Victoria Regional Airport has a new leader.
Vinicio "Lenny" Llerena, the New Braunfels airport director, was officially announced Wednesday as Victoria Regional Airport's new manager by the newly empowered Victoria Regional Airport Commission.
Llerena will start with the dual jobs of airport and fixed-based operator executive director in mid-April. Victoria County will pay Llerena $150,420 a year to do both jobs.
"I am honored the Airport Commission has selected me to lead the Victoria Regional Airport," Llerena said in a statement. "I see my new position as an exciting opportunity to be a part of a great team and contribute to the airport's success. My wife and I have family here and are looking forward to the move to Victoria."
Commission Chairman S.F. "Trey" Ruschhaupt said that out of the nearly 40 applicants who came from all over the United States, Llerena had the skills, industry connections and experience to turn Victoria Regional from a money loser into a money maker for Victoria County.
"His connections at TxDOT and in D.C., and turning New Braunfels' airport from one that operated in the red to the black impressed me," said Ruschhaupt.
Commission member Dennis Patillo seconded Ruschhaupt.
"His experience and that he's well-respected by people at TxDOT and the FAA was attractive," Patillo said. "He also realizes the great potential the airport has, and he wants to use public-private partnerships to generate revenue for the airport."
Commission member Buddy Billups said Llerena was one of six finalists who met most of his requirements.
"He had the academic credentials, strong leadership and communication skills, marketing experience, general aviation experience and FBO management experience," Billups said. "And he wants to be here. He doesn't view this job as a place he can use to hop to another job."
Updating the airport's aging buildings, hangars and runways, along with increasing fuel sales at the airport will be Llerena's major priorities when he arrives in Victoria.
"I'm going to go get some grant money for that and start negotiating leases," Llerena said.
Billups said in the past, the airport has missed out on grant funding from state and federal government agencies.
"He's going to very be effective for us in that department," Billups said.
Llerena is encouraged by the commission's move to get Texas Sky to offer flights to Dallas.
He expects the new route to increase the carrier's passenger numbers to at least 10 a day so Victoria Regional will continue to receive $2.6 million annually from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Essential Air Service program.
"It seems people here would rather drive to Houston, and Dallas is quite far. I think it's a good move," he said.
President Donald Trump's preliminary budget, which has called for the elimination of the Essential Air Service program, does not daunt Llerena.
Victoria Regional is the only Texas airport in the Essential Air Service program.
"This program has always been on the chopping block, and it always comes back because there are people who lobby for it and want it. I will leave that to them to do." Llerena said. "And if it's eliminated, it won't be overnight. It will probably be phased out over three years or so."
Llerena said he views turning around Victoria Regional's fortunes as a unique opportunity to make a difference in the world of aviation.
"I want to take Victoria Regional to the next level. New Braunfels was a sleepy little airport that was losing three-quarters of a million dollars a year," Llerena said. "It took us a few years to turn it around, but it's now making money, and I think we have a great opportunity to do the same here."