Longtime Easterwood airport director John Happ recently announced his retirement amid ongoing outsourcing efforts by Texas A&M University.
Happ was a 17-year veteran of the airport and had served as director since 2000. The 68-year-old said his Aug. 8 retirement was effective immediately.
A move to outsource the management of Easterwood contributed to his decision, he said.
One day prior to his resignation, Happ received the 2013 Excellence in Aviation Transportation Award -- which recognizes the top aviation leader in the state -- at the Texas Transportation and Infrastructure Summit. He said he wanted to go out on top.
"After receiving the highest award you can get for aviation and with the direction the university is going, I decided it was time for me to retire," Happ said, adding that during his tenure he helped secure more than $35 million in grants and will leave the post with a $2 million reserve balance.
The management change was not announced by the university, and, on Tuesday, the airport's website and answering machine continued to list Happ as director.
"A decision has not been made regarding an interim director for aviation services and the university is reviewing all options," said university spokesman Shane Hinckley. "In the meantime, our existing personnel continue to operate the airport in a highly safe manner."
A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and Rodney McClendon, vice president for administration, did not return requests for comment.
Happ, a 1967 A&M graduate and Austin native, spent 29 years in the U.S. Air Force until 1996 when he retired as a colonel. Happ served a tour in Vietnam and made 26 flights to Antarctica on an exchange tour as a pilot with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He served on the College Station City Council from 2002 to 2007 and has a lengthy resume of awards and appointments, including Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year in 2009, past president of the Brazos Valley Food Bank, past president of the Texas Airports Council and president of the Arts Council of the Brazos Valley.
The university is closer to deciding on whether to outsource Happ's now vacated position, according to Hinckley. He said that Loftin has approved a recommendation by a committee of university and system administrators to move forward with negotiations to privatize the airport. It was unclear when a decision for how or if to outsource the airport administration and other services will be made, Hinckley said.
Texas A&M University and System officials issued requests for qualifications in October 2012 for airport management and fixed-base operator services at Easterwood, such as fueling, parking and aircraft maintenance. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Easterwood is the only university-owned and operated airport in Texas. It also is the only airport with commercial flights in the region.
Happ's retirement was effective four days after The Eagle first reported that one of two commercial flight providers to Bryan-College Station, American Eagle, had threatened to cut or curtail service if Easterwood was privatized.
The Eagle obtained a letter from American Eagle CEO Dan Garton and regional vice president Dale Morris sent to College Station Mayor Nancy Berry, Bryan Mayor Jason Bienski and A&M's Loftin.
The company officials said in the letter that they are not opposed to privatization, but that it would raise "major concerns" about American's ability to provide the area's only commercial flights to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. American Eagle is a regional provider of flights for industry giant American Airlines.
The story prompted A&M Chancellor John Sharp to reach out to the airline. Sharp, through a spokesman, said that an anonymous friend at American Airlines claimed an unnamed Easterwood official requested the airline officials pen a negative letter about the outsourcing.
American Eagle did not initially respond to the chancellor's claim, but has refuted it in the wake of Happ's retirement.
"No, we were not asked to write those letters," said airline spokesman Matt Miller. "The issue was brought to our attention and we took the initiative to write the letters on our own accord."
Sharp responded to the airline's comments Tuesday evening through a spokesman.
"We are quite comfortable with our sources and wish Mr. Happ well in his future endeavors," said system spokesman Steve Moore.
Also wishing Happ a happy retirement were several local leaders, who reflected fondly on his lengthy tenure.
"I feel like the airport is run efficiently," said Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce President Royce Hickman. "I know he has worked hard with the airlines to maintain the level of flights we have and, having talked to some of those people, he has a good reputation with airline folks."
Happ retires with the endorsement of College Station's top elected official.
"I served with John Happ on city council from 2004-2006, which is when I got to know him best," Berry said. "He's an honest, hardworking ethical man. I thought he did a superb job in whatever undertaking he did. His retirement from the airport will be a loss for the community."