Kip Turner, director of aviation at Durango-La Plata County Airport, has accepted the top job at the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority. The move comes as Durango and the county prepare to go to voters for a tax increase for a new airport terminal.
The salary offer for the executive director position is $160,000, according to the Grand Junction Sentinel, which would be a 60 percent raise from the just over $100,000 Turner makes in Durango.
“It’s a career move across the board for me,” he said. “It took a lot of thought and prayer for me and my family, because we have really, really enjoyed our time in Durango.”
Turner submitted his resignation to the county and the city of Durango on Friday afternoon, with an identified last day on the job as June 27.
“My current agreement calls for a 60-day notice,” Turner said, “and if I am asked to complete it, I certainly will.
“I hope I have been productive and have helped drive DRO (Durango’s airport code) forward,” Turner said. “I worked to address the infrastructure challenges, and I feel very blessed to have been part of this experience.”
The move comes at a good time for the Turner family, he said. His son, Frankie, is graduating from Durango High School in May and will head to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His daughter, Dawn, is graduating from Fort Lewis College on Saturday with a degree in music. She’s planning to marry a Marine stationed in Hawaii after graduation.
Among Turner’s considerations was the fact that the Grand Junction airport is a little larger than Durango’s.
“They handle about 60,000 more passengers annually, and they have two more airlines with direct flights to ... Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Los Angeles and Las Vegas,” he said.
La Plata County Manager Joe Kerby said Turner leaves a “litany” of accomplishments from his time at the airport.
“Walking us through the process of updating the airport master plan, which laid the groundwork as it applies to the expansion of the terminal is certainly a big one,” Kerby said. “He brought a level of professionalism that has made our airport highly regarded and tackled numerous operational issues such as paid parking and concessionaire contracts, that kind of thing.”
Turner’s ability to build relationships has stood the airport in good stead, Kerby said.
“He got us on the radar to get the Navy’s Blue Angels for our air show next year,” Kerby said. “And he’s very talented in conversations with airlines and pursuing development of air flights for our community. The new LAX (Los Angeles) service that begins June 1 resulted from Kip’s discussions with that particular airline.”
The Grand Junction airport has struggled to find stability in the position since 2014, when director Rex Tippetts was fired after an FBI investigation into fraud at the facility. Since then, operations manager Ben Johnson, who worked in the post for six months, elected to return to his former position, and the airport “parted company” with his successor, David Fiore, in January, the Sentinel reported.
In limbo on a new administration building, which is unfinished after construction was halted in 2014, the Grand Junction airport is working on plans to build a new runway.
“The airport is governed by an authority, so I’ll have to wait and hear what their priorities are,” Turner said. In Durango, he has reported to both the county and the city. “There are pros and cons to both governance scenarios, but I think I favor the structure of the authority.”
Finding a new director of aviation at Durango-La Plata County Airport will take at least three to six months and could take longer, Kerby said. The job will be advertised with industry associations and trade publications.
“I’ll be conferring with (Durango City Manager) Ron LeBlanc early next week, and we’ll be talking about quite a few things related to Kip’s decision,” Kerby said late Friday afternoon. “I don’t know if we’ll keep the job description the same or make changes, but that will certainly be part of the discussion.”
firstname.lastname@example.org This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Joe Kerby’s last name.