The Kansas City Aviation Department is undergoing a leadership change, as director Mark VanLoh is retiring and being replaced by Pat Klein, who has been the assistant city manager working with the department for several years.
The change comes as the city is contemplating a possible airport election later this year.
VanLoh’s retirement is effective May 31.
He was named Kansas City aviation director in 2004, after 19 years of experience with airports in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Cleveland; Toledo, Ohio; and Rockford, Ill. He had also been an operations supervisor with Pan American Airways in New York.
VanLoh was hired by then-City Manager Wayne Cauthen to oversee all Kansas City airport operations and drew praise for aggressively marketing and developing vacant airport land with additional businesses, creating more than 1,000 new jobs.
But he encountered major turbulence with the public after he rolled out a plan in 2011 to replace Kansas City International Airport’s existing three terminals with a single new terminal. He was faulted for not getting significant public buy-in before pursuing that plan.
In a city news release, City Manager Troy Schulte praised VanLoh’s tenure, saying it resulted in significant financial improvements at Wheeler Downtown Airport and at KCI, with new flights and nonstop airline service.
Schulte also credited VanLoh with beginning the discussions on how to propel KCI into the future. “Good leadership can be controversial and unpopular, but it should always be appreciated,” Schulte said.
VanLoh said he was proud of his aviation employees and the department that has operated like a business, experiencing great growth and financial stability in recent years.
“With the selection of Pat Klein as my replacement, I feel comfortable that it is time to retire and enjoy the next phase of my life,” VanLoh said in a statement.
Klein has been with the city for nearly 20 years and has served as an assistant city manager for four years. He began working two years ago as Schulte’s liaison to a leadership team of aviation officials and the airlines, who were exploring concepts and costs for modernizing KCI.
Klein has recently worked closely with the City Council’s Airport Committee, which has considered the pros and cons of building a new single terminal versus renovating the existing terminals. So city officials said he is perfectly positioned to take the helm at the Aviation Department.
The City Council is scheduled to receive a key recommendation Tuesday on a future for KCI. It’s expected that the leadership team and airlines will recommend a new single-terminal plan, with projected costs and a way to pay for it. If the council approves that recommendation, it would go to city voters.
City officials have talked recently about trying to hold that election either in August or November of this year, and they said it was important to have airport leadership that the public trusts.
Dan Coffey, spokesman for a group called Citizens for Responsible Government, which has fought the airport’s new terminal plans, questioned whether Klein has sufficient aviation expertise to oversee a construction project approaching $1 billion.
But he said he wasn’t surprised at the change.
Coffey said VanLoh was well qualified to run the Aviation Department but had done a poor public-relations job of handling the controversy over the airport’s terminal planning process.