While most of his friends were getting their driver’s licenses, Andrew La Gala was learning how to fly a single-engine airplane. He was so enthusiastic about planes and aviation, his reluctant parents had no choice but to let their only child earn his pilot’s license by age 19.
Yet as fun as it seemed, he knew he didn’t want to fly planes for a living. He just wanted to be around them as much as possible. So by the time he was off to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he knew exactly what he wanted to do as a career: He wanted to manage an airport.
“Pilots are always away from home, and I knew I didn’t want that,” Andrew said. “This way, I get to stay around planes all day, but then I get to go home at night.”
As an Airport Operations Manager for Tampa International Airport, Andrew oversees much of the airport’s safety practices. He is proud of TPA’s impressive 17-year record of having no discrepancies in the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual certification inspection. He has overseen the last 12 years of those inspections.
Andrew was also responsible for helping the airport successfully reach its 2013 goal of reducing accidents and injuries by 5 percent. He began by forming focus groups made up of employees from various departments. They came up with a list of all high-risk conditions that could be improved, such as putting stop signs at the curbside crosswalks.
One of the biggest factors in reaching that 5 percent reduction goal, Andrew said, was focusing on escalator injuries, one of the most common safety issues at the airport.
“If you look at the way the airport is designed, it almost directs people to head to the escalators in the middle,” Andrew said. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we encourage our most high-risk passengers or visitors to use the elevators?’”
The result was a more active approach to directing people to the elevators, such as putting Guest Services Representatives with iPads near the shuttle lobbies to redirect people who might prefer the elevators and having ticket agents point out elevators to those who might be at greater risk of falling.
Andrew said just creating more situational awareness among all airport departments, as well as vendors and airline managers, resulted in less injuries overall. “And it happened during a time when there’s construction going on and cords everywhere,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to improve our safety record even more in coming years.”
When he’s not focusing on his airport duties, Andrew loves spending time with his children, 21-year-old son Anthony and 14-year-old daughter Kailin. A former high school soccer player himself, he coaches his daughter’s soccer team, and he also likes camping, biking on trails and other outdoorsy activities. On the weekends he likes to cruise around on his motorcycle.
He still indulges in his original passion of flying, occasionally heading to the Keys or Louisiana or somewhere in the southeast to attend a college football game.
He feels thankful for having the best of all worlds – a job he loves in an industry that fascinates him, with the ability to go home to his children every night.