JOPLIN, Mo. — There’s a new executive in charge at the Four States’ largest airport. But he’s no stranger to flying the friendly skies over Joplin, someplace that’s very familiar.

“My parents moved here when I was three years old, and we moved literally across the street from the airport. So the airport was a big part of my life growing up,” said Bart Starkey, Joplin Airport Manager.

He has fond memories of special events like the air show, but also more of the daily routine.

“I remember the Ozark airlines jets would wake me up in the morning during school, they were my alarm clock. As a kid we would ride our bikes out here and come out watch the airplanes land. I just, I loved the airport,” he said.

Starkey’s early career wasn’t in aviation. He spent time in the Marines and private industry and later spent more than two decades working for the federal government. And that’s when he got his pilot’s license.

“I had an opportunity for about five years. To fly full-time as a pilot. And that was a chance to see aviation from a completely different side from the cockpit and then you know, the kind of training you get and be associated with an organization that’s very professional in how they do, how they fly. So that’s kind of how I got here,” he said.

He retired back in 2017. But when longtime Joplin Airport Manager Steve Stockam retired last spring, Starkey was ready to go back to work.

He points out the many advantages at the Joplin airport and the challenges to the air travel industry as a whole.

“We are in an industry right now that’s struggling, and I think we just saw this weekend, I think there are almost 1000 flights canceled because of crew shortages. So we’re going to try to wade through all those issues and make sure that we have the kind of air carrier service that Joplin needs and deserves,” Starkey said.