County hires L.A. official as the new airport director | AspenTimes.com

County hires L.A. official as the new airport director

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

John Kinney

John Kinney, an aviation management veteran with 28 years of experience in Arizona, Colorado and California, will serve as the next Aspen-Pitkin County Airport director, county officials announced Monday.

Kinney, 54, will succeed Jim Elwood, who announced his resignation in August to take a job at Jackson Hole Airport, in Wyoming, after 13 years in Aspen. Currently serving as director of emergency management for Los Angeles World Airports, Kinney is expected to start Dec. 15 at an annual salary of $140,000.

County Manager Jon Peacock, who came to the decision after fielding input from various stakeholders over a number of weeks, said Kinney's nearly three decades of experience as well as his ability to interact with the community stood out during the hiring process.

"I think it's really about experience with communities that share a concern for environmental qualities, whether it be noise, air quality, impacts on aviation to resort-based communities balanced with how important it is to have robust air service available," Peacock said of Kinney, who served in various roles at Scottsdale Airport, Long Beach Airport and Denver International Airport before his tenure at Los Angeles International Airport.

Peacock said redevelopment plans at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport scheduled between 2017 and 2022 weighed heavily on the hiring. He added that the proposed terminal improvements, a relocated/widened runway and the addition of a second fixed-base operator for private jets, will "define the future of commercial air service" in Aspen. He expressed confidence that Kinney will be able to engage the community and reach compromises using his experience and relationships he's cultivated at other airports.

In an interview Monday, Kinney said the most challenging aspect of the estimated $121 million to $132 million project will be balancing community needs with safety, security and development needs at the airport. He said that adjusting Aspen's runway to meet federal standards to accommodate larger planes will have a ripple effect.

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"You just want to make sure that those don't take place at any one group's expense," Kinney said. "You've got to find that happy medium. … Not a lot of airports take that approach, which Pitkin County has, and very visibly has put that stake in the ground of, 'We want community involvement, we value it, we're going to listen, and we want you folks to help us shape the direction of the airport.'"

A San Diego native, Kinney beat out two other candidates for the job: 33-year-old Brian Grefe, Aspen's assistant director of aviation, and 59-year-old Roy Williams, former director of airports in New Orleans and Salt Lake City. Peacock said Grefe plans to remain in his position and "has a bright future." Peacock also addressed Williams' termination in 2006 from Salt Lake City International Airport, saying there were no deal-breakers in the decision process.

"Obviously, we had vetted that to a certain degree before bringing the candidates in," he said.

While Kinney described Denver and Los Angeles as an apples-to-oranges comparison to Aspen, he said he's learned that "big does not always mean best." He's looking forward to the heightened level of engagement and intimacy at a smaller airport.

"It's been a great 10 years learning at big airports, but I'm very interested in getting into a more diverse agenda day in and day out," he said, likening Aspen to Scottsdale, where he said community involvement was a high priority.

Kinney said he has watched footage of the private jet that crashed on Aspen's runway in January, killing a co-pilot and injuring two others. Citing his experience overseeing safety at a major airport, he said that aspect has to be priority No. 1.

"Safety just has to be the No. 1 priority for the people working at the airport, for the people coming to utilize the airport, for the aircraft, the pilots, the flight crews — everyone," he said. "Safety is always the priority, and it really can't be second to any other category."

Noting that his wife is a third generation native of Colorado with ties to Denver and Aspen, Kinney said the decision to accept the job was "a quality-of-life issue."

"It's coming back to where your family is and just to a place in the valley that is incredibly special, filled with unsurpassed levels of skiing and fly-fishing and horseback riding and any other outdoor activity you choose to list," he said.

herk@aspentimes.com