The Elizabeth City Regional Airport will have a new director who's a former Marine, with additional experience as a defense contract worker and, most recently, as operations manager at Pitt-Greenville Airport.
Gordon Rowell, 49, said he'll report for work in Pasquotank County on Nov. 1. His last day at Pitt-Greenville Airport was on Friday.
Reached by phone on Friday, Rowell said he wants to grow relationships with the Elizabeth City Regional Airport's neighbor, the Coast Guard base, and with nearby Elizabeth City State University.
Additionally, Rowell said he wants to appeal to and secure business from corporations who have jet aircraft.
Rowell said while he loves single-engine airplanes and wants to see as many of them coming in as possible, he wants to get some corporate jet owners to base their aircraft here because those aircraft use more fuel than the weekend aviators.
“I think it would make the place more financially stable if we had some based jets,” he said.
The Elizabeth City Regional Airport, which dates back to 1972, is a general aviation facility that serves many private aviators and also provides refueling for military aircraft. The airport also contributes to the estimated $384 million impact that aviation makes to the local economy.
Rowell on Friday acknowledged the significance of an airport in helping recruit future businesses and industries to a city and a county.
“By and large, most of your airports, whether they get a lot of attention for it or not, are economic development tools,” he said. “They add a certain platform for a lot of companies.”
Rowell said he also knows that there are some companies in the business world looking to expand and that they will look to have an aviation center somewhere.
“It adds to their capabilities whenever you can get on an airplane and go someplace to do business somewhere else,” he said.
Rowell said he applied for the position at Elizabeth City Regional Airport because he likes the Elizabeth City area and because, as a former military man, he likes the Coast Guard being just across the flight line.
Additionally, Rowell cited what he said is the natural progression for being an airport operations person to managing an airport.
“So this was a step up for me and I figured it was time for me to actually do that,” he said.
Airport Authority Chairman Don Parks said on Friday that Rowell is going to be paid approximately $73,000 a year. Parks said that he believes it's good that he and fellow authority members “got a local guy,” with local being in the sense of not from far off from Elizabeth City.
“I think he's going to do a good job,” he said.
Parks also said that he and his fellow members liked Rowell being a former Marine long involved in aviation and are “absolutely” looking forward to working with him.
“We can't wait for him to get on the ground here and take off and hopefully do some great things,” he said.
Rowell, who's originally from Chicago, said he served in the Marines from 1987-2004, both stateside and all over the world. His job was to service aircraft. He also served for a time as a Marine recruiter.
Rowell particularly recalled the impact of seeing the 1986 movie “Heartbreak Ridge,” which starred Clint Eastwood as a fictional salty Marine gunnery sergeant determined to cut through bureaucratic red tape in getting a slack recon platoon into shape.
Rowell said the character played by Eastwood was an inspiration when he was younger, but he said he learned in the Marines that it's not necessarily always great to go in with guns blazing. He said he learned that it also sometimes takes a bit more finesse to get things done.
And he added that, “You have to operate as a team to get things accomplished.”
He said he went on to work approximately six years in the defense contracting business, also servicing aircraft, before joining Pitt-Greenville Airport.
Pitt-Greenville Airport, which dates back to 1940, today is one of American Airlines' spokes that link with a hub in Charlotte.
Asked to describe what he did at Pitt-Greenville Airport as the operations official there, he summed up his now-former job this way: “If it stands still, I have to make sure I paint it. If it moves, I have to make sure it's oiled and serviced.” He said he supervised 27 people.
Rowell spoke Friday about knowing Elizabeth City State University has an aviation education program. ECSU's aviation program is the only one offered in North Carolina.
Rowell said that in fact while at Pitt-Greenville Airport, he oversaw an intern from ECSU who was learning how to fly aircraft. He also said he taught the intern much about Pitt-Greenville Airport's operations.
Additionally, he said he'll put College of The Albemarle officials on his checklist to go see. COA has a regional aviation and technical training center in Currituck County.
As for the Coast Guard officials locally, he said, “I'm very eager to meet them and find out what their long-term plans are for what they want to do with that place.”
Rowell will be filling a vacancy resulting from the resignation of Dion Viventi approximately three months ago.
Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Director Wayne Harris doubled as the airport's interim director. Viventi is presently managing director of the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport Authority.
Rowell is going to become the third Elizabeth City Regional Airport manager hired in an approximately decade-long period.
Viventi, a former N.C. Department of Transportation official, had been airport manager since January 2014. He had succeeded Scott Hinton, a former Coast Guard search and rescue pilot who's presently general manager of Freedom Aviation in Lynchburg, Virginia.