Twente Airport has youngest Operations Manager in the Netherlands

On Sunday, April 2, our interim Operations Manager Daan Hoekstra officially handed over the baton to Laurens Esveldt. With his 24 years, Laurens is the youngest operations manager of an airport in the Netherlands, while Daan is one of the longest serving operations manager. A conversation between an old hand and a young dog, in which it immediately becomes clear that age says nothing about the enthusiasm and passion for aviation in general and Twente Airport in particular.

Daan started at Twente Airport as interim Operations Manager (Airport Manager) on January 1, 2021. Daan: "When I arrived at Twente Airport, I found the same kind of field as years ago at Lelystad. I started at Lelystad in 1995 and back then we also had to do everything ourselves with a small team. From mowing the grass to manning the tower. It was the same at Twente Airport in 2021, with the big difference that the employees were not even employed, but hired through Teuge. There were no real opening hours yet; we were open the moment a plane arrived. We didn't have the fire department in-house either. During the week these were usually colleagues from Technology Base and in the evenings and weekends someone from the Flying Club was used."

Professionalizing organization

So the first thing Daan picked up was to professionalize the organization. Daan: "I thought the most important thing was that the team, precisely because it is so small, should be employed by Twente Airport. You have to do it with a limited number of people, but then you have to ensure commitment and that is not possible if people are hired from another airport. The varying opening hours were also an eyesore, so that had to change as well. By working in shifts, we can be open seven days a week at fixed times. In the winter from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sundays from 10 a.m.) and in the summer weekdays even from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Saturdays from 9 a.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m.). We have also arranged the fire department (people and good vehicles) within the team now, so we are no longer dependent on third parties and the responsibility lies with the airport itself, as it should. Of course, we remain a small team, so we still do as much as possible ourselves, but by arranging the working conditions well, everyone is also willing to do that and we really do it together." 

Perseverance more important than an education

When Laurens is asked what education he did and how he ended up at Twente Airport, a special story follows. Laurens: "My father is a helideck manager at Medisch Spectrum Twente (MST) and therefore aviation was always a topic of conversation with us. In 2013, thanks in part to my father's work, I witnessed the developments surrounding Twente Airport up close. I have always been a proponent of an operational airport in the region and then not so much for vacation flights, but I just wanted there to be flying again. I contacted the airport several times to find out how developments were progressing and also followed everything around the airport, including meetings at the city hall and the residents' meetings. Everywhere Twente Airport was on the agenda, I was there. Meanwhile, I was also pursuing advanced training. First I wanted to become a helicopter pilot officer with the Ministry of Defence,

but the judging is strict and after several rounds of selection, unfortunately, that was a pass. I then studied Law for a blue Monday, but I didn't like that, far too theoretical. All those years of contact with the airport did have an effect, because in 2017 I was invited by the then director to the official opening of Twente Airport. In the meantime, I spent another two years working full-time at a butcher shop, so I still regularly visited Twente Airport to deliver sandwiches and stew buffets."

From butchery to Twente Airport

"In 2017, there was a vacancy for Assistant Harbour Master and of course I applied for it then. They asked for several years of work experience, so I was rejected. In 2019 another vacancy came online for the position of Assistant Operations Manager and Aeronautical Station Operator (ASO) for 20 hours a week, where work experience was no longer a hard requirement. I applied again, after which I was allowed to come for an interview. I was first given the opportunity for a three-month internship, so we could see from both sides if this position suited me. This was immediately for 40 hours instead of the stated 20 hours. During that period, there was also a big one-week defense exercise and then I knew for sure: this is where I want to work. Fortunately, they thought the same at Twente Airport and I was able to start working full-time. In the past few years I have learned a lot from my colleagues, completed the training in aircraft firefighting for small aviation, read everything available in terms of laws and regulations and manuals, and, in addition to a Safety course in Berlin, completed the internal training to become an Aeronautical Station Operator and Operations Manager."

That you can get a long way even without relevant training and with a lot of perseverance, Laurens proves. With the crowning glory of his hard work and dedication, as of April 1, he became a Operations Manager. His dream was that Twente Airport would remain an operational airport and now, a few years later, he himself is at the helm to further his dream. 

Future of Twente Airport

When asked how Laurens sees Twente Airport's future, he replied, "I don't have a crystal ball, but we are on the right track with the current developments, both as the test airport and the further development of business aviation, which is expected to be largely electric in time. The airport is an important piece of infrastructure and, due to its strategic location, of added value to the Twente region. In the whole transition to sustainable aviation, we can play an important role anyway. Not only in testing and further developing the possibilities with sustainable fuels such as electricity and hydrogen, but also in the field of unmanned aviation. Innovations only come about when there is sufficient space to experiment and test as much as possible.

As Operations Manager, together with the team, I will use that space and our facilities for this as much as possible. I also see here, for example, a nice cooperation between Twente Airport, Space53 and the Medisch Spectrum Twente (MST) when it comes to medical transports, such as organs and blood with drones. Like us, Space53 is located at Technology Base and the line to MST is also already there because of my father's work. We have a very nice team at the port service at Twente Airport, we are ready for each other and are well attuned to each other. So whatever the future will bring, as far as that's concerned it's definitely going to work out."

Flying in all weather conditions

The continued success of Twente Airport depends on several factors, but only being able to land and take off under good visibility conditions (VFR) is the main limiting factor. Laurens: "Currently, we are too dependent on weather conditions, while business traffic and other users want to be able to land and take off in any weather condition. With low-hanging clouds, planes have to divert to another airport, and besides the fact that we are losing revenue, it is also just very inconvenient and costs a lot of extra arrangement work if someone cannot land in Twente. We can solve this with a PBN procedure. For this, in contrast to classical navigation sources such as an Instrument Landing System (ILS), you do not need equipment on the ground, but satellite signals are used. Such a procedure allows safe landing and takeoff even in reduced visibility conditions. PBN procedure will therefore be one of the most important things we want to have arranged in the short term." 

Best thing about working at Twente Airport

Daan and Laurens are in complete agreement about what the best thing about working at Twente Airport is: "No day is the same, precisely because we all have multiple functions. At Schiphol Airport, for example, you have one job and do more or less the same work every day, but here you're refueling an aircraft one day and on standby with the fire engine the next. Precisely because we are such a small airport (but with a long runway), you get to deal with everything and everyone. For example, with flora and fauna, aircraft maintenance and communication with local residents, not to mention the users. The dependence on the weather sometimes causes frustration, but on the other hand, on nice days we are actually extra busy and we get extra satisfaction from that all together." 

Safety top priority

Daan will stay at Twente Airport for another three months, but he wants to give Laurens a wise lesson: "Above all, use your common sense and make sure that in everything that happens at and around Twente Airport, safety always has the highest priority for you and that everything must comply with international and national legislation. You do find yourself in a political playing field that is not always under your control. You are the one who has to monitor safety and sound the alarm if that is compromised. In addition, your team is the most important, so take good care of it and then I am sure that together you can make Twente Airport an airport where a lot happens and where there is all the space and a lot of potential to test, experiment and develop further."

Laurens at 1Twente

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