By Kim J Stevens
For Kelvin Solco it was a close encounter with an L-1011 on a New Orleans runway that ultimately sealed the deal for a career in aviation. He initially became interested in aviation after being hired as a college intern. “The FAA hired me as a College Co-op Engineer during my sophomore year at Prairie View A&M University. I reported to the FAA field office at Jefferson County Airport, Texas to be sworn in and to visit a NAVAIDS construction project on runway 12/30,” said Solco. “This was my first official introduction to airport operations.”
Solco was sent to New Orleans International Airport a few weeks later to do surveying work and help install a Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI) on runway 10/28. After being cleared by the FAA Air Traffic controllers to work in the runway safety area, he promptly set up surveying equipment on the centerline of the runway. Then he heard the controller say words he’ll never forget – “FAA 01, clear the runway immediately. Expedite!” Solco said fortunately for him, he ran track in high school and was accustomed to “expediting”! After moving to a safe position away from the runway, he watched a Lockheed L-1011 make its final approach, landing on runway 10/28. “It was the largest aircraft I had ever seen! I was mesmerized,” said Solco. “I knew at that moment I would spend the rest of my life in the aviation business.
Solco, who has spent more than thirty years in the aviation industry – most of those years with the FAA – formed the Solco Group in April of 2018. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Solco. While working for the FAA as a civil engineer in the 1990’s, he started a moonlighting business called Solco Consulting Services, where he provided civil engineering design and structural inspections for mortgage companies, real estate agents, and residential homeowners. “I specialized in concrete foundation inspections and repairs,” said Solco. This was a perfect “side venture” for him because there was no conflict of interest with his FAA commitment. Yet he secretly dreamed about becoming an aviation consultant while serving his clients. After four years, he closed this practice to focus on personal family matters and his primary duty to serve the FAA. Now, after 36 successful years of service with the FAA, he has made his entrepreneurial dreams come true.
As a business owner, Solco’s biggest challenge has been making a mental transition from public to private service. “I still catch myself “thinking” like an FAA employee, but I understand my responsibility to serve my clients by sharing my knowledge and experience,” said Solco. “Like everyone in our business, I am extremely sensitive to any negative press or misconceptions about flying or aviation incidents.” Setting up his business was also a little challenging but he was pleasantly surprised with the tremendous amount of resources available through the SBA and other Federal, State, and local agencies. “After having gone through this experience, I am convinced that the U.S. is the best country in the world to start a business.”
Solco says that the experience gained while at the FAA has been “absolutely invaluable,” and if he had to do everything over again, he would not change anything. “I was fortunate to have learned the Federal Aviation business from some of the best managers in the industry. I also worked alongside some of the best and the brightest aviation professionals, engineers, controllers, and technicians in the country,” said Solco. Solco believes the greatest benefit from working with both the FAA Airports and Airway Facilities programs is developing close professional and personal friendships with numerous state aeronautics directors and airport executives.
His FAA career path started with resident engineering and construction inspection and ended with his last position of Southwest Regional Administrator. Solco’s resume includes years of experience in Airway Facilities engineering, Airports engineering and program management, FAA Regional Office management, and Emergency Operations. He has worked in both the Southwest and Southern Regions of the country as well as numerous temporary assignments in the FAA Headquarters Office in Washington, DC; the Northwest Mountain Region; and Great Lakes Region. “I even had the honor of representing the U.S. in technical exchange meetings in London, England, and Brussels, Belgium,” said Solco. “My firm would probably not exist nor be successful without the experience I gained at FAA.”
After creating his company, Solco began seeking opportunities in both the Southern and Southwest regions of the FAA, but, has a big vision and plans to grow the firm to include offering company services both domestically and internationally. “I am currently in discussions with a potential client on the East Coast and we are planning to visit an organization on the West Coast in the near future.” This July Solco traveled to Belize City, Belize as part of a trade mission delegation, to present his firm to the international marketplace. “I have not yet secured a firm Belizean business lead to date, but I plan to return to Belize by early 2020 and try again.”
Solco believes there is great potential for growth in the industry, but says everyone needs to do their part to protect the excellent national safety record, and promote the future of aviation. “We must maintain our aviation related infrastructure and adapt to meet the changing trends and needs of the flying public,” said Solco. While working at FAA, he had the privilege of witnessing the entrance of unmanned aircraft and commercial space operations into the National Airspace System. “I look forward to supporting the growth of U.S. air transportation and celebrating the technological advancements of aviation as a private industry practitioner.
Due to the diversity of needs in the aviation sector, a passionate desire to maintain safety, and limited amount of available financial resources, Solco says that our greatest need is to make sure we do comprehensive planning as well as develop strong justifications and undeniable business cases for airfield enhancements and development. “FAA Reauthorization has given us the flight plan. Now we must perform our pre-flight inspections, locate the things we can control, clearly communicate with the FAA, check the weather, and take off to our respective aeronautical destinations,” said Solco – with a smile.