MISSOULA — The Missoula International Airport announced on Tuesday that long-time director Cris Jensen would leave this spring to take the same position in his hometown of Reno, Nevada.
MTN News caught up with Jensen to look back on his time in Missoula and what he feels the airport has accomplished.
Jensen took over as airport director in Missoula back in 2005 with the unenviable task of fixing an airport that was, quite literally, in trouble. Now, nearly 16 years later, as he gets ready to leave that position, he says he’s proud of how far the airport has come.
“The director prior to me had embezzled from the airport, and we were on the FAA’s High Risk Airport list. We had the Inspector General in our offices going through all our paperwork, and so, you know, I think the first thing was just recovering from that, the trauma that the organization had gone through,” Jensen recalled.
His first goal was creating an atmosphere of teamwork and trust that had been eroded in previous years -- but that was just the beginning.
“That vision obviously led to all the other things, all the other successes we’ve had,” Jensen said. “Whether it’s been additional air service or the facility improvements, but it really starts and ends with the people.”
Among other successes during Jensen’s tenure are a new, more modern tower, a new runway was added in 2007, and then there’s the current undertaking. “And, of course, now we’re obviously building the new terminal, and again that project has gone really smoothly because of the team Missoula approach to things, I think,” Jensen told MTN News.
Airport traffic is up 90% during Jensen’s tenure, the airport has gone from six non-stop flights to 17, and the airport now has six airline carriers, up from four. But it hasn’t all been good fortune. Despite all the hard work as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on revenue and foot traffic.
Jensen says the airport’s future is bright and he’s appreciative of what Missoula has done for him.
“This is not Cris Jensen’s airport, it’s not even the airport staff’s airport, it’s the community’s airport,” Jensen said. “You know, I’m so appreciative of the community and the support that they’ve given me over the years, and I know that will continue long after I’m gone.”
Jensen’s last day as airport director is slated for April 9 and he’ll take over that same position at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on April 19.
Current Airport Deputy Director Brian Ellestad has been named Interim Airport Director while the search for a permanent replacement continues.