Outgoing and Incoming Airport Directors on KGVO’s Talk Back Show
Recently, KGVO reported that Missoula County International Airport Director Cris Jensen was leaving Missoula to return to Reno, Nevada to finish out his career.
On Friday, Jensen and incoming Director Brian Ellestad appeared live on the KGVO Talk Back show to take calls from listeners.
Jensen was asked to describe what happened at the airport at the outset of the COVID 19 pandemic.
“We were starting to read the news like everybody else, and we understood that there was something coming that that we really had never experienced before and really didn't have a playbook that we could open up and figure out the next step,” said Jensen. “I think we started out in panic mode and we were working on budgets. This is the time of year that we work on budgets, so we immediately started slashing budgets and looking at you know, we had some vacancies that we didn’t fill. We offered up some early retirements to thin out our payroll a little bit.”
Jensen said they had to take the pandemic one day at the time at the airport.
“We were really in a reactionary mode,” he said. “I would say at that point we had a lot of meetings and over time those meetings became ZOOM meetings. In the beginning we called it draconian budget slashing and contingency planning in our first month in March. I think we were down to maybe 40 passengers a day at one point and we thought basically, we were going to be done as an airport if things didn't turn around.”
Jensen provided an update on the multi-million dollar airport expansion.
“The current terminal projects actually $67 million for the first phase, and if we're able to do the second phase, the total project cost will be about $111 million,” he said. “Just real quick on that topic, that's all funded essentially, with airport revenues. We always like to tell people, there's no local tax, there's no sales tax, city tax, county or state tax. It’s all basically paid for with the airport revenues, and obviously, those revenues have changed considerably during the time of the pandemic.”
Jensen said along with the variety of tasks that running the airport demands, he truly enjoys working with all the people, his staff and the passengers.
“Not only our staff, but the fact that the people are going on an adventure when they come to the airport, they're going to go on vacation or they're going to see family or whatever it might be,” he said. “Especially in Missoula, we take pride in the fact that we spend a lot of time out in the terminal assisting passengers and talking to them, and so I think we really enjoy that aspect of it, and so it's all of those things combined.”
Jensen and Ellestad received numerous compliments for their service from Talk Back callers.
Coincidentally, Friday was Jensen’s last official day at the airport.