Deputy County Manager Rich Englehart is now serving as interim director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in the wake of the announced retirement of director John Kinney earlier this month, County Manager Jon Peacock said last week.
The process to choose a new director will likely begin later this year, Peacock said.
“We’re not going to be in a big hurry to get the process started,” he said. “We’re going to take some time with Rich in there. We still are assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on the airport and the airlines, and understanding what our budgets are going to look like going forward and what we need in terms of leadership.”
While there will be no rush to search for and hire a new director, Peacock said the county wouldn’t wait too long.
“You want to have leadership in place there and you don’t want it to be uncertain. My guess is we won’t go out for a recruitment until about three months, and it will be a national recruitment, after we have developed a profile for the position,” he said.
Kinney’s announcement was relayed through a county news release issued July 10. It will be effective on Aug. 10, the release states.
He has managed the airport since December 2014. During his tenure, the airport earned national recognition and awards from the Federal Aviation Administration and other organizations, according to the release.
Like Kinney, Englehart was heavily involved in the recent ASE Vision process that included the yearlong work of more than 100 community members to shape a vision for the airport’s future. The efforts of five separate committees culminated with an official recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners in April that the airport’s runway should be widened to accommodate the next generation of aircraft that will serve the air-transportation facility given the expected phasing out of the CRJ-700s currently utilized by the commercial airlines serving the local market.
The final ASE Vision report contained other recommendations as well, including the goals of designing and constructing a modern terminal building, improving passenger connectivity between the city and the airport, and keeping the current runway alignment as it now stands instead of moving it to the west.
Another recommendation — that the county negotiate with the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines over various issues related to airport redevelopment and the types of preferred aircraft to serve Aspen in the not-too-distant future — has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Peacock said. Airlines are still working to recover from the low global demand for travel in the spring.
“COVID-19 has slowed everything down,” he said. “The airlines are still way down in terms of loss of business. This type of planning is not really on their radar screen.”
While Kinney’s retirement takes effect Aug. 10, he will remain on a “consulting retainer” for about three months to assist Englehart and other airport managers with the transition toward a new director, Peacock said.
Englehart has never managed an airport, the county manager said, but he has extensive experience in government operations and is a “generalist” who can work with existing airport personnel to ensure efficiency and handle whatever unexpected situations may arise.
“We went ahead and appointed Rich right away to maintain continuity,” Peacock said. “A little bit like me, he’s a generalist. We’re really comfortable with this transition.”
Kinney is currently taking some accumulated time off, Peacock added. He will receive retirement benefits following his long career in the aviation industry but his role with Pitkin County did not come with a pension.