After nearly two decades, the Quad-City International Airport has a new leader.
Following a closed session Tuesday morning, the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority appointed longtime Seattle airport executive Ben Leischner as its executive director. He will replace retiring Aviation Director Bruce Carter at the end of May.
“One thing I’m really passionate about is community engagement. So I look at this as an awesome opportunity to serve a new community,” Leischner said. “It’s the right size where I feel like I can get involved and make a difference, not just at the airport, but providing resources and services to the entire community — and spurring economic development to increase the quality of life.”
Leischner will join the Quad-Cities after a long career in aviation, including seven years with the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Most recently, he served as airport operations manager and airline scheduling manager at the Seattle airport, which is often ranked as one of the top 10 busiest airports in the country.
Originally from a small farming community on the Oregon Coast, Leischner said he graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology and earned a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska.
“I discovered pretty early on it was the right career for me,” he said. “I’m more of a family-type guy, so on the road every day wasn’t going to fit my lifestyle. Aviation is just one of those things … You find something you’re passionate about and actually enjoy doing so work doesn’t feel like work.”
Before serving in Seattle, Leischner worked with the Port of Bellingham, Bellingham International Airport and DY Consultants. His background includes airport management and planning, business strategy, operations and airline negotiations.
An accredited airport executive and commercial instrument pilot, Leischner said he wasn’t looking to move until he was approached by ADK Executive Search, which conducted the national job search.
“When I visited the Quad-Cities with my wife, we were both very impressed with the community. It just felt right,” he said.
The board approved a five-year employment agreement with a $200,000 annual base salary, according to Interim Chairman of the Board of Commissioners John Malvik.
“I think the board did a tremendous job,” Malvik said Tuesday. “We had a lot of unity as a board and great discussion and input from every board member. We’ve got full confidence in Ben (Leischner) to lead the airport. The policy for the board hasn’t changed in any significant way. We have a strategic plan moving forward and it’s up to Ben to implement it. We think he’s a great choice and we don’t think he’s going to disappoint us.”
Malvik said Leischner’s “knowledge, enthusiasm and expertise” made him the lead choice from the pool of 37 applicants.
Carter, who joined the Quad-City airport in 1999, will retire after 42 years in the industry. His career has included work as a commercial pilot, air traffic controller and airport manager. Malvik said he will continue to serve through the end of June.
“I’m excited to work with Bruce (Carter) getting started. Bruce has been there 20 years and I really want to pick his brain and build some of the relationships he’s developed over the years,” Leischner said. “It’s a great opportunity to work with a mentor. Bruce has done a lot of things and has a big name in the aviation community around the country. Everyone knows Bruce’s name.”
Leischner begins his new position May 28, according to a Quad-City International Airport news release.