Director’s retirement leaves Long Beach Airport’s top spot vacant — again

For the third time in four years the Long Beach Airport will be looking for a new director after the city announced Thursday that Jess Romo, who has held the post since July 2016, is retiring.

Romo served as director of the airport for almost two and a half years, succeeding Bryant Francis, who left to lead Oakland International Airport. Francis served as the director at Long Beach for about 15 months.

Before Francis, Mario Rodriguez held the position for over five years before eventually resigning and becoming the CEO of the Indianapolis Airport Authority. The statement from the city said that a search to find a successor to Romo would begin immediately, but an expected time frame for when a new director might be announced was not provided.

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“Right now it’s just a tough labor market in terms of low unemployment and there being lots of vacancies with retirements,” said Alex Basquez, director of city’s human resources department. “I think in general employers are facing higher turnover. But I can’t really say if there’s a reason for the turnover at the airport.”

The city is still working to identify someone to serve as an interim director while a national search to replace Romo is completed. Whoever replaces him will inherit an airport undergoing a multi-million facelift, but also a growing feud with JetBlue, its largest tenant.

Under Romo’s watch the airport saw tens of millions of dollars worth of improvements started or completed on its terminal, passenger baggage processing areas and its runways. The airport recently commenced a project that will redesign the main lobby, which currently serves as the airport’s ticketing area, and covert it to the rental car processing area with a new ticketing office being added to the airport’s footprint.

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Romo has also presided over a back and forth with JetBlue Airways that has ratcheted up this year as the city has worked to raise the fine structure for airlines that violate the city’s late-night flight restrictions—JetBlue accounts for the majority of violations—and last month voted to redefine the volume of flights needed to retain flight slots at the airport.

JetBlue called the move discriminatory and is the airline most likely to lose flight slots to competitors at the airport if current flight trends were to stretch into next year.

Despite a short stint in Long Beach, Romo served for more than 30 years in the aviation field with 28 of those coming with the City of Los Angeles. Romo’s last day with the city will be January 31, 2019.

“It has been an honor to serve the residents of Long Beach by providing world-class service at one of the best airports in the country,” Romo said in a statement.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.