Hanscom Field became one of the first airports in the country to have a female director when Barbara Patzner took the helm in 1987. And when she retires at the end of the month, the Bedford general aviation airport will still have a woman running the show.
Sharon Williams started her career as an operations manager at Hanscom in 1994, hired by Patzner, and then spent 12 years at Logan International Airport before returning to Hanscom in 2011 as manager of airport administration.
“She’s just got a tremendous amount of experience,” said Edward Freni, director of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Hanscom, citing Williams’s work with Hanscom’s neighboring communities as well as her years overseeing fleet maintenance, airport facilities, and Terminal B at Logan. “She’s very familiar with those who are involved externally as well as internally.”
Hanscom is the busiest general aviation airport in New England, handling more than 166,000 flights from corporate jets, single-engine planes, helicopters, and military aircraft in 2012. Such airports generally do not offer regularly scheduled passenger service.
Williams, 42, grew up in Newport, R.I., and got her pilot’s license at age 17. She also earned a commercial license and flew corporate charters while studying for a master’s degree in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Taking over for Patzner is significant, Williams said, not just because Patzner has been her mentor but because of her groundbreaking role in the industry. “Barbara is in my mind a real role model for women in aviation, and she also stands behind that by very proactively promoting women in aviation and in transportation,” said Williams.
About 20 percent of US airport directors are women, according to Massport. But when Patzner started out in the airline business in the early 1970s, female managers of any kind were rare.
“The only jobs that females could hold were in the flight department, managing flight attendants, because they were all females,” said Patzner, 65, who also had served as the first female airline manager at Newark Liberty International Airport and at Logan and for New York Air and Continental Airlines.
During her more than 25 years at Hanscom, Patzner oversaw an effort to steer flights clear of the historical markers in Minute Man National Historical Park to reduce noise pollution. She also instituted a post-9/11 security program that required everyone on the airfield to have a criminal background check and wear a badge, a Massport directive.