A “front door” to our community

“It took a huge team,” said Airport Director Kevin Bumen, describing the long-anticipated opening of San Luis Obispo County Airport’s new terminal on November 2, 2017. “I was the conductor, yes, but there were so many different instruments … so many moving parts,” he added, likening the opening day of the new terminal to a command performance by a well-rehearsed symphony orchestra.

And well-rehearsed it was. Crediting architect / designer RS & H, as well as general contractor Q & D Construction, Bumen said, “We were well-prepared. … The history of openings like this is littered with catastrophe. But this one was incredibly smooth; as good as or better than we hoped.”

Quite a feat when one considers the variables involved: Three airlines, several car rental agencies, passenger safety, vendors, concessionaires, terminal security, staffing … “That first day was a long one,” said Bumen. The first flights to use the new terminal were arrivals—4 of them—between the hours of 9 pm and midnight. The reward was immediate, in the amazed faces of the passengers who walked off their planes into the beautiful new 56,000 square foot terminal—almost 40,000 square feet larger than its predecessor. High ceilings, natural materials, and a new outdoor courtyard create a welcoming space, while a larger security checkpoint, a new post-security food and beverage concession, even a special animal relief area offer travelers unanticipated amenities.

“People’s experiences with airports are notoriously onerous,” said Bumen. “We wanted to design a building that would not only convey a sense of this community [as seen in the views of the surrounding landscape and in the art depicting our gorgeous wine country] but also a place they will enjoy, a place that is comfortable and efficient. … We’ve succeeded in doing that, and the responses we are getting are incredibly rewarding.”

Many years in the planning, and two years in construction, the new terminal came in on time and on budget, despite the surprising addition of two new flights—one to Denver and one to Seattle—and a new airline, Alaska Airlines, before the new terminal was opened. “We didn’t expect that until after the new building was complete,” said Bumen, “and the public was quick to see the limitation of the old terminal, especially in parking.

Arriving at his new post as Airport Director just as the project was getting under way, Kevin Bumen was the “new guy” —to the airport and to the county. “It was kind of like, ‘Welcome to San Luis Obispo; now let’s build a new terminal!’” he admits. But Bumen said the timing could not have been better. Everything was aligned: the finances, the plan, the support of the community, and a great board. Bumen was the new guy who brought it home, bringing a diverse set of skills and experiences to the task.

Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, Kevin was one of two children (he has an older sister) raised by a career U.S. Air Force pilot on three different bases–one in Fairbanks, one in Yuba City (northern California), and one in Nebraska. His father was in a pilot in the Strategic Air Command for 28 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. Though he learned to fly in high school and spent his whole life around aviation, Kevin never saw it as a profession.

Bumen earned his B.S. from Cal Poly, Magna Cum Laude, in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration, and like most Cal Poly students, he fell in love with the Central Coast. After graduation, Bumen worked in the education and non-profit sectors, landing a job with Transitions Mental Health’s Growing Grounds program— which just happened to be located next to the Santa Maria Airport. He met and befriended the airport director and the seed was planted.

“Airport directors are the ultimate generalists,” he explained. “You have to know more than a little about everything—from legal to engineering, marketing to safety, finance to the environment. … The fact that I’m a pilot is not common,” he added.

Bumen next began a Master’s program in Aeronautical Science with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. But the coursework was sidelined when he accepted a position with the Truckee Tahoe Airport District in 2003. By then, he and his wife Kim had two small children and the whole family relocated to Truckee. By 2009, Bumen had worked his way up to Director of Aviation and Business Services, a position he held until 2013 when he was selected to take the top job at the SLO County Regional Airport.

Bumen’s wife, Kim, was a full time teacher for San Luis Coastal for over a dozen years. Her former students would remember her as Miss Jensen. Today, she continues to substitute at middle and high schools. Their son Cole is now 17 and their daughter Zoe is 14.

This year, 2018, Bumen is honored to be serving as President of the California Airports Council, following an impressive list of other leadership positions. These include serving on the Board of Directors for the Southwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives, as an Advisory Board member for the Salvation Army Central Coast, and on the Superintendent’s Blue Ribbon Committee for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.

Now that the terminal is open, now that he’s no longer the “new guy,” one wonders how day-to-day life on the job has changed. “We’ll be in adaptation / transition mode for months,” he said. “We’ve just completed opening bids for the new rental car wash and prep facility.” And then there’s potential parking expansion, airfield maintenance projects, and more.
As for the old terminal? Bumen said it will likely not be torn down anytime soon; he hopes it will find a new second life, perhaps as a flight school, for helicopter tours, or aeronautical conference space. “It all depends on what the market tells us,” he said.

As the “front door” to our county, and often both the first and the last glimpse of San Luis Obispo that travelers see, the new Regional Airport reflects the wide open beauty and graciousness of its community. And offers us all an airport that seeks to—and succeeds at—giving travelers an experience that is as wonderful as the place we call home.