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Earle leaving as airport chief; assistant named interim director

By: WAYNE HEILMAN
March 22, 2013
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photo - Mark Earle Photo by
Mark Earle Photo by  

Mark Earle has resigned as director of the Colorado Springs Airport amid a disagreement over how the airport should try to attract more passengers and airline service, Mayor Steve Bach said Friday.

Earle has been replaced on an interim basis by Dan Gallagher, who has been the airport’s assistant aviation director for planning and development. Earle, who served as the city’s aviation director for nearly a decade, has agreed to serve as senior adviser-airport and aviation affairs for the rest of the year to assist the city and Gallagher in the transition.

“It became clear after nine months of working together that Mark and I wanted to head in different directions,” Bach said during a telephone interview Friday. “After a lot of meetings on strategic direction in respect to marketing, it was clear we were on different tracks and he told me, ‘Why don’t you hire someone more in line with your philosophy.’”

Earle was not available Friday for comment. In a news release issued by the city, Earle said he was honored to serve in the post and praised his staff, saying he was committed to ensuring a smooth transition.

Bach said he will take over meeting with airlines that the airport is targeting for new or expanded service. He also plans to seek proposals from marketing consultants on how the airport should more aggressively market itself in the shadow of Denver International Airport, the nation’s fifth-busiest hub.

“I think we have to be a lot more aggressive in very targeted ways and we need to find somebody who is aligned with that thinking,” Bach said. “We have to do more than a simply superb job of operations. I am concerned about the continuing loss of traffic at the airport and have talked with enough employers and people in the tourism business who are concerned about the lack of flights” at the airport.

The move comes just two weeks before Frontier Airlines will end service to Colorado Springs after five years, which Bach said played a role in the change. The Denver-based carrier had made the Springs a “focus city” in May with nonstop flights to four western U.S. cities and had become the airport’s third-largest carrier before pulling the plug on the experiment in January. After Frontier’s April 7 departure, the airport still has nonstop service to 10 other cities.

As a result of a 47 percent jump in Frontier’s passenger numbers, traffic at the airport rose slightly last year for the first time since 2007. The Springs airport and other midsized airports nationwide have been hit hard as airlines reduced flights and used smaller aircraft on remaining flights as travel declined during the recession and fuel prices surged. Traffic numbers fell nearly 20 percent during Earle’s tenure as director.

“The city is confident that with a renewed effort we will be successful in attracting new airlines to the airport and substantially increase passenger volumes,” Bach said in the news release Friday. “The increased success of the airport will be a very important factor in our ongoing economic recovery.”

Doug Price, CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Friday he was “surprised and disappointed” by Earle’s sudden departure.

“I have worked very closely with Mark in the two years I have been here. He is respected throughout the community and the aviation industry. He has a unique background working with both military and civilian aviation.”

Earle became aviation director in August 2003 after spending 8½ years running Lubbock International Airport in Texas. He also spent 4½ years as assistant aviation director of McAllen-Miller International Airport, also in Texas. He serves as a member of the Colorado Springs Military Affairs Committee and as a director of the National Museum of World War II Aviation and the Peterson Air Force Base Museum.

The news release Friday included no details about the search for Earle’s replacement, other than the city plans to conduct a national search. Gallagher was hired by the airport in September 2010 after serving as capital programs manager for San Antonio International Airport.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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