“Aviation was just something I'd always been interested in as a kid," said Dustin Allinger. "I wanted to be an astronaut first."
Allinger, 36, fulfilled that dream by starting his new job as the new full-time San Luis Valley Regional Airport Manager one month ago. Francis Song was previously the manager part time, but now Song is the Alamosa County's full-time emergency manager.
Originally from Mishawaka, Indiana, Allinger got his first taste of the skies when he joined the Army at 19 in 1999. As an aviation operations specialist he worked with a medevac unit transporting wounded back to the hospital.
Though his grandfather served in World War II and the Korean War, the family history wasn't his primary motivation.
"Mostly I just wanted to get away from the hometown and have money for college," Allinger said.
After serving he moved to San Antonio, Texas to work at the San Antonio International Airport. Starting in the communications center in the basement, he soon moved up to operations.
Many of his duties there, such as working to ensure compliance with the Part 139 safety certification and coordinating with tenants, are similar to what he does now as an airport manager.
"It's really the stepping stone."
When his daughter Oasis was born, now 10, Allinger decided to commute to Texas State University in San Marcos for a degree in business management. A required finance class was at a satellite campus in Round Rock, 100 miles away. "I listened to a lot of audiobooks."
One day Dustin and his wife Andrea, who teaches high school English online, took Oasis and their son Owen, now 7, on a family vacation to Colorado. The pair ran races in Alma and Aspen and fell in love with the mountains. After 10 years in Texas they decided to move to Colorado Springs with Dustin working in operations for the city's airport. There they had another son, Orion, who is now 4 months old.
Allinger was barely employed there for a full year when he saw the opening for the airport manager in Alamosa. With the airport's new terminal and airline, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"It's been my goal for a long time to manage a small airport. The airport has been struggling for a long time and I saw the job and saw that a lot of progress can be made here."
Some ideas that Allinger has in mind are developing a marketing plan and repairing the terminal's parking lot. Improvements to runway signage and establishing Part 139 compliance are already underway.
"There's no limit to the tasks you have to take on when you're in a small airport."
Due to staff size, the tasks will take some time. The airport in San Antonio has more than 400 employees, the one in Colorado Springs has about 90 and the airport in Alamosa has just four.
Allinger stresses that his coworkers Chris Mora, Ben Herrera and Tony Bobicki have been vital to his transition and for the airport's future.
"The people before me had set this place up for success. I Just feel nothing but good things happening."
This interview was originally published in the November 3, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.