Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
City Manager Erik Walsh announced Tuesday that Russ Handy will leave his position as aviation director at the end of the year.
Handy, who has overseen the major construction projects and improved air service at the San Antonio International Airport since 2017, is resigning from his role Dec. 31. He plans to move to the East Coast, where he can reside closer to family and pursue other professional endeavors, according to Walsh.
Walsh expressed regret over Handy’s departure and applauded his achievements on the goals the City set for increasing air service at the San Antonio International Airport.
“San Antonio air traffic surpassed 10 million passengers in 2018 under Russ’s leadership and has experienced 36 straight months of continuous growth,” stated Walsh.
In addition to expanding the number of flights at the airport, Handy was charged with focusing on completion of a $178 million Consolidated Rental Car Facility, which opened in time for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four, said Carlos Contreras, assistant city manager.
Handy also delivered on a goal to improve the airport facility overall, Contreras said, with a focus on providing a better experience for air travelers that included artwork, music, and cleanliness.
“[Handy] has assembled a great team of professionals who are positioned well to continue the progress we have made in attracting new air service and improving customer experience,” Contreras said. “We have a lot more in store for the airport, including completion of phase 2 of the Airport System Strategic Development Plan, which will guide the City’s decisions regarding future terminal and/or airfield expansion.”
Handy told the Rivard Report he will help the City in its efforts to find a replacement, with consideration given to both internal and external candidates.
“They have learned a lot over the past few years about which leadership attributes work in this environment,” he said. “They will look at folks with extensive airport experience and maybe some folks like me who have other leadership attributes that transferred. But, ultimately, they are going to look with a fairly wide aperture to focus on where we are now, the challenges we have in front of us and pick the right person to continue the momentum.”
He said the Aviation Department’s goal to be “a driver of prosperity for the region,” means the new director will face the challenge of managing the airport concession contract and a near-term expansion of the airport as well as overseeing the implementation of a master plan that is expected to be completed by spring or summer of 2020.
The City of San Antonio’s pay plan for fiscal year 2019 shows the annual salary range for the aviation director position is $151,028.02 to $241,645.04. Handy’s base pay was $202,038.24, according to information on the City’s website.
Handy’s tenure as aviation director saw controversy over the City Council’s decision in March to remove Chick-fil-A from a multimillion-dollar contract with contractor Paradies Lagardère to operate food and retail shops at San Antonio’s airport. The decision continues to draw criticism from local business leaders and some elected officials and is under investigation by Attorney General Ken Paxton for what he calls “religious bigotry.”
Handy joined the City as aviation director in January 2017 after a 33-year career in the Air Force, from which he retired as a lieutenant general after his final post as commander of the Alaskan Command, 11th Air Force, Alaskan NORAD Region, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Handy and his wife, JoAnn, have two adult children and recently became grandparents. He said the couple is eyeing the Chesapeake Bay area for their new home, an area where he grew up and their parents reside. San Antonio is a great place for anyone, he added, especially retired military. “We won’t be strangers. I’m sure we’ll be back.”
Walsh also announced on Tuesday the resignation of Christopher Callanen, assistant to City Council. Callanen worked for the City in various capacities over a 25-year career, including in the public works department and the city manager’s office.
Callanen is departing for a position with The Center for Health Care Services. Emily McGinn, a four-year City employee, will assume the role of assistant to City Council starting Aug. 19.
Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick contributed to this