Willard Airport director leaving for similar job in Tennessee

Willard Airport director leaving for similar job in Tennessee

SAVOY — After being named a finalist for the position earlier this month, Willard Airport Executive Director Gene Cossey has accepted an offer to fill an identical job at the Tri-Cities Airport in northeastern Tennessee.

He announced his resignation Wednesday from the University of Illinois-owned airport.

His last day at Willard will be Feb. 15, and he’ll begin at Tri-Cities the following week.

“It’s just a really good opportunity at an airport that has a little more size and a little more operations,” Cossey said.

Tri-Cities Airport 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, N.C.; and Orlando and Tampa/Clearwater-St. Petersburg, Fla. — on Delta, American and Allegiant airlines.

Cossey said his new position also comes with an attractive benefits package and salary.

He was one of three finalists and interviewed for the job Jan. 7. The airport offered him the job later that day, according to local media reports.

Cossey has been at Willard for a little over three years.

“This has been a great airport, a great community,” Cossey said. “I wish nothing but for the airport to continue to succeed.”

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

During his tenure, Willard added flights on United Airlines, lost them a year later, added an American Airlines flight to Charlotte and raised the parking rate as it moved to a new automated system.

Cossey regularly talks with airline officials about adding flights to Willard, but said he doesn’t expect his departure to set those negotiations back much.

“The airlines don’t move at a lightning pace when deciding to come into new markets,” he said. “There’s plenty of time for the transition team and whoever the new director is to pick up where I left off.”

University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler said it’s too early to say what the process will be for finding a new executive director.

“None of that’s been established,” she said.

But she praised the interim executive director, Tim Bannon, the assistant director of operations since February 2018.

Bannon previously worked at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport in Bullhead City, Ariz.

“The interim is really good,” Kaler said. “He’ll do a lovely job.”