Brian Ellestad, deputy director of air service and community relations at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, has accepted the position of deputy director at the Missoula International Airport in Montana.
"I'm going from one good organization to another," said Ellestad, who will start there Nov. 22. He said he always has been interested in working in the Northwest.
"I love hiking. I love the outdoors, and there's so much to do out there that's outdoor-related," he said.
Blue Grass Airport executive director Eric Frankl said Ellestad was instrumental in bringing low-cost carrier AirTran Airways to Lexington and making the airport's role in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games a success.
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"He's just got a very good understanding of the airline industry and our community and how those two things come together," Frankl said. "I really enjoyed working with him. I'm sorry to see him go."
Frankl said he will evaluate the vacancy created by Ellestad's departure to determine the best way to carry out his duties.
Ellestad came to the Lexington airport in July 2006, less than a month before Comair Flight 5191 crashed after taking off from the wrong runway at the airport, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard.
Later, a spending scandal broke, involving airport executives' spending of airport money. Ellestad was one of seven employees who, together, had more than $500,000 in questionable or undocumented expenses between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2008, according to the state auditor's office, which conducted an audit of airport expenditures.
Four top executives of the airport were forced out of their jobs and were indicted and prosecuted on theft-related charges. The scandal led to a major reorganization.
Airport board chairman J. Robert Owens has said he thought Ellestad was wrongly portrayed by the media during the scandal.
Ellestad said Thursday that he did not want to talk about the scandal.
Frankl said he'd like to think that the scandal has nothing to do with Ellestad's departure.
"I think truly this was a great career opportunity for him," Frankl said.
Missoula International Airport director Cris Jensen said Ellestad's airport and airline background — he worked for Midwest Airlines in Milwaukee before coming to Lexington — led to his hiring.
"It was a whole list of things that we thought made him the best candidate for the job," Jensen said.