Flight Plan––Alumnus charts course in aviation as airport director

Seth Hatchell examines a plane propeller at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport where he serves as executive director

Laurinburg native Seth Hatchell figured his pursuit of a career in aviation would land him someplace far away. 

He never guessed his career would take flight right down the street from his childhood home. 

Hatchell, who earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from UNC Pembroke in 2023, is following his passion for flying as executive director of the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport in Scotland County. After serving as the airport’s assistant director for a little more than three years, Hatchell ascended to his current role in January 2023—at age 24.

“I never wanted to leave this area because this is home,” Hatchell said. “But having a passion for aviation, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to stay here.”

Indeed, Hatchell says he wasn’t even aware of the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport growing up. His interest in flight was sparked at a young age and then fanned by an aeronautics course while an undergraduate student at Liberty University.

“As soon as I started that class, I fell in love with it,” Hatchell said. “I knew that something to do with flying and aviation was what I wanted to do for a living.”

Hatchell completed his undergraduate degree in aeronautics from Liberty in 2019, earning his pilot’s license as part of the program. He was poised to move to Seattle after graduation, accepting a position with Amazon to work on drone research and development, when another opportunity came out of the blue.

“It came to my attention that the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport could be looking to hire someone,” Hatchell said. “The next thing I know, I’ve interviewed for the job and they hired me in July 2019 as assistant director.”

In addition to allowing Hatchell and his wife, Kelsey, to come back to Laurinburg, serving as assistant director allowed him to learn about every aspect of airport management. While he had a firm grasp on the aeronautics part of the job, Hatchell knew he would need to develop his business skills to move forward in his career.

He explored several MBA programs but kept coming back to the one at UNC Pembroke as he narrowed his choices.

“My decision for choosing UNCP was based on the cost, its location close to home and its accreditation,” Hatchell said. UNCP’s Thomas College of Business and Economics is accredited by the Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), a designation held by just five percent of the world’s business schools. “I realized I could get a high-quality MBA degree from UNCP’s online program at a significantly lower cost than if I had gone somewhere else,” he said. “And if I needed to meet with a professor to talk about a project or a question in person, they were only 20 minutes from home.”

Hatchell said the MBA program combines high academic standards with practical exercises such as business simulations.

“I remember two marketing simulations that were so realistic,” Hatchell said. “In one scenario, my group acted as a toothpaste company, and we had to research which market in South America would be the best one to enter. In the other, we were a car company and had to decide whether the new vehicle we were going to bring to market would be electric, hybrid or gasoline. These simulations have helped me take what I learned and apply it in situations I face in my job.”

The MBA faculty provided close guidance and support every step of the way and fostered a sense of community in Hatchell’s classes. A human resources class with Dr. Melissa Mann, associate professor, was just one example.

“Dr. Mann had a weekly video call with the entire class,” Hatchell said. “It’s the kind of group setting you might not normally associate with an online program. But it was so helpful because she encouraged all of us to answer questions and be involved in the conversation. Learning with classmates in real time was a big plus.”

With his MBA degree in hand, Hatchell is excited about his future and the opportunity to lead a unique airport like Laurinburg-Maxton. Built in 1942 as the Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base, it was the world’s largest facility for training glider pilots in its early years. After World War II, the Department of Defense gave the air base’s land and infrastructure to the City of Laurinburg and Town of Maxton to operate as a general aviation airport. Today, the airport serves corporate, general and military flights and has 35 aircraft based there, primarily small planes with two to six seats.

“I think the airport’s future is really bright,” Hatchell said. “We have a flight school with a certified flight instructor, as well as a certified Airframe and Powerplant mechanic onsite. We have the Golden Knights, the US Army parachute team who trains here most days. We’re hosting a large air show here in September of 2025. There’s still so much more we can do.”

Hatchell said Laurinburg-Maxton’s 6,500-foot runway can be extended to 8,500 feet, which would open the door for the airport to expand its services and help the regional economy even more.

“With the longer runway, we could put ourselves on the map to serve cargo flights in the future,” Hatchell said. “I think we can be a great location for aviation manufacturing and we’re trying to grow general aviation as well. It’s really our mission to be the best general aviation airport in the Carolinas. We’ve got nothing but great intentions and high aspirations.”