The number of airline passengers boarding planes at the Durango-La Plata County Airport grew by 6.6 percent to 186,527 in 2012.
One person making a departure is Ron Dent, director of the airport for the last 27 years, and whose last day on the job was Friday.
Gary Suiter, a former interim planning director for La Plata County, took over as interim airport director Monday. He will serve until a permanent successor can be found. Suiter has experience running the San Luis Valley Regional Airport when he was the county manager of Alamosa County.
The Durango-La Plata County Airport Commission interviewed three candidates in December, but none worked out, said Tom Greenhut, chairman of the commission that will recommend a candidate for the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners to hire. The city and the county share jurisdiction for the airport.
The commission will interview another four candidates later this month, Greenhut said.
The search is encountering turbulence, such as the area’s high cost of housing, that often discourages highly qualified workers from taking any kind of job in Durango, Greenhut said.
Operationally, however, the airport has improved its efficiency for landings and takeoffs.
The airport in December installed a new multi-lateral system of radio transmitters along the runway for the tracking of planes. The technology is often called the virtual air tower.
Whenever airplanes fly below radar, the transmitters will be able to determine their position.
“It allows (air-traffic controllers) in Denver to see all the way down to the surface of the runway,” Greenhut said. “In the past, planes coming into Durango were actually lost below about 11,000 feet. (Aircraft traffic controllers) had to wait to see if the aircraft had landed on the ground or wait to see if the aircraft cleared the runway, all through the pilot’s communication.”
“It really enhances the ability to get into and out of Durango,” he said.
While the system is operational, local officials are unsure whether it’s being used because all flights are controlled in Denver.
“We have not received word yet from the (Federal Aviation Administration),” Suiter said.