BGSU student wins Ohio Aviation Student of the Year 2018

Recent aviation graduate changed his flight plan to let his new dream soar


By Bonnie Blankinship

Mason Tinney thought his life’s “flight plan” was all mapped out. As a senior at the University of Toledo, he was majoring in history and pre-law and preparing to graduate. But then his liver malfunctioned, landing him in the hospital seven times in 18 months, including gallbladder surgery and a near cardiac arrest. “It was a pretty fun time,” he said grimly.

When it was over, “I had a life-changing epiphany,” he said. “I realized, I don’t think I want to do law. I want to do something I actually really love. My fiancée told me about BGSU’s aviation program, where she had a friend in the pilot program, and right after I got out of the hospital I transferred over. I don’t recommend it to anyone, but it was one of those experiences that opens your eyes.”

The change meant Tinney would not be graduating so soon. “It knocked me back about two years,” he said. “They told me it would take three years, but every single semester I took 18 credits and maxed out at 21 credits a few times, so I crammed the three years into about two.”

This was all the more notable in light of the fact that Tinney was also working almost full time while he was a student, and had moved to Findlay while his now wife, Brecken, was pursuing her Ph.D. in physical therapy there, making his drive to school and work nearly an hour each way.

In spite of all these challenges, Tinney achieved so many accomplishments that during the last semester of his aviation management and operations program at Bowling Green State University, he was named the 2018 Ohio Aviation Student of the Year by the Ohio Aviation Association (OAA), besting nominees from Ohio State, Kent State and Ohio universities.

The association states, “Ohio’s aviation industry success depends upon the engagement of its future leaders. This award recognizes an aviation student member for demonstrating leadership, service and dedication to advancing their education in an aviation trade.”

Tinney epitomizes those criteria.

“Simply put, he is one of the rising stars of aviation in the state of Ohio,” wrote Dr. Russell Mills in his nomination. Mills, who is the vice president of the OAA and, at BGSU, director of the Center for Regional Development, taught Tinney in an aviation law class and worked with him on an independent study this summer to help him obtain his Association of American Airport Executives (AAAE) Certified Member certification. “This will give him a decided edge in the job market,” Mills said.

As he prepares to take the rigorous exam, Tinney, who graduated from BGSU in August, has begun a new job as international flight clearance coordinator for Kalitta Air, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and works out of Willow Run Airport. He and his wife have bought a house nearby.

“This takes me a little bit out of what I was doing and provides me an opportunity to see another side of aviation from what I experienced in my co-ops,” Tinney said. “Later, I can decide which area I want to focus on. I plan to take a year and work and then prepare to get my master’s degree in aeronautics.”

“He is one of our most talented, driven and experienced students who has taken an active role in acquiring skills and practical experience that will help him in his career,” Mills wrote in his nomination letter. “Specifically, Mason has a 3.6 GPA at BGSU. This is even more impressive given Mason's rigorous work schedule, including serving as an operations intern at Toledo Express Airport, where he works both on the operations side as well as assisting in the airport's air service development efforts.

“He is extremely talented, dedicated, and has a wide range of experience in aviation management at a very young age. He is also a drone pilot, a certified airport inspector, and trained in wildlife hazard management prevention. As an example of his drive and motivation, even though he is graduating this summer, he approached me to do an independent study to earn his AAAE Certified Member certification.  

“In my five years at BGSU, I have never been more sure of a student's ability to positively impact the aviation industry as I am with Mason.”

Tinney’s co-nominator for the award was Joseph Rotterdam, his supervisor at Toledo Express Airport. Rotterdam said Tinney was one of the most talented interns he has ever worked with.

“Mason has been trained to conduct FAR part 139 airfield self-inspections to ensure the airfield, including runways and taxiways, meet all regulatory standards,” Rotterdam said. “He has also been trained under the airport’s wildlife program to assist in spotting and hazing birds, coyotes and other nuisance wildlife that could present a danger to aircraft. Mason has also assisted with air service development, researching various data points for specific markets to help me build a pitch for nonstop service from Toledo on airlines like Allegiant, American, Delta and United.”

“Joe was a huge part of my getting all my certifications and helping to train me,” Tinney said.  

Tinney attended the aviation association conference and ceremony with Mills, Rotterdam and a group of other BGSU aviation students and alumni, including alumnus Matt McVicker, now manager of the Findlay Airport.  

“Going to the conference was an incredible experience,” Tinney said. “I got to talk with airport professionals from Cleveland, Columbus and other places and with some of the other FAA professionals. Getting the award was a nice surprise. I’ve been working hard on my aviation career, and it was a nice pat on the back.”

When he transferred to BGSU, Tinney did not plan on the track he wound up taking. “Initially, I was interested in the pilot program, but after learning more about it I found myself drawn to the operational side, and that’s what intrigued me. As soon as I could, I started working for Quick Flight Services in Swanton. Airlines like Allegiant basically hire this group to conduct all their ground operations.  

“They’re really versatile, they do all the charters as well as Allegiant. When I was with Quick Flight, I started out as a basic crew member and was trained to be a ground security coordinator and I got my certification for ground security.”

In that job he was responsible for ensuring the safe operation and security protocols were maintained while aircraft were on the ground or being serviced. He worked directly with flight crews, fuelers, maintenance and ground crews for proper handling and inspection of aircrafts ranging from Boeing 737s, McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and the Airbus A320. He also trained on counter and gate operations so the airport could utilize his customer service experience to handle difficult customers, as well as alleviate staffing shortages.

“After about a year, I moved over to the Port Authority, where I worked for the rest of my BGSU career, and that’s where I got all my certifications. It’s also when my operational career really took off. I really love it,” Tinney said.

Coming to BGSU, “I found that BGSU really appreciates nontraditional students. I didn’t fully understand when I transitioned over how things operated very differently from the University of Toledo.”

But he found major resources and sources of support in aviation program coordinator Carl Braun and Melissa Webb, his academic adviser.  

“Taking 18 credits and working 35 hours a week, I was running around like a chicken without a head. Carl Braun was a really huge professor for me and so helpful. He taught a lot of my aviation courses and he was just awesome helping get my co-ops in line. He really went the extra mile and helped me excel.

“Melissa Webb was really awesome as well. It was really nice to have the college work with me and to see their flexibility to help me finish my degree.”  

“When Mason first met with me about transferring into BGSU, he said he was willing to work hard and would like to complete the degree as quickly as possible,” Webb said. “He explained the extreme shift from his previous studies and was excited to get started in the aviation industry. From there, Mason and I worked together to develop a degree-completion plan that we revisited every semester (sometimes multiple times in the semester) to see if anything could be shifted around. He even came up with creative solutions to get additional exposure/experience in the Aviation Management field by proposing substitutions of high-level AERT courses for lower level non-AERT courses. Every time Mason came in my office, he had a smile on his face and was enthusiastic about his coursework and co-op experiences. He is a real testimony to how effective the co-op experiences can be in a student’s educational journey and professional development. Helping students like Mason to realize their goals are why advisers advise! Mason’s authentic positivity and passion for the industry are contagious, and I can’t wait to see all he will do moving forward.”

Although he only met Mills in his final semester, he turned out to be an important figure in Tinney’s aviation trajectory.  

“I really enjoyed taking aviation law with him,” Tinney said. “At the end of class one day we got chitchatting and he knew my supervisor at the airport. Joe Rotterdam. We connected through him. I’m really happy Russ agreed to work with me on getting my AAAE Certified Member certification. It was very much an independent study, but Russ wants to implement it into BGSU’s program, which would be great for the students.

“Membership connects you with other airports and helps you get certifications that you can really utilize when you get out of college. The test combines all four years of what you’ve learned in aviation and airport management. You have a national and even international organization standing behind you that is well recognized around the world and tells employers you really know what you’re talking about.”

The 150-question test comprises everything from airport finance to safety and security, public relations and federal and state regulations, Mills said.

As a transfer student, Tinney had to take some additional general education courses along with his aviation classes, and he spent most of his study time at the airport.  

“I could stay at the airport and study and look out and watch other BG pilots. It immersed you in that world. In addition to the BSU students, there was also the traffic from Wood County Regional. It was such a nice atmosphere, watching the planes come in, and the building is so nice. I made a good group of friends, from aviation engineering and aviation management. We always had something to talk about and good examples to bring to class about our aviation experience.

“One thing that BGSU did, and I’m so glad they did, was have us go through pilot ground training so you get a basic understanding of planes and the flight, and different stages and the things that happen. It was nice when I was doing ground security coordination when pilots gave us feedback to help make things better for not only the passengers but also the crew.”

In addition, his work with Rotterdam at the Port Authority on promoting air service from Toledo is exactly in line with what Mills and the CRD have been engaged with for a number of years.

“Mason is so mature, he’s serious and goal-oriented,” Mills said. “He came in with a wealth of information and already has certifications most students don’t. He has a unique blend of the airport management side and the airlines side. Plus, he’s the nicest guy.”