Growing up in Mountain View near Moffett Field is where Gretchen Kelly, the County of San Mateo’s Interim Deputy Director, Department of Public Works – Administration & Airports, was “bitten by the aviation bug.” She would run outside to wave at the P-3 Orion aircraft as they flew by. At age 18, Gretchen took her first flight in a general aviation aircraft, fell in love with flying, earned her private pilot certificate the following year, and her career path was sealed.
Most of Gretchen’s early days flight training was conducted at San Francisco International Airport. Primary flight training is no longer permitted at SFO and other commercial service airports as they are too busy operationally. This is a reason that general aviation airports, including the two that Gretchen manages—San Carlos and Half Moon Bay—are so important to aviation’s future.
Gretchen was the first female Airport Operations Specialist II at the County of San Mateo Airports. She continued to San Jose Mineta International, gaining experience in commercial service airport operations. The Federal Aviation Administration soon beckoned, where Gretchen served as an Airports Certification/Safety Inspector and AIP/PFC (federal grants) program manager. Years later, when the manager at County of San Mateo Airports retired, Gretchen followed her heart back to manage SQL and HAF.
A huge fan of aviation in general, she says there is something extra special about County of San Mateo Airports and the meaningful connections that she and her team create with the community.
“The County of San Mateo Airports is home to several aviation STEM and scholarship programs, including the EAA Chapter 20 Young Eagles, offering free flights for kids, and Aircraft Building Program for teens, the Upwind Scholarship Program, Hiller Aviation Museum camps and programs, and Civil Air Patrol, Gretchen said.
“We also work closely with several nonprofits, including Disaster Airlift Response Team, Pilots-N-Paws, and Angel Flights, all which support and enhance the lives of Bay Area residents and businesses,” she continued.
Gretchen says the airports’ users, businesses, and nonprofit organizations have helped to build a collaborative community that is committed to helping general aviation thrive by creating unique opportunities for the next generation of aviation professionals, inviting the local community to visit SQL and HAF to participate in family and youth programs, while also being mindful about reducing noise impacts whenever possible.
On her days off, Gretchen can be found in the air, on water or hiking the many Bay Area trails with her 20-year-old daughter and 10-year-old pup. A favorite hobby is whale watching from the air (at or above 1000’ for seabird safety). Pillar Point Harbor is her happy place for afternoon kayaking.
Gretchen serves on the AAAE General Aviation Committee and recently completed a 5-year term as a founding director of the Upwind Scholarship Program, a nonprofit that transforms local teens into private pilots during the summer between their junior and senior year of high school. She earned an MPA from the University of Southern California and a B.S. in Aeronautics/Aviation/Aerospace Science and Technology from San Jose State University.