Mike Benway is a Field Maintenance Supervisor at Pittsburgh International Airport. He oversees efforts to keep the airfield safe and operational, a gritty job that keeps him outdoors on the hottest and coldest days of the year, in rain and snow.
It also keeps him in extremely close proximity to all the aircraft on PIT’s runways and ramp, a unique advantage he uses to get photos most aviation enthusiasts can only dream of.
We spoke with Mike to learn more about his job as well as his hobby, and you can click on a photo gallery of his best shots below.
Q: How did you get into aviation?
A: I’ve always been passionate about aviation and decided in 2006 that I wanted to join the Navy and become an avionics technician. After my training, I ended up in a squadron of F-18E Super Hornets and spent many long days and nights on the flight decks of two different aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and USS Carl Vinson. To be several feet away from a fighter jet at full afterburner just before being catapulted off the front of the boat is breathtaking every time. It was hard work, but I knew then that after I moved on from the Navy that I wanted to be in aviation.
After I got out of the Navy, I attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. I wanted to be a pilot, but after a semester of flying, I ended up switching my majors. I took an elective course on Airport Management and immediately knew that I wanted to do that as a career. After I graduated, I worked at Daytona Beach International Airport monitoring security cameras. After Daytona, I moved into an airport operations position at Roanoke Regional Airport. Working at a small airport afforded me the luxury of learning how to do many different tasks that I might not have done at a larger airport.
My wife and I are both from Pittsburgh, so working towards coming home and to this airport was always the goal, and in 2018 I was able to finally continue my career here as a Field Maintenance Supervisor.
Q: What do you do at the airport?
A: The work we do in Field Maintenance has so much variety that even after three years of being here, I am still learning something new every day. Our main goal throughout the year is keeping the airfield safe for aircraft. We accomplish this by working with Airport Operations to repair any discrepancies on the runways and taxiways that they find in their daily inspections. During winter, safety is even more paramount when we are on the airfield removing snow all day and night. I’m fortunate enough that all of our staff—the superintendent of Field Maintenance, my fellow supervisors, laborers, drivers, operators, and mechanics—are true professionals and know their jobs inside and out.
Q: Do you have any formal photography training? How long have you been taking photos? Do you display them at home or share them with others at all?
A: No, I do not have any formal photography training—just my cellphone. I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked to while I was in the Navy, so after that I decided I wanted to take pictures to remember various stages of my career. Maybe someday I’ll get a real camera to take with me on the airfield, but for now I’ll just stick to my cellphone. I’d be worried a nice camera would get inadvertently destroyed if I took it out in my work truck!
I have two daughters, and they enjoy seeing some of the pictures and videos I take from work. I’ll also occasionally share pictures on social media just to show my friends what I’m up to.
Q: Are you particularly interested in aviation photography, or is that just a factor of your unusual access to aircraft and the airport?
A: I like aviation photography, but I think my pictures are just a perk of the job. If we are out working on a runway or taxiway, I have the best seat in the house to an aircraft taking off or landing. Other than airplanes, most of the pictures on my phone are of my family!
Q: What do you like most about your job and working at an airport?
A: I’m always learning something new every day; our team here at the airport is incredible, and the work we do to keep PIT safe is extremely rewarding. I also get to see lots of airplanes, so that’s a plus, too!