her job and her shot at a great retirement, so we had to figure out a creative way to make it work.”
James now splits his time between Tampa and Jacksonville, driving nearly 200 miles each way every weekend.
“It’s important to me to be home, to spend time with my wife and grandkids," he said. "The drive can be a bit much at times, but it’s worth it to me.”
At Airborne, James now oversees a team of nine workers, with someone on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. You never know when a problem will arise, James said, so his employees handle hundreds of maintenance tasks, ranging from maintaining jack systems to fixing fire suppressant systems to upgrading pressure washing systems to replacing light bulbs.
“My team’s skills are truly unmatched. Without them, the magic at my job wouldn’t happen," James said. "Every day is truly different here and I love that.”
A career in maintenance can be incredibly demanding and complex, James said, stressing the importance of certification and training for those looking at a job in this field.
“We’re truly a special breed of people,” he said. "I tell people all the time that to work with us, you must be a jack of all trades and a master of none. So, if you know how to use a wrench, you’re off to a great start.”
When James isn’t commuting between Tampa and Jacksonville or spending time with his family, he’s dreaming about taking a road trip. He owns a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and often takes that out for long rides.
“I’ve gone hundreds of miles on my solo adventures,” James said. "There’s just something special about being on the open road and having that time to yourself.”
James frequently finds himself busy with projects at work, and that busyness doesn’t stop when he gets home.
“Have you heard of a ‘honey do list’? Well, I seem to always have one,” James quipped.
As far as bucket lists go, James has a big goal in mind.
“I just want to jump out of a plane and skydive,” he said with a grin. “They’re telling me I can’t, but I can’t wait to prove them wrong."
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