Columbia airport gets new chief

Dan Mann says he might have found a home.

The newly appointed Columbia Metropolitan Airport executive director has worked at four different airports in New York, Wyoming and Iowa since ending his career as a B-52 bomber navigator 17 years ago.

But Columbia offers new opportunities and advantages to Mann - the state capital, the lake, the downtown, the university and the lack of snow.

"Whenever I take a job, I always intend to stay five years," said Mann, 44, who is head of the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids. "Other places, I knew I could go someplace else. But Columbia is more like a place where I could see myself staying forever."

Mann starts Feb. 1, less than a month after current executive director Mike Flack retires after 11 years.

Mann has agreed to a three-year contract with a $165,000 per-year salary, said Larry Koester, chairman of the 12-member Richland-Lexington Airport Commission. Flack earns $183,000.

The other finalists for the job were Jim Elwood, director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Colorado, and James Loomis, director of the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in Texas, Koester said.

"Some of it came to personality: Who did we think can come into Columbia, South Carolina, and fit into community?" Koester said. "He was easy to talk to and easy to get to know.

"We wanted someone who was hands-on," he added. "We wanted someone ... to get involved with the airport, the employees and the community."

The commission looks forward to seeing how Mann can work on bringing more service and lower fares to Columbia, which was ranked among the nation's priciest in a Forbes magazine analysis this year.

Cedar Rapids has four carriers, including low-cost Allegiant, which left Columbia for a second time in August. Columbia has six carriers.

Though Cedar Rapids has a population that's three times smaller than Columbia, the number of passengers they carry is not far apart. Cedar Rapids serves about 990,000 passengers each year, while Columbia carries about 1.2 million passengers.

"He doesn't have a Charlotte right up the road," Koester said of the airport that draws some Midlands fliers. "We need to fix that leakage."

Mann said a big part of the job will be working with community leaders to build awareness about flying locally because it shows support for the airlines and the airport.

"Relationship-building is critical," he said. "You have to make those connections with the community, legislative body and you have to work with Washington."

In addition to the good relationships he built with Federal Aviation Administration officials and tenants at Cedar Rapids, Koester said the commission was impressed with Mann's cost-cutting.

The Columbia airport needs to retire $82 million in bond debt from building the new terminal and parking garage, Koester said, and the airport could look at cutting advertising and marketing costs as well as staff, which stands at about 120.

In Cedar Rapids, where about 40 work at the airport, Mann said he cut costs by changing some security contracts, buying some services from the private sector rather than the city, and bringing information technology and phone services in house.

Mann has led a $70 million capital improvement plan in Iowa.

Work included a new public-safety building, concourse renovation, runway work, additional parking, a new cell-phone parking lot, free wireless Internet service in the terminal and new seating with built-in electrical outlets.

"I'm not surprised with his talent that he would be sought-after," Dan Thies, chairman of the Cedar Rapids Airport Commission, said in a statement.

Mann and Flack said they have never met, though Mann said he looks forward to speaking with his predecessor during his transition.

Flack, 63, leaves Jan. 8 after more than a decade of growing the airport in Lexington County.

During his tenure, the airport has expanded to more than 45 flights per day from 25, and the number of airlines serving the airport has increased to six from three.

Flack also oversaw construction of a new parking garage and the Hardee Expressway, the wide, four-lane road connecting Airport Boulevard and Platt Springs Road, as well as upgrades to hangars, cargo areas and the U.S. Customs building.