Growing up, Matthew Brown lived next to an airport in Lawrenceville, Ill.
“During that time, Vincennes University had a really robust flight training program,” he recalled. “And basically, the track of one of the runways would put them right over our house every single day. … Looking up and seeing them every single day, lots of airplanes flying over us, kind of piqued my interest.”
Brown, 37, now serves as Columbus Municipal Airport’s assistant manager. He was recently named as one of Airport Business magazine’s Top 40 under 40.
According to the magazine, “The 2021 Top 40 Under 40 showcases the industry’s top talent working to make a positive impact on the way our aviation system works. All the winners were chosen for their commitment, drive and accomplishments during their career.”
Brown said it was “kind of a shock” to find out he’d received the award. “I didn’t expect it,” he said. “It was really nice, though.”
Airport Director Brian Payne made the same list in 2018 and was among those who recommended Brown for the award.
“Matt has been instrumental in moving us from a paper-based airfield inspection system to all electronic, using a cloud-based system,” he told the Republic. “This has streamlined our FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) inspections and has greatly improved our quality control and maintenance tracking.”
In addition to growing up near an airport, Brown had a dad and brother who enjoyed model airplanes and remote control airplanes, but Brown wasn’t good at flying them, so he opted to learn how to fly actual planes instead. Going on a discovery flight also got him hooked on aviation.
Brown went on to become a licensed pilot and flight instructor. However, as he began his career, the economy was “slow” for pilots.
“Maybe just some of the passion had kind of waned a little bit through college,” he added. Brown decided to look for jobs that would suit his degree in aviation management and found an airport operations position in Philadelphia. It was his first job after college.
After that, Brown looked for jobs closer to home. He took on a similar role at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. He then served as airport safety officer and later chief of airfield maintenance at an airport in Evansville.
“I did that for a couple years, almost a couple years, kind of topped-out growth-wise at that airport,” Brown said. “So I wanted to kind of expand my horizons. … So I found a position here in Columbus.”
He saw the job as an opportunity to learn more about airport aspects that he hasn’t worked with as much, especially because he might want to manage an airport one day.
Brown started at the local airport in November of 2019 — just a few months before the pandemic struck.
“We moved here, it was all normal,” he said. “We were brand-new to the town, me and my wife and two kids. … We were trying to integrate ourselves, meet people — and then all of the sudden it just stopped.”
For a time, Brown did as much remote work as possible, which was difficult, given that his job includes in-person components such as working with snow removal and inspection preparation.
He described his work as mostly pertaining to “the airfield itself.”
“I mostly deal with the FAA,” he said. “Our airport, although we don’t have commercial traffic like the airliners, we still adhere ourselves to those standards.”
The standards include specifications for for training documents, airfield inspections and fuel requirements.
Preparing for formal FAA inspections and making sure everything is in order can be “a little stressful,” he said.
However, Brown’s love of aviation hasn’t dimmed — neither has the sense of wonder he showed as a kid, watching planes fly overhead.
When asked what the best part of his job was, Brown replied “the view” and gestured the airfield outside his window.
“I get to work at an airport and look at airplanes all day and talk aviation,” he said.