New Ontario airport manager has high hopes for the future

Justin Zysk is the new Ontario Municipal Airport Manager and wants to see the facility expand in the future. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – Justin Zysk once guided surveillance drones over Iraq and Afghanistan for the U.S. Army but is now in charge of a much more peaceful place as the new Ontario Municipal Airport manager.

Zysk’s first day was Jan. 1 and the biggest task at the airport his second day on the job was mundane but not an unusual circumstance in southeastern Oregon.

“I was busy plowing snow,” he said.

Zysk, 32, was born in Connecticut before he moved to Georgia. He joined the U.S. Army in 2008 and eventually qualified as a drone pilot. He was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq during his four-year stint. He graduated from Arizona State University with a master’s degree in public administration in December.

Zysk said he didn’t set out to be the airport manager when he applied for a position with the city last summer.

“Originally, I applied for the human resources position because my future path is to become a city manager,” he said.

He said Adam Brown instead offered him the airport positon.

Zysk said he agreed as long as Brown “mentored me and kept in the loop on how to run budgets and stuff.”

Zysk said 65 private aircraft are based at the airport and the airfield averages between 35 and 40 take off and landings per day.

So far, said Zysk, his job has been “like drinking from a fire hose.”

“There is definitely a lot going on,” said Zysk.

He is overseeing a number of airport projects such as the development of new hangars. Eight hangars are under construction and four more planned.

Zysk said officials are also looking to expand where the city golf course used to be.

“We’d like to have a couple of corporate jet hangars,” said Zysk.

As traffic at airports in Caldwell and Nampa increases, he said, Ontario’s airport offers a good alternative.

“There is a lot of east to west movement. We are kind of last in line and pilots like it here because it is not as busy,” said Zysk.

Zysk said he’d also like to create reasons for county residents to come to the airport. One idea, he said, is to establish a small restaurant or café at the airport.

He said that while he has a great deal of autonomy as airport manager, he must get Ontario City Council buy-in on any new project.

“I’ve got ideas, they’ve got ideas, so it about finding that middle ground,” he said.

His time in the U.S. Army as a drone pilot is also beneficial for his new post, said Zysk.

“I’ve got planning experience and obviously I have aviation experience and I understand how an airport functions,” he said.

The requirements to become a drone pilot are the same for fixed wing aircraft, he said.

“I had to pass the FAA ground school test,” he said.

Zysk said he had reservations about becoming the airport manager.

“I had never been in a position of complete autonomy before. So, coming out of college it was a big step,” he said.

Still, Zysk said he is glad he accepted the position.

“Not many people have this opportunity. It is a lot of work, but it is fun,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Hartley takes controls at Ontario’s airport

State, federal and local officials delve into mystery of missing chemical containers at Ontario Municipal airport

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