His career takes off at the Palatka airport


James Keeley has been fascinated with flight since he was a boy.

"I don't really know where it came from, but ever since I was younger, I would look up at the sky and look at the airplanes and think to myself one day," he said.

When his parents took him to an airshow at the Palatka Municipal ‘Lt. Jasper Kennedy "Kay" Larkin Field’ Airport when he was fourteen, he knew that he would make it 'one day' happen sooner rather than later.

James, 18, a lifelong Palatka resident and a Palatka Junior\Senior High School graduate, is working towards his goal.

"My first week on the job, this kid came to me and said, 'I want to learn about airports and being an airport manager,' said Palatka airport manager Yul McNair, "I was impressed, and when he got into the City's summer youth intern program we brought him out here with us to learn."

After graduation, he joined the airport team by working part-time as an operations assistant while training for his private pilot license.

"It is a great job. I get here early and help out with the morning fuel checks and inspect our fuel tanks, and then we usually have a few random things pop up; maybe somebody might be stuck on a taxiway, and we'll help them. If they have a flat tire, we'll tow them in. Or if we have a jet, come in, we'll help fuel them," he said. "One day, somebody dropped some FOD (foreign object debris)  on a runway, so we had to go out there and pick that up. We've had the windsock that needed to be replaced. We replaced that. Lots of general maintenance, but mostly we work on helping our customers have a good experience." 

James says that one of the best things about working for the airport is that once pilots know that he is interested in aviation, they go out of their way to teach and share their knowledge.

"I've been lucky enough to start a jet. The pilot brought me to the flight deck and let me start the plane. So that was pretty cool," he said. 

Another time, a local pilot flew him to Savannah from Palatka to have lunch. 

James uses the money he earns working for the airport to pay for pilot training. He is within a few weeks of soloing and getting his private pilot license. He plans to continue his training and work up to a commercial pilot license with the goal of working for an airline or flying private jets. 

Airport manager McNair is glad to have James on staff. 

"One of my professional goals is helping young people get into the field of aviation," said McNair, "I am happy that the airport and the City can help James and other interested youth work towards their futures."

"The internship program was a great opportunity. I learned a lot. And then to get the opportunity to work here and to be around these great people has been a great way of going about things. It's been a good route. I have been very lucky," James said, "Palatka has helped me greatly, I am proud to call it my home."