Mary Bondurant said she’s always known she wanted to work around planes. Bondurant, who has worked at Kenai Municipal Airport for 23 years — 14 of those as airport manager — will retire in May.
All of Bondurant’s time in Alaska has been spent around planes. When she relocated to Kodiak Island in 1990 from Washington state, she accepted a job with the Alaska Department of Transportation at the Kodiak Airport and worked as an assistant to the airport manager for eight and a half years.
Bondurant relocated to Kenai after she applied for and accepted an administrative assistant position at the Kenai Municipal Airport (KMA) in November of 1998. One of Kenai’s biggest draws? Roads.
“I love Alaska, but I didn’t want to be on an island,” Bondurant said. “I wanted to get somewhere where there was more of a road system.”
Working at Kodiak Airport, Bondurant said, gave her knowledge and expertise she could bring to Kenai. Former Kenai City Manager Rick Koch offered Bondurant the position of airport manager in August of 2007, which she accepted.
Among the highlights of her career, Bondurant said, is working with the City of Kenai and the Federal Aviation Administration to secure airport improvement funding directed to infrastructure development. That has included the purchase of new snow removal equipment, pavement rehabilitation and maintenance, land acquisition and a new sand storage facility, among other things.
Another highlight, Bondurant said, has been the airport’s safety record. Airport staff, she said, work extensively to keep the airfield safe, sometimes plowing the runway all night to ensure it can remain open. Scheduled air service, she said, technically stops at 10 p.m., but medevac traffic happens at all hours and is an essential service on the peninsula.
“Mother Nature throws some ugly weather at us at times and a closed runway is not an option,” Bondurant said.
Bondurant was also in charge when the city was approached by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) about using KMA as an alternative airfield for F22s. As part of that agreement, the military agrees to provide four weather cameras that pilots use to view the airfield and the weather in Cook Inlet.
As far as the low points in her career, Bondurant said the pandemic tops the list. A decrease in the number of passengers boarding and flying out of Kenai coupled with the bankruptcy of RAVN Airlines. During a normal year, Bondurant said, the number of people who board planes and fly out of Kenai is around 100,000. In 2020, that number was just over 30,000. The bankruptcy of RAVN immediately put 25 airport terminal employees out of work.
“When I gave my budget presentation to [Kenai] City Council in May of 2020, I was in my office in a new terminal building that was locked up from Friday nights to Sunday morning with no scheduled air service to or from Kenai,” Bondurant said. “Never would I have imagined an experience like that.”
A revamped Ravn began offering flights to and from Alaska communities — including Kenai — last November.
Bondurant said the hits taken by the airport during the pandemic did not influence her decision to retire, but rather convinced her to wait another year before stepping down.
The City of Kenai put out an open call for applications for a new airport manager and Bondurant said they’ve already received 38 applications. The city is expecting to move forward with interviews soon.
In preparing for life after the airport, Bondurant said she plans on staying on the Kenai Peninsula, which is where her family is and where she considers “home,” and that there will likely be a lot of fishing and hunting days in her future.
“I really just want to be home and enjoy my home and fish and my grandkids and take care of my garden,” Bondurant said. “You know, just have my own time where I’ll just be able to do what I want to do.”