5 questions for Turner West, retiring DIA manager

June 19, 2007
Managing growth "a very huge challenge"

Turner West has high hopes for the remainder of his stint as manager of Denver International Airport.

The 66-year-old, who plans to retire next spring after four decades in the aviation industry, is looking to help lay the foundation for DIA's future.

West is overseeing efforts to update the airport's master plan for the first time since it was created in the late 1980s. The process involves identifying DIA's immediate and long-term needs, including everything from gates to parking spaces.

It's a vital task, as DIA is an important economic engine for the Denver area and the fifth-busiest airport in the country.

West spoke with Rocky reporter Chris Walsh about DIA's challenges, his long career in aviation and his decision to retire.

1 How would you assess the industry right now?

The sheer volume of passengers is without question challenging the industry as a whole. Whether that is the aircraft control systems or the airlines and their ability to provide quality service to customers, we have to be able to accommodate large numbers of passengers. Airports, airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration . . . we're all in this together.

2 What are the most important issues facing DIA?

I think managing growth and managing it well, without question, is a very huge challenge. There have been other airports that have not managed growth as well as I think they should. I'm hopeful that this airport will continue to do that, and the new manager obviously is going to be challenged to bring that about.

3 You've planned retirement for several years now. What sealed the deal?

I felt that I needed to make a decision either to ask the mayor to stay for the next four years or make way for a new person. I had given serious consideration to the next four years, but I just really feel like it's time for me to make a change. I'm getting to the age where I feel I need to slow down.

4 Is there one specific moment, event or day you'd rank as the highlight of your career?

I think getting the Munich flight was really big. Also, getting Southwest. The high point of my life every day is that we continue to grow and we continue to turn in good numbers in terms of passenger growth and concessions.

5 What's the toughest day you've had?

I think the worst day would be Continental Airlines' DC-9 crash at Stapleton (in 1987). They didn't de-ice the plane as they should have. I remember it was on a Sunday in November. It was easily one of the worst days. And, of course, 9/11 was as well.

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