When he talks about his new position as manager of Delaware Coastal Airport, Eric Littleton’s voice takes flight.
“Aviation is amazing. It’s something new every day. You find out what you don’t know on a daily basis,” said an upbeat Littleton, whose first day on the job was July 15 and who is training under retiring Airport Manager Jim Hickin.
Formerly air traffic controller at the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, and most recently unmanned aerial systems’ airfield manager at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Littleton, who lives with his family in Bridgeville, is eager to promote the airport.
“Aviation is something I would love to see people know more about. There are folks in the county who have never been to this airport and don’t understand the availability and don’t understand airports. There are children who know nothing about aviation and airports,” he said, worrying that air traffic controller jobs and pilot positions are becoming difficult to fill.
“Folks don’t want to do it, so pilot training through the military and through flight schools is very important,” he said.
“I want to see us push aviation in general. It’s the wonderment of flight. Everyone loves watching the birds. Kids watch the birds and we all want to fly. There is going to come, hopefully in my lifetime, amazing things in aviation,” he said.
Littleton is pleased his 78-mile commute to work has been reduced to 17 miles. His wife, Olivia, and children Cash and Sophie, ages 7 and 9, are as pleased.
“We are well engrained in Sussex County. Being here at the airport is all-around good news for our family,” he said.
Hickin, 62, his predecessor, will leave in October, after 12 years. Managing the airport is his third career and this time he plans to finally enjoy retirement.
Hickin said his years as airport manager have been gratifying.
“I enjoyed it. It’s been a little bit of everything. When I first got here, we were doing the same thing we’re doing now, creating a new master plan for the airport. I have kind of enjoyed watching that come to fruition. And being able to learn things I didn’t know before. The wildlife management part, that’s been fun. It’s something new every day,” he said.
During his career, he was a pilot for a regional airline in Washington, D.C., and before that, served in the U.S. Air Force 22 years, flying planes. A retired lieutenant colonel, he and his wife Sue live in Milford and have three grown children, Jennifer, Jim and Beth.
One misunderstanding about the airport, he said, is the believe it’s for the famous or wealthy who own planes. “You come out here and see people in shorts and T-shirts that love aviation and love flight. They come out and fly on weekends or take their kids here to see the planes,” he said.
Littleton, whose annual salary is $80,000, doesn’t fly, preferring to stay on the ground, but said he speaks the same vernacular as pilots. He has certifications from the Community College of the Air Force, the American Association of Airport Executives, the Airport Councils International and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“In the next couple of months, I’ll be getting my head around what is in place here and learning the interaction with the county. My goal is partnering the business park with the airport. Jim and I had a conversation about this. Some folks in the business park don’t know the airport is here and folks at the airport don’t know the business park is here. They don’t know about each other,” said Littleton, 48, who served in the U.S. Air Force four years.
“My goal is to continue serving the county and increasing our economic impact to the county. To get commercial flights here is a large hurdle and not really a goal of mine,” Littleton said.
Sussex County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, quoted in a news release, stated he’s looking forward to Littleton “continuing our recent efforts to modernize the airport and attract employers to the adjacent business park.”
“We’re confident he will help take our Delaware Coastal facilities to new heights in the years ahead,” he said.
County Council President Mike Vincent called Hickin “a great asset to the airport” and said he has “really helped to propel the airport forward.”
“The airport is busier now and worth spending a lot of effort on growing. We have a lot to work on,” Vincent said.
“Eric has been very involved in flight and came with a lot of recommendations and experience. We had five candidates and he was the best. He’s a local guy and he is qualified. I think he will do a great job. We’re excited.”
By Susan Canfora