The pending retirement of Ron Dent has city and county officials searching for a new manager of the Durango-La Plata Airport for the first time in nearly 27 years.
Dent, 65, will stay on the job until his replacement is named, which might not happen until next year at the earliest, according to estimates from an airport commission meeting Wednesday.
Dent doesn’t think he is going anywhere soon.
“Maybe I will be around long enough to get my name on the terminal expansion,” he joked.
Some recognition might be in order. Under Dent’s leadership, the annual number of boardings has more than doubled from 85,000 in 1986 to an anticipated 185,000 for 2012.
Durango-La Plata touts itself as the premier airport of the Four Corners with connections to three major airports: Denver, Dallas and Phoenix.
“Ron Dent is an institution,” Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “He has done a wonderful job managing the airport for 27 years. He is the most respected regional airport manager in the state and perhaps across the country for airports this size.”
A geophysicist by training and a former Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks ranger, Dent recalled having to pull a rattlesnake from the airport’s baggage chute in 1986.
The credentials that got him the job in the 1980s would not qualify him for the job today, said Airport Commissioner Marcel Theberge.
The county and city, which jointly own the airport, prefer candidates with seven years of airport management experience and three years of working at a hub airport. The advertised salary range is $75,000 to $107,000.
Officials also desire candidates to be like Dent with a pilot’s license, but it is not required. Dent thinks the next airport manager should be someone who knows the airline industry and how to compete for state and federal grants.
The hardest challenge is staying on top of a rapidly changing business. In his career, Dent has seen the demise of the regional airlines and the trend toward 200-seat planes.
Dent said the airport needs to modernize with a bigger terminal with the capacity to serve passengers with concessions and a newsstand on the other side of the security gate. There should be air bridges “so people don’t have to walk to the planes in the frozen cold of winter,” he said.
While the depressed real estate market will make it difficult to recruit candidates from outside the region, Dent anticipates the job opportunity to appeal to the up-and-comers and the more experienced candidates looking to “get out of the rat race” of managing hub airports.
The local scenery is “half the pay,” he said.
When he came to Durango from Montana, Dent thought he would stay for a couple of years and move on to a bigger job, but then he fell in love with the area.
An Ironman competitor who just missed qualifying for the world championships in Hawaii this year, Dent said he wants to retire so he will have time to enjoy himself.