Nov. 3—With the director of the Medford airport leaving his job in December, the search is on for a new leader of the growing airport.
Jerry Brienza's last day at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport is Dec. 16. He said he plans to move to North Carolina to help other aviation businesses with airport customer relations and expansion.
Brienza, who has nearly 30 years of airport industry experience, was hired to lead the Medford airport in 2017. He was previously the director of the Huntington Tri-State Airport in West Virginia.
Jackson County, which runs the airport in Medford, is seeking a new airport director.
"Our hope is to have someone installed by the end of this year, if not sooner," Brienza said.
Whoever takes the job will face the challenge of a workforce shortage in the airport industry, but also the opportunity to lead the airport through exciting improvement projects, he said.
"The incoming airport director needs to be driven, enthusiastic and capable of handling the commercial air service downturn associated with human resource availability," Brienza said. "The lack of pilots, mechanics and airline personnel from top to bottom may continue to cause airlines to consolidate flights."
He said airlines are trying to offer the same number of seats. To do that amid the labor shortfall, they're replacing smaller planes with larger ones while cutting back on the number of flights.
Other challenges in the industry include rising construction, operations and maintenance costs. Airports also have to adapt to the development of electric aircraft and different fuels — and make sure they have the infrastructure to support the emerging technology, Brienza said.
With the help of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, county administrative staff and the Airport Advisory Committee, Brienza said, he and his team have developed a plan for construction projects that will boost the local economy. The airport will tap into a variety of grants, including from the Federal Aviation Administration.
"The airport is in great shape, is financially sound and has a vigorous capital improvement program with lots of federal and state funding expected in the next five years. I have all the confidence that the incoming director will be pleased with the team and the work that they do," Brienza said.
He said projects on the horizon include partnering with a hotel developer to build an airport hotel that will generate revenue for the airport for years to come. The airport also plans to expand its paved area to better serve large cargo carriers plus U.S. Forest Service aircraft that battle wildfires.
Although the project is still in its infancy, the airport has developed a concept for an Oregon Aviation and First Responder School of Excellence that would provide education and training for both the aviation industry and medical first responders, Brienza said.
He praised airport workers for their dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to help keep customers safe.
"I am so proud of the way my employees responded to the pandemic. As a transportation facility, we did not close, nor did we have the benefit of working from home," he said.
The airport was regularly breaking passenger count records before the pandemic started disrupting life and the economy in early 2020.
Passenger traffic at the airport continues to build back from the pandemic, but figures for the third quarter suggest traffic totals for the year will probably fall a bit short of 2019, the top year before COVID-19 emerged.
As of Sept. 30 this year, 780,730 passengers had either arrived or departed at Medford, down 3.6% from the 809,252 total on that date in 2019.
For all of 2019, 1,087,873 passengers went through the airport. That fell to 509,624 in 2020 and recovered to 886,670 in 2021.
Like other airports and airlines across the nation, the Medford airport received an infusion of federal aid to weather the downturn. The aid buttressed the airport's already strong financial reserves.
The airport is an enterprise fund for Jackson County, meaning it's expected to run like a business and not depend on local taxpayers.
The FAA, a major provider of grants that help pay for airport improvement projects across the nation, gets its money from sources such as taxes on airline tickets, cargo, and aviation fuel.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.