SLO County airport chief may be taking off

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, S.C., according to that community’s Sun News newspaper.

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.

Because of the recession, the local airport has had to cut back on expansion plans for both a terminal and parking garage and has been seeking to lure new carriers even as ridership declines.

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.

The Horry County administrator and his appointed advisory committee will interview each candidate publicly July 16.

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.

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

He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. 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.

Tribune Senior Staff Writer Bob Cuddy contributed to this report.