Stewart, in a telephone interview with The Watch on Tuesday, said he submitted his resignation to TMRAO Board of Directors at its meeting on April 25, and he hopes his decision will give the organization the latitude it needs to adjust to the fast-changing airline market.
“It is one of those things where the Board is looking at some significant changes to the organization,” Stewart said. “Based on how that process was going, resigning from my position would allow the Board more space to go in a direction. It also gives me an opportunity to consider my professional options.”
Coinciding with his resignation, Stewart has handed the Board a proposal for a transition agreement that, if the board accepts it, would allow Stewart to work at the organization longer with an emphasis on hiring a replacement if deemed appropriate.
“That hasn’t been finalized yet and is, in essence, in their hands,” he said.
While he couldn’t elaborate on what sort of operational changes may be taking at TMRAO, he said the biggest challenge the organization faces is having the funding and resources needed to sustain airline service levels it’s had in past years, at both Montrose and Telluride regional airports.
“We are challenged with keeping up with the evolution of the airline industry,” Stewart said. “The airlines ran on cheap fuel for decades and that is no longer the case. Their costs have gone up. They are businesses and they need to make money. We need to find a way to change our formula in our cost side or our revenue side to get us to a more sustainable position again.”
While challenges to secure flights into the region’s two airports, which is an integral part to a tourism-based economy, may be great, Stewart believes there are solutions and the organization is pursuing them. One advantage the region has, he said, is that Montrose has a long runway and doesn't have “operational restrictions” that other airports in mountain communities have. The organization can use that and other advantages to strengthen its stability.
“It’s tough right now, but with tough challenges come great opportunities,” Stewart said.
Over the last five years, he said there’s been an overall reduction in people flying, especially for leisure, and suggests if the organization wants to counter that trend, low cost carriers may be part of the answer.
“When costs are lower, it can work,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that we walk away from our current carriers, they provide access to hundreds of destinations, but you need both. We need to build them both into our mix and we are taking steps to try to attract that service.”
Stewart said his resignation as executive director doesn’t exactly mean he’s leaving the organization forever. If and when the organization goes forward with its organizational changes to secure more flights in the region, there may be other opportunities within TMRAO he could be a part of.
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