Willard Airport director named as finalist for similar role in Tennessee

Willard Airport director named as finalist for similar role in Tennessee

SAVOY — Willard Airport Executive Director Gene Cossey is a finalist for a similar job at the Tri-Cities Airport in northeastern Tennessee.

The Tennessee airport, which serves parts of four states, announced three finalists for its executive director position this week, with interviews scheduled Monday morning.

The other two finalists are Rick Feltner, a former aviation industry executive and director of the Minot International Airport in North Dakota since 2016; and Shaun Germolus, executive director of the Chisholm-Hibbing Airport Authority in Hibbing, Minn., since 2006.

Cossey, who took the job at the University of Illinois Willard Airport three years ago, said Thursday he wasn't looking for a new position, but "it was an opportunity that presented itself."

"I wasn't out searching for it. I felt it was worthwhile to go look into it and explore the opportunity," Cossey said. "I will know a lot more about the position and about what's going on after I visit."

The airport in Blountsville, Tenn., sits just off Interstate 81 about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville, near the border with Kentucky.

It serves a market of about 500,000 people in Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, southeastern Virginia and western North Carolina and offers nonstop flights to four hubs — Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and Tampa/Clearwater-St.Petersburg — on Delta, American and Allegiant airlines, officials said.

The previous director, Patrick Wilson, took a job with the larger Knoxville airport in early November, said Bill Bovender, the airport's legal counsel, who is managing the search along with the ADK Executive Search consulting firm. David Jones, the airport's former director of operations, is serving as interim executive director, Bovender said.

The Tri-Cities Airport Authority includes board members from two counties and four cities, including Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va., which are separated by the Tennessee-Virginia state line "down the middle of State Street," Bovender said.

Cossey was hired in December 2015 to implement changes outlined by an intergovernmental task force to improve operations at Willard.

Willard added a long-awaited connection to the east coast in late December, a nonstop flight to Charlotte, and Cossey said business has been brisk.

"The flights have been fairly full. I know the first week and a half they were operating, some of them were overbooked," Cossey said. Cossey also recruited United to Willard in 2017, with three daily flights to Chicago, but the airline canceled the service in September.

Cossey, who has worked in aviation management since he was 19, came to Willard from the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, where he was director of operations.

He previously worked as director of airside operations at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, director of the Newport Municipal Airport in Oregon, and operations manager and director of information technology at the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.

He holds a master's degree in public administration from the UI Springfield and is currently a doctoral candidate in the program.

He also has a bachelor's degree from Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.