For Melissa Kaplan, owning her own business was never part of the flight plan. Yet, now in its second year, Kaplan & Mello Planning (KMP) is off to a strong start for the DBE certified business owner. “Never in a million years did I imagine myself starting my own company,” said Kaplan.
A 2001 Graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Commercial Multi-Engine Instrument rated pilot, Kaplan spent the last six years prior to forming her own company, as an airport planner in the Airport Planning and Development section of the Idaho Division of Aeronautics.
“My husband and I made the difficult decision to leave my dream job and my home state of Idaho for his home state of Illinois for a few reasons,” said Kaplan. “One, we wanted to live near a Southwest Airlines base so he could drive to work instead of commuting from Boise to Las Vegas and two, so our kids could spend quality time with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents during the last few years of their childhood.”
When the decision to move to Illinois was made, she contacted Ben Mello for references of firms she might be able to contact for potential work because one of his prior jobs was working for the Chicago FAA ADO. “Ben and I met while he was working for the FAA ADO in Helena [Montana],” said Kaplan. “He was my point of contact for the coordination of the Idaho Statewide Capital Improvement Program.” After he left the ADO for a regional consulting firm, Kaplan said they would continue to run into each other at annual aviation conferences and other random airport meetings.
Kaplan was confident that he would know people and firms in the area she was moving to, but as an alternative, he suggested they go into business together and form a DBE airport planning firm. Both agreed they wanted to be able to dictate when they worked and how much, so they could have a well-balanced work and home life. “Our goal is to stay small, just the two of us, and help larger firms fill DBE goals and be an extension of their staff during times they may be shorthanded or overwhelmed with work,” said Kaplan.
Over the years Kaplan learned that these types of firms are few and far between and Mello wasn’t the first person to suggest she think of doing something like this, but he was the first to offer to go into business with her. “Long story short I agreed and we started the unknown, long, daunting, grueling, frustrating, educational, but rewarding journey of starting not only a brand new business but everything it took to become a DBE certified business in Illinois as well as the 7 (soon to be 8) states we applied in,” said Kaplan. “We had no guidance and have been learning everything as we go.”
Mello, who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has more than twenty years of experience completing aviation system planning, airport master planning, and environmental analysis. He started his career as a system planner/airport master planner for two highly respected system planning firms where he completed system plans in seven states and over 10 master plans in various states over his six years working as a consultant. Past positions include work for the FAA as the Community Planner (responsible for reviewing approving all planning actions) for the Chicago and Helena Airport District Offices. Most recently Mello worked as a Project Manager for a consulting firm where he was responsible for completing master plans and environmental reports for airports in Montana, South and North Dakota.
Kaplan said she was surprised how difficult it is to set up a new business – all of the licenses, rules, and regulations, not to mention insurance requirements. “Do not get me started on the DBE process,” exclaimed Kaplan. “It was very surprising how different every state’s requirements are as well.” Kaplan said there is no known guidebook for doing everything they had to do and they still continue to encounter new requirements almost weekly.
While 2018 was filled with company set up, certifications and a few small projects that kept them afloat, 2019 has started out “exciting and strong.” They recently found out they are the DBE sub on the Illinois State Airport System Plan Study and the Illinois Airport Operations Count at Select Non-Towered Airports Study. “These are our first big wins since founding our company on January 8, 2018,” said Kaplan.
The company was also selected by a firm in Washington as the DBE sub to work with Boeing Field in Seattle. Additionally they are working with the State of Idaho on a mini master plan for a non-NPIAS airport. “We continue to search out new and exciting projects and we look forward to teaming with firms who are looking for experienced planners,” said Kaplan.
For Kaplan, who was born and raised in the small town of Orofino, Idaho, there are mixed feelings. “I love Idaho and will always hold a special place in my heart for my friends and family I left behind, but I am excited for what my future holds with regard to my family and my new business.”
Kaplan & Mello Planning (KMP) is a full-service woman owned aviation consulting firm that provides facilities and operations planning, environmental planning, and financial planning services to airport owners and operators, and federal and state aviation-related agencies. They provide technical consulting and project management services relating to airport facilities planning, airport master planning, financial analyses, environmental planning, financial and site feasibility studies, airfield and airspace analyses, and airport development programs, either on a project basis or as part of on-call consulting services.
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