By Joe Iorio, Media Relations Staff
In 2001, Jeanne Olivier had transferred into her 65th floor World Trade Center office to begin a new job with the Port Authority’s Aviation Department. Then 9/11 struck, and she realized her life from that day forward would be changed forever.
“People lost family members – friends, brothers, sisters, daughters. And I lost colleagues, many of whom I knew since I started with the Port Authority in 1984,” Olivier recalled. “So, from that moment, I planned to invest my life’s energy in aviation security, working to prevent anything like it from happening again.”
Today, that investment is paying dividends. Olivier is the Port Authority’s assistant director of Aviation Security Operations, a woman whose drive and ability has earned her prestigious industry honors. The most recent is her April appointment as chair of the 5,700-member American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), the industry’s largest professional organization. She is only the sixth woman in its 90-year history to serve as chair.
In her Port Authority role, Olivier leads a multi-year Aviation Department capital program to reinforce the existing physical, operational and technological security infrastructure. She’s also responsible for working with local and federal authorities on policy and funding matters for aviation security, and ensuring Port Authority compliance with regulations.
Humble by nature and reluctant to blow her own horn, Olivier nevertheless has a powerful and inspiring story of dedication to public service, and how she took the lessons of 9/11 and put them to work on a global scale. Hoping to make a real difference after the attacks, Olivier volunteered to help rebuild war-damaged airports in Iraq in 2006-2007, after they were almost completely destroyed. She was the lead technical advisor on aviation facilities in the northern half of the country.
The strategic mission was to convince the Iraqi people of U.S. efforts to get the country and its people back on their feet in the midst of war by restoring a functioning aviation system. For her work in Iraq, Olivier received the U.S. State Department’s Meritorious Honor Award.
Reflecting on her time in Iraq, Olivier recalled witnessing atrocities and surviving her tour while staying in a temporary embassy, located in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. She saw everything from mortar strikes on their camp to kidnappings of colleagues and public executions. Yet Olivier considers the experience one of her most rewarding, as she also lived and worked beside courageous individuals willing to risk everything for their country.
“I sacrificed nothing, but I learned and saw examples of people who sacrificed everything,” she said. “I’m proud to have had the opportunity to serve in Iraq, but I’m also moved by the memories of everyday people doing extraordinary things to help others. I will never forget what I saw there.”
With these life-changing experiences having reshaped her career, Olivier plans to continue her work at the Port Authority, and as the AAAE chair, by encouraging others to get involved with aviation management and public service. During her year-long appointment, she plans to address critical issues such as the current shortage of pilots, find more creative revenue sources for airports, and continue to promote AAAE’s educational programs.
“Over my 34 years at the Port Authority, dramatic social, political and technological advancements have redefined aviation’s importance to our society,” she said. “I hope to have an impact on future industry employees by setting enduring priorities to meet the exciting challenges of tomorrow and beyond.”