Several pilots spoke in support of Telluride Regional Airport manager Richard Nuttall during the airport authority meeting Thursday afternoon.
Nuttall, who has held his post for the past 24 years, may be replaced at the end of next year as the board has engaged in a search for his potential replacement.
“You wouldn’t change horseman mid-rapids,” Jeff Campbell, a local pilot said at the public meeting.
Campbell said he has worked with Nuttall for decades, and considers him a close friend.
“Telluride is a special beast,” Campbell said. “You need people with problem-solving abilities. Rich has that.
“…This just doesn’t make sense to me.”
The board’s succession plan began in August when Atlantic Beach, Fla. firm ADK Consulting was recruited.
The company specializes in executive searches exclusively for the airport industry, according to ADK’s website. The search process is estimated to take up to four months. ADK consultant Linda Frankl met with the airport’s Planning Committee over the summer.
Nuttall’s current contract expires at the end of 2017, board Chairman Jon Dwight explained, but Nuttall may receive a new contract if an adequate successor isn’t found.
Dwight previously explained that the average tenure of an airport manager is seven to eight years.
Sandy and Roger Wickham, both base pilots at the airport, commended Nuttall for his ability to run the airport in the black.
“There is no airport in Colorado that is better managed and operates in the black,” Roger Wickham said.
The board did not directly comment on particulars of the succession plan or why it has been put into place, stating that it was a staffing matter.
Dwight said that it is the board’s responsibility to ensure the future of the airport, and finding a potential new airport manager is part of that.
Tim Hendricks, Telluride base pilot, and chief pilot of Cook Inlet Aviation, simply thanked Nuttall for all he’s done for the airport.
Nuttall, who hasn’t publicly commented on the situation, closed the meeting’s public comments section by thanking those who supported him.
“It’s humbling,” Nuttall said.
Nuttall’s ability to secure grants for airport improvements has been his calling card.
Most recently, the airport announced it will receive a $6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to reconstruct the aircraft parking apron and repair a drainage pipe.
The overall project cost for the work, scheduled to begin April 10 with a targeted completion date of June 21, is $6.7 million. The amount of the FAA grant is $6.029 million. The airport will provide a 10 percent local match toward the project, with $250,000 of the monies to come from the Colorado Division of Aeronautics.
The airport does not receive tax revenue from San Miguel County, Telluride or Mountain Village.
The discussion concerning the management change comes at a time when the airport is about to re-establish commercial passenger service.
Great Lakes Airlines will provide commercial flights to and from the Telluride airport for the first time since 2014 starting Dec. 17, and will partner with United Airlines to book flights to and from Denver International Airport. Great Lakes plans an average of 10 flights per week: one per day during slower periods, and two or more per day during busier times of the year.
The carrier served Telluride continually for 17 years, but discontinued its service on Sept. 16, 2014, given a pilot shortage.