ITD's new Aeronautics Division Administrator

Appointment allows Mike Pape to achieve lofty goal

When did your revelation occur? That day you recognized your passion in life and began pursuing it with a steadfast commitment?

During high school.? While in college? As you entered the workplace?

Mike Pape found it as a preschooler, riding alongside his father Don in the cockpit of a small airplane. The elder Pape was a Korean War veteran, an Idaho Air National Guard pilot and a backcountry pilot. Mike often accompanied him on trips over Idaho’s shark-toothed mountain peaks, awed by the scenery and equally impressed by the airplane.

Most children his age were learning to master counting and drawing their ABCs. Mike was developing a love of aviation, a pursuit amplified by Idaho flying veteran Chet Moulton. Chet was head of Idaho’s Department of Aeronautics, a forerunner to ITD’s Division of Aeronautics.

'The most important Main Street in any community is the airport runway. You can build a mile of road and go one mile. But if you build a mile of runway, you can access the whole world.'

— Mike Pape

The young Pape had visions of becoming like his father and of following Moulton’s career in government. He achieved the first goal 30 years ago after earning his private pilot’s license and graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1985.

This week the second childhood dream was satisfied when he became administrator of the Division of Aeronautics. He inherits a staff of 12, an annual budget of $2.5 million and a mission dedicated to customer service.

In contrast to two previous eras of flying, Pape’s role in the Division of Aeronautics is customer-driven public service. The division is responsible for operating Idaho’s fleet of three state-owned aircraft – a pair of Cessnas (206 and 182), and the star of the fleet, a 10-passenger turboprop Beechcraft King Air.

The planes and ITD pilots, who fly them, serve all state agencies, including the governor’s office. They provide access to the far reaches of a geographically diverse state. Most of those isolated rural communities have no commercial air service. The King Air can reach them in a couple of hours and return to its stable comfortably before nightfall. The pressurized twin-engine plane cruises at altitudes of 20,000-30,000 feet in almost all weather conditions.

More often than not the past five years, Pape occupied the captain’s seat.

Since 2007, he has logged nearly 700 hours at the King Air controls. It’s become his office in the air, but usually he’s back home early enough to spend the evening with his wife Marci and three children, Megan, 13, Josie, 10, and Sam, 8.

He couldn’t say the same of his previous aviation experiences. Pape spent 10 years flying commercially for Iowa Airways, Eastern Airlines, Pan Am Airways and Ryan International Airlines. He returned to Idaho in 1993 where he embarked on a decade-long corporate career with Boise Cascade, Albertson’s and U.S. Bancorp.

“I like it when people have enough trust in you to make appropriate decisions and help them arrive at their destination, day-in and day-out,” Pape says about his love for flying.

In public service with ITD, Pape gained a new appreciation for customer service.

“Pilots don’t have to fly into Idaho; they could fly to Alaska. And (state agencies) don’t have to use our planes. They could choose to fly commercial. So we have to provide great customer service.”

Pape also wants the division to become more visible and active within the ITD family and hopes to reduce the perceived distance that separates the flight operations facility at the Boise Airport and Headquarters. Division employees will play larger roles within ITD, he says.

He wants the division to become the state’s travel agency, so to speak.

“We want state agencies to know about our rideshare program because our aircraft crisscross the state daily. We want them to see us as a provider of safe, comfortable transportation. We can solve their transportation issues and help them determine when it’s better to use our aircraft, or use commercial carriers or to drive.

“I like to see state government be productive. (Flying) gives me a sense of contributing to the state’s productivity.”

Pape understands and embraces the significant role aviation plays in the state’s economy.

Idaho ranks fifth in the nation per capita for the number of registered pilots, sixth per capita in the number of registered planes, seventh in access to airports, and ninth in land area.

“The most important Main Street in any community is the airport runway,” he insists. “You can build a mile of road and go one mile. But if you build a mile of runway, you can access the whole world.”

Sound like a well-practiced speech?

It comes from a pilot who’s as comfortable addressing a crowd as flying a plane. Pape is a graduate of the Dale Carnegie program and is a practicing member of Toastmasters.

“In this job, you’re an ambassador for Idaho aviation, so it’s important, just from the outreach standpoint,” he said of making formal presentations. But speeches are more powerful if you are passionate about the subject. And there’s no doubt about how Pape views the importance of aeronautics to Idaho.

“Our airport system plan shows a $3.1 billion impact on the state’s economy,” he says. When business owners consider moving or expanding, airport access is a critical factor. Aviation is “gem,” a “crown jewel” in Idaho, he insists.

Airports provide critical access to health and medical services for residents of Idaho’s rural communities, a connection that can be life saving, Pape explains. It provides access to Idaho’s vast wildernesses and recreation – fishing, hunting, hiking and rafting. And just as important, it gives land managers a way to protect scenic Idaho from wildfires.

ITD closed two of its backcountry airstrips – Pine and Slate Creek – temporarily this summer so they could be used as staging areas for wildfire suppression operations. Another major strip at Stanley accommodated firefighting efforts and recreational use simultaneously.

Pape, 50, will combine his experience as a public speaker and his love for aviation to close out his first week as head of the Aeronautics Division. He and daughter Josie will travel to Sagle Saturday night (Sept. 29) to participate in induction ceremonies for the Idaho Aviation Hall of Fame. Two aviation legends, Burt Rutan and “Pappy” Greg Boyington will be inducted into the hall of fame.

Rutan, who relocated to Idaho, is best known as one of the nation’s foremost aerospace engineers and designer of the record-setting Voyager that circumnavigated the globe non-stop. Boyington was a World War II Medal of Honor recipient best know for commanding the Black Sheep Squadron. The Coeur d’Alene airport was named after the favorite son.

Rather than taking to the air for the northern Idaho trip, however, Pape and his daughter will drive.

He has logged more than 13,000 hours in the cockpit, but expects the pace to slow after accepting his new position.

Out of necessity, the new administrator anticipates more time interacting with ITD colleagues and the aviation community. He still plans to fly state customers to remain current and active as a pilot, but doesn’t expect to leave the ground as much as he has in the past.

“I’m going to spend the next three months learning,” Pape said of his immediate flight plan. And he doesn't expect many departures from the plans of predecessor JV DeThomas, who inspired a new level of professionalism and safety at the division.

He inherits a sound division that enjoys a solid reputation. His intent is to build on that foundation.

Published 9-28-2012