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How airport infrastructure company chief Sabina Mohammadi built a career in aerospace

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Sabina Mohammadi vividly remembers the BOAC flight that carried her – then a young child – and her family to the UK in 1969.

Her parents were from Kashmir – a region long at the centre of an oft-violent land dispute between India and Pakistan – and her family was emigrating in search of a new life.

That flight ignited Mohammadi’s love for aviation – a passion that would lead her to become a private pilot and to launch American Infrastructure Development (AID), a growing, 20-employee Tampa-based firm that assists airports with infrastructure projects.

The company, which now brings in about $6 million in annual revenue, provides airports with planning, design, engineering and project management work. Its projects involve, for instance, runway and taxiway rehabilitations, hangar construction and terminal expansions.

Mohammadi, now 57, has succeeded in an industry largely dominated by men. She has not felt held back, and describes her success as a reflection of hard work, reputation, strong industry relationships and the strength of her team.

“I stick out like a sore thumb because I’m a female… in a male-dominated industry,” Mohammadi says. “So, when I walk in, people… know who I am, and they know who the company is, and they know our team.

“You are only as good as your last job,” she adds.

After living for several years in the UK, Mohammadi’s family moved to Canada around 1973 before coming to the USA in 1975, settling in South Carolina. She fell in love with the original Star Trek television series – “It was just, to me, magical,” she says – and her family often travelled by air.

“I really loved Pan American, and Eastern Air Lines,” Mohammadi says. “Back then, I used to be able to step into the cockpit and meet the pilots… they’d give you little wings and colouring books and crayons.”

Mohammadi’s career followed a winding path that eventually led to the industry that inspires her.

She attended the University of South Carolina, achieving a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in healthcare administration.

Mohammadi ended up working at the US Department of Transportation as a manager of roadway, bridge and other engineering projects. The job involved coordinating with elected officials and constituents, and taught her about large-scale transportation infrastructure and the influence such projects have on communities.

She later worked for a lawyer on projects involving real estate and land acquisitions, held a procurement job at a large hospital network and became a licensed real estate agent.

PAST EXPERIENCE

After the 2007-2008 real estate market crash, Mohammadi considered her next move. She read up on large development projects then underway in Florida, taking particular interest in aviation projects like those at Tampa International airport. Thanks to her past work, she understood the ins and outs of such efforts.

“I started looking more and more into aviation,” Mohammadi says. “And I thought… I could just do programme project management again.”

She attended numerous outreach events, including those hosted by Tampa International, where she met people with similar interests, including engineers and project managers who were looking for new opportunities. She also worked with the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida.

Before long, Mohammadi had collected a stack of 50-60 resumes. She thought: “If I can help these people [find] some work… it’ll be a win-win for them and for me,” she says. “That’s how AID started.”

Launched by chief executive Mohammadi in 2009, the firm also helps to design and oversee projects involving aprons, fencing, parking lots, drainage systems and rental car facilities. And it provides planning services involving noise and environmental studies, airspace analyses, pollution prevention plans, emergency plans and hangar layouts. The company manages construction projects and assists airports with securing federal grants.

Sabina Mohammadi, CEO of American Infrastructure Development

AID assisted with Tampa International’s construction of a 975m (3,200ft) elevated concrete taxiway. It provided St Pete-Clearwater International airport with design services related to rehabilitation of a 3,048m taxiway and construction of seven taxiway connectors, and supplied the airport with a storm water master plan.

A top client has been St Croix’s Henry E Rohlsen airport. AID was lead engineer for, and managed construction of, that airport’s new rescue and firefighting facility. It also helped St Croix’s airport with runway, taxiway and apron improvements, and helped renovate passenger waiting areas.

AID has also done work at Albert Whitted airport in St Petersburg, Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional airport, Orlando International airport, Palm Beach International airport and Peter O Knight airport in Tampa. The company has several offices in Florida, and others in St Croix and Washington DC. It frequently partners with some of the USA’s larger engineering firms, like AECOM, C&S Companies, Jacobs and VHB.

Mohammadi is now plotting further expansion for AID, with plans to add a new architectural services arm this year and to eventually launch a real estate division, which would, for instance, provide services related to land acquisitions and leasing. She is also pursuing more airport-related work with the US military.

But her growth goals are modest, grounded by a philosophy of prioritising relationships and quality over expansion.

“We like to be lean and mean,” she says. “It’s not all about the big bucks, but it’s about the comfort level. We always want to make sure the projects are moving smoothly… that’s more important.”

Having always been fascinated by aviation, she received a private pilot license in 2012, flying out of Brooksville, north of Tampa.

Mohammadi has three adult children, all of whom help out with the company. She loves animals, and has opened her home to a variety of creatures who needed a place to live. The clan now stands at four cats, three dogs, two birds and two cows – a mother, Bell, and her bull calf Buttercup. ”Anything that needs a home,” Mohammadi says.

While aviation tends to be dominated by men, Mohammadi thinks women hold more senior positions than many people might realise, particularly in jobs like airport directors, engineers and planners. “A lot of women… run this industry, you just don’t hear about it,” she says.

She also stresses the importance of accepting and facing challenges, saying, “You can always let something get in the way of success. Make yourself fit in.”

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