Kristin Swoboda accepts position in NPS Aviation Branch

Kristin Swoboda
Kristin Swoboda. NPS photo by Tina Boehle.

Kristin Swoboda has been named as the new fleet, pilot, and unmanned aircraft (UAS) specialist for the National Park Service. She will have oversight over the agency’s government owned and operated aircraft.

The last NPS person in the position was Jim Traub who retired in 2014. Christina Boehle, a spokesperson for the NPS, said that from 2014 to 2018 the duties were performed by a contractor.

The National Park Service Aviation Branch has been led by Chief Meg Gallagher since April of this year. Before that Ms. Gallagher was an Aviation Management Specialist responsible for the NPS’ helicopter operations. That position, a GS-12/13, is being advertised now.

Ms. Swoboda just transferred to the National Park Service after working for the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) in Boise, Idaho as their regional UAS manager. During her time with the bureau, she initiated their involvement with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Kristin was instrumental in assisting the development of a department-level UAS policy for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and was part of the team of DOI subject matter experts who worked with NASA to evaluate and select potential new unmanned aircraft. She completed her formal education at the University of Idaho where she graduated with a degree in Forest Resources Ecosystems Management and a minor in Wildfire Management.

She began her federal career with the US Forest Service working in a variety of positions in wildland fire operations, prescribed fire, aviation, engine crews, as well as on an interagency hotshot crew.

In the past few years, her interest in unmanned aircraft carried over into the creation of a personal commercial UAS business focused mainly on precision agriculture applications. This has aided in increasing her breadth of knowledge in unmanned operations, camera/sensor deployment, and the creation of multiple types of data products.

Kristin also holds a private pilot’s license and owns a Beechcraft Sierra B24R low-wing monoplane. She has experience in flying various types of aircraft including an Atec Faeta, Piper Archer, Piper Warrior, Cirrus SR22, Columbia 400 and Cessna Taildraggers. Fostering her love of flying has accelerated her passion to expand her aviation knowledge, and to develop this enthusiasm in others.

Jim Traub National Park Service
Jim Traub (right) at AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI in 2009. He retired July 30, 2014.

NPS to hire branch chief for aviation

Above: National Park Service photo.

The National Park Service is expecting to hire a National Aviation Program Manager to fill the position vacated last month by the retirement of Jon Rollens. The GS-14 position provides leadership and direction for NPS aviation programs with specific emphasis on national aviation policy, standards and procedures.

There is only one “selective placement factor”. Applicants must have at least 90 days of wildland firefighting experience.

A pilot’s license is not required.

Skills the candidates should have include knowledge of:

  • Aircraft and associated support systems for resource management;
  • Wildland fire management, law enforcement, search and rescue, and related flying activities;
  • Evaluation and audit processes for aviation safety and risk management analysis.

Neither Mr. Rollens or his predecessor, Susie Bates, were pilots.

Before becoming NPS Branch Chief of Aviation in 2011, Mr. Rollens was the Regional Aviation Officer  for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northwest Region for nine years. From 1997 through 2002 he was a National Aerial Attack Systems Specialist for the Forest Service, and before that, a Helicopter Operations Specialist for the USFS Intermountain Region.


Our opinion:

The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the other federal land management agencies would benefit from having qualified pilots in their top regional and national aviation positions. We have been told that the USFS National Aviation Officer is not a pilot and only one of their Regional Aviation Officers is. A person in these jobs who does not know what they don’t know can be dangerous.

For a position that leads the entire aviation program, if it comes down to two applicants, one with 90 days as a wildland firefighter and another with a pilot’s license, the pilot should get the nod. Most of the complexity in these positions is on the aviation side, not the firefighting aspect. There is a great deal of fire expertise in the organizations that the Aviation Officers can tap into. A wealth of specific and detailed aviation knowledge from a pilots perspective is more rare.

Federal hiring procedures are ridiculously complex, but these agencies should figure out a way to be able to hire at the GS-13 and 14 level, a pilot with extensive program management skills, even if they don’t have firefighting experience.