Q&A with Steve Cassens

Steve Cassens has led Cherry Capital

Airport since 1978 – an eternity in the

rapidly changing aviation business.

He's retiring this month, and he spent a

few moments with the TCBN talking airfares, changes in Traverse City, and more.

BN: What was the airport like when you took over in 1978?

SC: Well, two weeks after I started we had a bond payment due from building the jetport and new terminal, and we couldn't make the payment. So I borrowed $30,000 from the City of Traverse City to make the payment. But you had a situation where the city and two counties were subsidizing the airport. So I really decided that I was going to run it like a business, and it needed to stand on its own. So we paid off all the bonds and eventually got the counties and city out of making contributions – and today we still don't get state or federal funding for operations either.

BN: The industry was a little different back in 1978 …

SC: Oh, yes. We were just beginning security and screenings, with all the hijackings. We were just starting crash/fire/rescue, so that each airport had its own fire department. Airport leadership really was changing from facility managers from World War II to administrators trying to transition to making the airports businesses.

BN: Why are you retiring?

SC: I've been in this business since 1967 – so a while before I even got to Traverse City. And I put in 34 years at this airport. There are things I want to pursue in the future, including some consulting in aviation, but I have some personal goals I want to pursue, too. This has been a target date for me for quite some time.

BN: There's a lot of talk about the high airfares in Traverse City. What will eventually come of this debate?

SC: It's very difficult to know. The options for additional carriers to small communities like ours is starting to dry up because of the consolidation of carriers and them developing their own niches. So there are very few options. Low-cost carriers aren't interested because of a lack of population base here and lack of populations around you to draw from. It's really whether you want to look at it as a glass being half-full or half-empty. Traverse City is very fortunate to have three mainline carriers in our community and connectivity worldwide.

BN: What skills does your successor need to have?

SC: It's a very technical job, both on the airport-certification side and security side. The person will be an accredited airport executive, with knowledge of all the security requirements and certifications and licensing. I'd say they'd have to have an absolute minimum of five years at the executive level. But holding the airport manager responsible for local airfares would be like holding Acme Township responsible for what the Grand Traverse R