SLO airport manager finalist for similar job in South Carolina

Richard Howell, who took over the reins at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport less than two years ago, is a finalist for a similar job at an airport in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to the Sun News in Myrtle Beach.

Howell replaced Klaasje Nairne - who held the job for 19 years - as airport manager in September 2008. Since then he has presided over a struggling enterprise.

Due to the faltering economy, the local airport has had to cut back on expansion plans for both its terminal and parking garage, and has been seeking to lure new carriers even as ridership declined.

The Sun News reported that Howell is one of three finalists. The others are Stephen J. Cooke, director of Business Development for Daytona Beach International Airport in Florida, and Michael B. La Pier, chief operating officer for the Sacramento County Airport System in California.

Each will be interviewed publicly on July 16 by county administrator John Weaver and his appointed advisory committee.

Howell could not be reached for comment. In his questionnaire when applying for the Myrtle Beach job, he told the search committee he has experience with increasing passenger numbers, the Sun News reported.

Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brad Dean, one of the five advisory committee members, said the decision on a new airport director is critical for the region's businesses, residents and visitors.

"The next airport director will be challenged with working through a major expansion effort while also managing one of the fastest growing airports in the southeastern U.S." he said. "We anticipate the airport to reach 1 million annual deplanements in the near future and that requires strong leadership and exceptional skills at every level of the airport operation."

Howell, who graduated from high school in Santa Barbara, has worked for numerous airports, including facilities in Waco, Texas; Colorado Springs and the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, Ga.

He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach with a degree in aeronautics and is a certified accredited airport executive.

He served in the U.S. Air Force as a command airfield manager. He was discharged in 1992.