Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport director Brauer to retire

A longtime fixture at Rhinelander/Oneida County Airport will be handing over the controls to the next generation in May.

Airport director Joe Brauer will be retiring, and Rhinelander High School alum Matt Leitner will be his successor.

Brauer told the airport commission in December he planned to retire this spring after 28 years, and the search for a replacement began immediately.

The airport commission hired a search firm to recruit a replacement, with advertising for the position starting in January 2018. The search was concentrated in the Great Lakes region and upper midwest so the candidates would know what to expect from a Northwoods winter.

"Not too many people in Florida want to come run an airport in northern Wisconsin," Brauer said late last week in an exclusive sit-down interview with The Lakeland Times' sister paper River News.

"We ended up getting 20 people interested in this position, of those 20, 11 actually replied, and they came from various walks of life from running general aviation airports to working commercial airports," Brauer said.

Those 11 applicants were then presented with a complete written, essay-style questionnaire from the search firm. The answers resulted in the field being narrowed to six candidates. After another round of questioning, the field was cut to two candidates.

At the March 15 meeting of the airport commission, Leitner, 39, was selected as Brauer's replacement by a unanimous vote.

Bob Heck, chairman of the airport commission, said Leitner is a hometown boy coming home.

A 1997 graduate of Rhinelander High School, Leitner started hanging out at the airport when he was 11 years old after he won an hour of flight training in the air. He grew up in aviation, soloing on his 16th birthday, the absolute youngest he could do so, and was a hanger rat through junior and high school, hanging around the general aviation operation where he was eventually hired.

Leitner went to Georgia State University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 2003, and a MPA from George College in 2008. He then worked for a few years in the airline industry before becoming the director of the Jamestown North Dakota Regional Airport from 2010 to 2014 before he took over the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority in Crescent City, Calif., where he is still.

Despite his relatively young age, Heck said Leitner was far and away the best candidate to replace Brauer.

"Of all the interviews that I have done through the years, probably hundreds of them, I don't think I was ever more impressed," Heck said. "He has incredible background, he has incredible knowledge, I mean he's as knowledgeable of the facts and everything else as it gets."

Heck said he is "incredibly excited" for Leitner to be coming, especially since he grew up at the local airport. Brauer said Leitner, starting at age 15, would wash planes and do other chores around the general aviation hanger to earn flying time to pursue his pilot's license.

"It (getting the job as director) was almost like a dream coming true for him," Heck said.

May 7 will be Leitner's first day, with Brauer sticking around until May 18, a day after his 67th birthday. After that, he will become a "friend of the airport."

"They have been good to me," Brauer said. "I have no intention of ever going back to work again, anyway.

"It's been a great ride. I had a great career in the airlines industry."

Brauer started Feb. 1, 1990. On that first day, Brauer faced his first problem on a 9 a.m. airline flight that started in Appleton and was due to make a stop at Rhinelander before ending up in Minneapolis.

"I was sitting in my office getting acquainted and doing whatever else like that and all of a sudden I get a call from my fire fighting crew and you got an aircraft coming in here that only has two green lights," Brauer said. "That means you have the nose wheels and the two mains and you should have been getting three greens. So I said, 'Oh, boy!'"

He requested the pilot of the plane do a flyby so the assembled fire and rescue crews can visually check the landing gear. The report came that all three are down, but there is no way to tell if they were locked. The plane landed safely.

"Of all the managers I've had here, Joe did the best job," Heck said. "He is the best airport manager this airport ever had."

Brauer's longevity with Heck and the commission has resulted in a study improvement to the airport.

"In my tenure here, we've done over $25 million in projects," Brauer said. "There has been a lot that has happened over time."

For Leitner, his aviation journey from Rhinelander and back that started with that birthday gift at age 11 of that gift certificate has taken him a long way from home.

That he even became a pilot was due to the dedication he demonstrated with his love of flying ever since that first trip into the sky took extra dedication for Leitner because he is blind in one eye.

"As a child in Rhinelander, I had to appeal to the FAA to grant me a waiver," Leitner said. "Which I got, so I'm able to fly with me being blind in my right eye."

He said he started riding his bike out to the airport every summer day when he was 12 "and go to Rhinelander Flying Service and beg for a ride." He eventually got a job at Rhinelander Flying Service.

Now he's coming back to replace a man who he knew growing up.

"It's an honor, I think, more than anything," Leitner said. "I feel confident in my ability to carry on his tradition. I think he's done a wonderful job. I think it is an honor to be his successor."

He also said the best part of the new job is coming home.

"I look forward to reconnecting with all those I might have known growing up," Leitner said. 

Original article can be found here ➤  http://www.lakelandtimes.com

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