Monday, April 23, 2012

Four Corners Regional (KFMN), Farmington, New Mexico: Airport considers two finalists for manager position

By Kurt Madar, 
Posted:   04/23/2012 01:29:20 AM MDT

FARMINGTON — Farmington officials have narrowed the search for an airport manager to two candidates, and experts say whoever is hired will be walking into a facility that is bucking national trends.

Todd Gressick and Bill Turner were in town Tuesday to meet city officials, airport users and attend a City Council meeting.

The two candidates were picked from a pool of 30, and according to Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell, who is also the interim airport manager, the city will make a final decision on Wednesday.

"They both brought a wealth of knowledge and they both brought a great deal of experience working at airports and either one would be a good addition to our community," Campbell said. "I'm sure that either one of the two would continue to move the airport forward. It's going to be a hard choice."

The two men come from opposite sides of the U.S. and have more than 20 years of experience between them.

Gressick manages three airports in Delaware for the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

"They are probably about the same size as Farmington," Gressick said. "I'm very interested in the Farmington area. It's a great area and there is a lot of opportunity and challenges for the airport."

If hired, one of Gressick's big pushes would be to use the airport to spur economic development in the area.

"It would be a matter of partnering with the Chamber of Commerce, the economic development people, the county and the Durango airport," Gressick said. "My goal would be to maintain the service the airport currently has, and if there is room for expansion, to capture that as well."

One of the areas Gressick would like to see expansion is in the general aviation side of things.

"I would try to bring in some more corporate and single-engine aircraft," Gressick said. "I've brought some rather large organizations into the airports I manage right now. I brought in Hawker Beechcraft, a repair center for that type of aircraft on the East Coast."

Gressick sees the biggest challenge to Four Corners Regional Airport being its image.

"Definitely the airport has been in the paper a lot for not meeting the needs of the population there and it has a bad rap with Great Lakes," Gressick said. "It would be my goal to improve that."

Turner manages the Imperial County Airport and Holtville Airstrip in Southern California.

"As far as landmass, it's actually bigger than Four Corners Regional Airport," Turner said. "The terminal area is slightly smaller. We see upwards of 7,000 enplanements a year."

Four Corners sees approximately 17,000 enplanements a year, and they have steadily increased since falling sharply in 2008.

"We were up 15 percent last year," Turner said. "Given the state the industry is in that's unusual, but we have started a marketing program to work on the issue."

Turner has approximately seven years of experience managing airports. Before that he was an air traffic controller, worked for the Army and ran his own aviation business.

If hired, his big push would be to increase the marketing for the airport.

"I would like to get the community more involved and to recognize the value of what they have," Turner said. "I would try to get Fed Ex or UPS to move to the airport and actually lease property."

Turner also feels that it would be important to partner with other airports in the area.

"I think the challenge to the airport is to somehow make it more receptive to commercial air travel," Turner said. "It would increase the number of operations out of the airport. The second challenge is involving people in the ownership of the airport."

Turner believes that there is a lot of contention between the airport users and the city that could be alleviated.

"I would like to reduce contention and make both sides work together," Turner said. "The tenants seemed to have a range of concerns and my goal would be to bring the two sides into a more symbiotic relationship."

Whichever candidate is chosen will be taking charge of a facility that is bucking national downward trends.

Mike Boyd, of Boyd Planning International, a consulting firm on the state of the aviation industry, gave a presentation on national aviation trends to the Farmington City Council on Tuesday. While the national picture is one of shrinking service, Farmington has seen just the opposite.

"Communities all across the country are losing air service," Boyd said. "I am talking about local airports. We have some regions that have real issues."

According to Boyd, losing air service is a big hit to potential economic growth.

"If a business person can't get here easily, they're not going to come, not going to put in a factory," Boyd said. "They have to be able to get here from London, from Shanghai."

Fortunately for Farmington, Boyd doesn't see the area losing its air service any time soon.

"The good news is that you're not going to lose any access," Boyd said. "The future here is very bright. Four Corners is going up significantly and what this says is that you're not going to get cut off."

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