Airport at a crossroads with Turner’s departure
Less than a year after taking the helm at the Grand Junction Regional Airport, executive director Kip Turner is leaving for greener pastures.
It’s not difficult to understand why. Turner came to Grand Junction as the airport was still searching for its footing in the wake of a federal investigation that left several projects in disarray. The situation was compounded by lingering tensions over security measures opposed by outspoken members of general aviation community.
Turner inherited a sticky situation that he handled with great aplomb. He spent most of his short tenure putting out fires and repairing relationships that had suffered as a result of the investigation and the power vacuum that ensued. After firing the former airport director, the airport authority struggled to find an effective replacement until Turner took the job. As The Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported Saturday, the airport will be looking for the fourth time in five years for a new chief.
Turner leaves the airport in better shape than he found it. Certainly the job looks more attractive to potential candidates than it did to Turner when he left the airport in Durango to see if he could turn things around here.
His first order of business was crafting a “survival” plan. Because the investigation stopped construction on a new administrative building halfway to completion and shelved plans to improve the aging terminal, Turner prioritized spending to extend the life of the existing terminal for another decade. The airport will begin about $9 million in repairs using grants and proceeds from a bond issue.
He then turned his attention to expanding air service. He recruited new seasonal service on American Airlines to Los Angeles and negotiated a third daily flight on Delta to Salt Lake City.
He also shepherded a capital improvement plan that calls for $144 million in runway projects and improvements over the next decade. Along the way, he nurtured relationships with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s aeronautics division, the Transportation Security Administration and airport contractors.
Turnover on the airport authority board and Turner’s leadership provided the stability to climb out of the hole the investigation had dug. Turner’s impressive accomplishments in less than a year should offer some assurances to interested candidates that Grand Junction remains full of potential.
By necessity, Turner focused on the immediate challenges at hand. But the airport remains a largely untapped source of economic development. Had he remained, we’re confident Turner would have risen to the challenge of developing lands owned by the airport and working the Air Service Task Force to secure more direct flights to Chicago and West Coast.
Those challenges will fall to the next airport director. Turner left the airport at a crossroads, but better poised to succeed in whichever direction it chooses.