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WATERLOO | City officials long have wanted to market the "regional" function of Waterloo Regional Airport.

Now they say they've hired a new airport director who can do just that.

Keith Kaspari, who for the last 2 years has been senior vice president and chief operating officer at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, Mich., will take over as the new director at the Waterloo airport Nov. 17, city officials confirmed Tuesday.

The Waterloo City Council has not yet given its official approval, but Mayor Buck Clark said, “It’s done.”

Kaspari will replace Mike Wilson, who left in August for a position in Minnesota after only six months on the job.

He accepted an offer of $95,000 a year, according to Cheryl Huddleston, manager of the city’s human resources department.

“He’s got a great background,” Clark said Tuesday. “He’s got a pretty impressive track record of having some success at regional airports.”

This time the job won’t be a layover, Clark said.

“Of course, we got a commitment from Mike Wilson that he was here to stay, but (Kaspari) indicated that this is his last move. He wants to be the guy in charge of the airport. I think this is kind of a perfect situation for him.”

Prior to Lansing, Kaspari also worked at airports in Marquette, Mich.; Abilene, Texas; Sioux City; and Grand Forks, N.D.

“Without question, you move around a little in this business, and my wife and I are very much looking toward putting down some long-term roots, and Waterloo gave us that opportunity,” Kaspari said Tuesday.

Kaspari said he was particularly active in marketing the Marquette airport after securing grant money to expand service.

He hopes to accomplish the same thing in Waterloo, which currently has two daily flights to and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport on American Airlines’ American Eagle regional service.

Consolidation of the airline industry will toughen that challenge.

“You’ve got four majors (commercial carriers) that are providing service to the balance of airports in this country, and it has forced them to think, ‘Ideally, how does a community fit in our route network?’” Kaspari said. “So it’s going to take some time to see how things can be done.”

It can happen, he said.

“There’s certainly room for growth, because if we were leaking a certain amount of traffic" to airports in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, "what can we do to stem that leakage?” he said.

Kaspari will take over a smaller operation than his current gig, where he supervises 35 full-time staff at a facility served by three airlines with direct connections to six cities and seasonal flights to Cancun, Mexico.

“I’m looking forward to the challenges of working with a smaller staff but at the same time, there’s that work ethic in Iowa and everyone doing their part to take Waterloo to that next level.”

Bob Justis, a member of the airport board that interviewed two finalists, said he was impressed.

“He’s knowledgeable, experienced, sincere and understands PR and marketing, and you know my history,” said Justis, who has been involved in marketing for decades in the area. “Not everybody has that, and he has quite a bit of experience. Not only does he have, I think, the right personality and background, but he understands what this airport needs to do in terms of growing its market, including, hopefully, enticing more airlines to give us a serious look.”

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Business Editor at The Courier

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