In 2022, Keri Lyons became manager of the FAA’s Office of Airports’ new Emerging Entrants Division, which was set up to facilitate the safe integration of new and emerging entrants on the nation’s airports, heliports and vertiports.
From 2018 through 2020, she served as Airports’ Chief of Staff, where she represented the associate and deputy associate administrators in the management, direction and evaluation of activities that support airport’s goals and objectives. Lyons also spent 10 years as an airport certification safety specialist in the FAA’s Airport Safety and Operations Division, and worked as an airport compliance specialist and an analyst at the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.
She taught at the FAA Academy and at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus at Joint Base Andrews and Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Lyons received a Bachelor of Science in Aviation Business Administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Master of Public Administration in Aviation Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Q: Tell us about the mission of the FAA’s Office of Airports new Emerging Entrants Division and how you lead the team?
Our job is to ensure this new generation of emerging entrants maintains the high level of safety that defines modern aviation. Over the past few years, we saw a growing need for focused support of emerging entrants across multiple FAA divisions. Coupled with that, we gained new responsibilities for enabling the safe integration of drones in the airport environment. We quickly realized that the one-off approach we had been operating under would not be sustainable given the pace of emerging entrant initiatives. The FAA is making significant progress in planning for integration of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), supersonic aircraft and commercial space launches and reentries in the national airspace. We’re moving quickly, as we have demonstrated with some of our recent decisions while ensuring that safety is baked into every step of the process.
Within the Airports Division, we needed dedicated staff and support resources to provide the industry with the necessary level of customer service. The goal was to bring all new-entrant positions in the FAA’s Office of Airports under one division with a manager focused on safely merging new users of airports, heliports and vertiports. As we added more staff, we initially embedded employees into the Airports Division that best matched their expertise, giving each new entrant position time to build relationships within their disciplines.
I lead a diverse team of engineers and experts in operations, engineering and airspace. By collaborating with stakeholders, we identify standards gaps and support policy development and guidance. We also engage regularly with the FAA’s Airport Technology Research and Development Branch to build relationships with leading industry partners.
Q: How does the FAA keep up with developing technology or aircraft?
The FAA fully embraces the exciting future involving emerging entrants. Associate Administrator for Airports Shannetta Griffin, P.E., encourages the office to be proactive and innovative in addressing this major change in aviation.
We are building relationships and processes in the agency and industry to enable early engagement. Ideally, we are involved in early project conversations with applicants. We educate applicants on the airport environment and ground-safety requirements to proactively identify challenges. These collaborative processes also help the agency maximize resources while providing customer service and technical support. We are aware delays can cost applicants time, money and investment; that is why we embrace early project discussions with applicants.
Q: What is your leadership style and goals in your new role?
I strive to be a transformational leader. I am fortunate to work with a dynamic and passionate group of professionals on various new and innovative projects.
Our efforts allow innovative technologies and aircraft to use airports, heliports and vertiports safely.
Q: What are the Office of Airports’ priorities for new and emerging entrants?
Early engagement is key. Our priorities focus on collaboration and transparency.
While our internal processes trigger early engagement with applicants, industry associations like NBAA can help us reach companies that have yet to contact the agency.
Having a clear understanding of the concepts of operations and performance characteristics and limitations for a new technology or aircraft requires close collaboration between the FAA and the manufacturer or operator. Some new and emerging entrants are unfamiliar with our existing airport-related processes and need to factor the time for compliance with those requirements into their schedules.
We work with airports, manufacturers and operators to clearly articulate requirements, processes and standards. This may include airspace determinations, airport layout plans, environmental compliance and inspections. Our team identifies gaps in processes and standards and helps create new guidance to address or accommodate new and emerging technologies and operations.
We also understand the importance of providing collaborative engagement with local communities to ensure sound education and cooperation in the development and implementation of new entrants into the national airspace.
The FAA is excited to assist in transforming the aviation and aerospace industries and continues looking for ways to provide timely engagement and assistance.