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Difference Makers 2019: Larry Krauter has seen Spokane International take flight in past 8 years

Spokane International Airport CEO Larry Krauter is a Difference Maker. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane International Airport CEO Larry Krauter is a Difference Maker. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

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To view all of the 2019 difference makers, click here.

When Larry Krauter assumed the role of CEO for Spokane International Airport in 2011, he saw potential to develop the airport’s surrounding area to increase economic opportunity and draw high-tech and aerospace companies.

Several years later, that goal is now becoming reality for Krauter, who is also CEO of Felts Field and the Airport Business Park.

The Spokane International Airport, a more than 6,000-acre commercial service airport served by six airlines and two air cargo carriers, has a $725 million annual economic impact on the region. Passenger traffic at the airport has gradually increased every year since 2013, with a record of nearly 4 million passengers traveling through the facility last year.

The airport, under Krauter’s leadership, added several new nonstop routes from Spokane, terminal upgrades, more parking, and built a 1-mile short-rail line connecting the existing Geiger Spur line to airport property.

Krauter is also overseeing two of the airport’s significant projects to create an intermodal hub that will bring more jobs and businesses to the region.

The Terminal Renovation and Expansion Project — TREX — calls for a centralized security checkpoint, expanded baggage claim area and more gates to improve passenger flow at the airport. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the airport a $11.3 million BUILD grant in November to construct a transload facility to transfer shipments from trucks to rail and vice-versa.

“It’s part of a bigger strategy to harness the power of the airport to become an incredibly productive and significant economic engine way more than what we are talking about today,” Krauter said. “That’s what excites me. Those are the things that I get excited about and work on every day. The other thing is, I get to do it with the people I work with.”

A childhood dream

Krauter, who comes from Ohio, has been interested in aviation since he was a child.

“My father traveled quite a lot for work, and I would go with my mother to see him off at the airport, or sometimes we would travel with him,” Krauter said. “I can remember being very young, maybe 4 or 5 years old, and being taken up into the cockpit of an Eastern Airlines 727, meeting the pilots and getting my plastic wings. I think from that very early point, I was very attracted to airports and aviation.”

Krauter graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management from Ohio State University. He began a career in aviation as an airport planner for the city of Columbus, Ohio, after working for the Ohio Department of Transportation on bridge and airport projects.

Krauter also held multiple executive positions with the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority in Pennsylvania.

“My desire was to combine my interests in aviation and airports with my interest in training and planning, but also a desire to work in public service,” Krauter said. “If you look at airports, it’s a place where all of those things come together. For me, it was a very natural progression from those early years in my childhood to move in that direction towards a career in airport management.”

Outbound to Spokane

When Krauter was serving as interim executive director at the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, he was contacted by a recruiter who informed him Spokane International Airport was hiring an executive director.

“As I did my research on the airport, I got very energized,” Krauter said. “I just was very excited about the upside I saw in the research I was doing, and the fact that it was an airport system with a commercial service and a general aviation airport because that was the structure I was used to working in.”

Krauter was chosen out of 40 applicants nationwide to oversee Spokane International Airport operations.

One of Krauter’s biggest challenges was to restore and expand air service after some airlines pulled routes from the airport after the Great Recession.

Krauter updated Spokane International’s master plan and directed investments into equipment, maintenance and various capital projects for the airport and Felts Field.

Another challenge was addressing the airport’s separate terminal buildings that were driving up operating costs in a changing economy and volatile air-service environment.

“Airlines can enter and exit markets very quickly, and when you begin to add up all those different dynamics, you have to do something more incremental and that’s where TREX came from – to make the two terminal buildings work better together for the first time,” Krauter said.

Airport improvements

The initial $190 million design for TREX called for a centralized security checkpoint and baggage claim in a two-story mezzanine with a connector between terminals, a skywalk, curbside canopies, additional gates at the Alaska Airlines concourse and infrastructure improvements.

But as the airport narrowed its scope on the TREX design, it was deemed too expensive because of a federally imposed cap on the passenger facility charge – a $4.50 per flight fee the airport collects from travelers and uses to fund FAA-approved projects.

Krauter testified before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in March, asking lawmakers to raise the cap on the passenger facility charge from $4.50 to $8.50, stating its purchase power is half of what it was when the charge was adjusted by Congress in 2000.

“Being in a position to represent the community and talking about the importance of aviation infrastructure – it was an honor for me, but, also, it was hard work and important because we need to make progress on these issues if we are going to continue to deliver a world-class experience for the community,” Krauter said about his testimony to Congress.

As Congress continues to contemplate legislation to raise the passenger facility charge, the Spokane International Airport board approved a $152 million revised TREX design with a centralized security checkpoint, expansion of existing baggage claim areas and three additional gates at the Alaska Airlines terminal. The project is anticipated to be complete by 2023.

In addition to several airport improvements, Frontier Airlines returned to the airport in 2018 after a three-year hiatus, with flights to and from Denver and Las Vegas. This year, Southwest Airlines added nonstop flights to San Diego and Alaska Airlines began nonstop service to Paine Field-Snohomish County Airport in Everett.

Alaska will begin nonstop routes next year to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Delta Airlines recently announced nonstop flights from Spokane to Atlanta, beginning in July.

“For me, it’s particularly gratifying when we get to some of those project completion milestones,” Krauter said.

A multiplier effect

Members of the American Association of Airport Executives – which represents thousands of management personnel at public-use commercial and general aviation airports – elected Krauter to serve as vice chairman of its executive committee in June.

“From day one, Larry has been a tremendous contributor,” said Todd Hauptli, CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives. “He’s always prepared. He’s incredibly thoughtful and he spends a lot of time looking over the horizon at issues the organization needs to focus on for the future, not just whatever the burning issue at the moment might be. He does that for our organization and he does that for our industry.”

Krauter also serves as chair of the West Plains Public Development Authority and on Gov. Inslee’s Choose Washington New Middle-Market Airplane Executive Council, which aims to solidify the state as the preferred location for design, production and final assembly of a new aircraft by Boeing.

The West Plains agency could be looked upon 20 years from now as one of the most important strategic decisions by the city, county and airport to develop a world-class transportation and logistics center with emphasis on aerospace in the region, Krauter said.

The Spokane area, with more than 8,000 employed in airframe production, is the nation’s fifth-largest aerospace cluster and the second largest in the state, according to Greater Spokane Incorporated.

The development authority’s efforts to improve infrastructure on the West Plains lured Amazon, which is expected to open its $181 million fulfillment center by mid-2020. Kenworth Sales Co., Selkirk Pharma and Mullen Technologies are also planning to open manufacturing facilities on the West Plains.

California-based Mullen Technologies is expected to bring 860 jobs to the area with production of its Qiantu K-50 electric sports car as well as research and development of lithium-ion batteries.

Infrastructure improvements, available land, a taxiway system at the airport, a transload facility, and more advanced manufacturing and aerospace jobs could strengthen a future pitch by the development authority to have Boeing once again operate a manufacturing plant on the West Plains.

“Boeing has to build a new airplane at some point,” Krauter said.

Boeing had a presence in Spokane until the company sold its plant to Triumph Composite Systems in 2003.

“That would be a game-changing event for our regional economy and truly allow us to provide for our community in ways that I don’t think people could have even envisioned in terms of what it’s going to do to median household income, job opportunities, plus the multiplier effect,” Krauter said.

Love for the job

Krauter said overseeing operations of Felts Field, Spokane International Airport and the Airport Business Park is demanding because it requires careful thought about finances, economic development, operational safety and air service, among other things.

“For me, all of those challenges are very intellectually demanding and I really enjoy that part of the work – figuring all that stuff out and then aligning our organization around the objectives we need to meet across all of those wide-ranging areas we work in,” he said.

Krauter not only works around planes, but he has fun in them too. As a single-engine land- and sea-rated pilot, he finds flying a relaxing activity.

“It’s something I can do that actually does take my mind off of work,” he said. “I’m not up in the air thinking about a financing issue because I need to be able to fly a plane.”

Although overseeing airport operations is a job that requires availability at all times, Krauter said providing public service and working with the airport team is the ultimate reward.

“I love it so much. It doesn’t feel like work,” Krauter said. “The reality is, I’m so motivated and excited about what we do, it’s easy for me – it’s integration with your life. You have to be all-in. You can’t do this job any other way.”

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