Swinging Into Action

Written by: 
Monique Bird
Mark Duebner in airport
Mark Duebner ('96 M.P.A.) (Photo courtesy of Mark Duebner)

When the deadly Ebola virus came to Dallas in 2014, UNT alum Mark Duebner ('96 M.P.A.) knew he had an important part to play. Duebner, as director of aviation for the city of Dallas, helped make the call to use the Dallas Love Field Airport as a transfer point for the two nurses diagnosed with the disease. There was no margin for error. 

"The consequences if we made a mistake were too frightening to even think about," Duebner says.

The two patients were ultimately flown from their Medical Intensive Care Units in Dallas to facilities in Maryland and Atlanta, where they went on to recover. For Duebner, a UNT degree helped with the challenges.

"It's really about preparation and then swinging into action," he says. "Training is important because you're not going to have time to talk about what needs to be done. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

From the bottom up

Over the years, Duebner has seemingly done it all with the city of Dallas -- from public works, transportation and streets, to service as the top civilian commander for the Dallas Police, to business procurement of more than $200 million in goods. A UNT-required internship 23 years ago gave Duebner his start in the city manager's office.

"From the very beginning, I got to see everything from the top level," he says. "By far the most important thing was to be able to sit in on meetings and discussions with the executive staff to watch how they worked through decisions on budget, policy and the city's overall strategy to address various issues. Learning how to consider multiple points of view, thinking about what impacts these decisions would have, and how to navigate working with the mayor and council was invaluable in helping me do what I do now."

He worked his way up and landed in the city's aviation department in 2011 -- making him one of the biggest names in the field. Among his honors, he was named to D CEO's 2018 edition of The Dallas 500, a list of the most powerful business leaders in the area. Today, Duebner oversees the Dallas Executive Airport as well as the city's vertiport and the bustling Dallas Love Field Airport.

He helped with Love Field's expansion after the repeal of the Wright Amendment in 2013 and completes everyday tasks to keep the air traffic flowing.

"You're not going to get headlines for getting a contract to buy a de-icer or buying a new fire apparatus," he says. "The sad news is that you go to a lot of meetings. I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but meetings are necessary for people to communicate and collaborate."

Still, some tasks are beyond the usual. When Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas, Love Field, received 26 aircraft with more than 1,900 evacuees that needed to be bused to local shelters. He worked 12 hours daily for 32 days to help with the relocations. And when three dogs wouldn't fit on the bus taking evacuees to an Arlington shelter, he even drove the pet passengers across town himself.

An economic propeller

Regardless of whether the work is ordinary or extraordinary, Duebner knows that air transport is vital to the DFW economy.

"The airports are definitely economic engines, not just a commercial service," he says. "When we talk about multipliers and economic impact, the number of jobs related to aviation is a strong example. Love Field provides about 10,000 jobs in various areas. Then you have all these other businesses that support aviation."

Before his tenure with Dallas, he was working in the financial service industry as a broker and licensed insurance agent, but wanted to do something different.

"I wasn't terribly happy in my career," says Duebner, whose desire to work in the public sector led him to UNT's Master of Public Administration program. U.S. News & World Report ranks the program in the top 50 of graduate M.P.A. programs nationwide, and ranked it No. 1 in Texas and No. 5 among U.S. public universities for its local government management specialty.

"The M.P.A. is great at giving you the foundation for understanding how to learn and be inquisitive and analyze and research, regardless of the industry," he adds. "I went into aviation with zero experience in that field, but the business side of my degree helped me hit the ground running."

Staying grounded

Since then, Duebner has continued his relationship with UNT. He has taken part in discussion panels with students and industry leaders at UNT's Center for Logistics Education and Research. He also helped to coordinate the strategy for the city of Dallas to renovate the building for the UNT Dallas College of Law, working with Cynthia Hall, director of system and external relations, for the UNT System in the office of then Chancellor Lee Jackson.

"You may graduate but you never go far from your roots," Duebner says. "One huge strength of the M.P.A program is the network you build with your classmates, which you carry forward throughout your career."

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