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Posted: May 01, 2009

Executive edge: Kim Day

A jet fire was among the challenges DIA’s aviation manager faced in her first year on the job

Lynn Bronikowski

What a year for Kim Day, manager of aviation at Denver International Airport.

In the year since Mayor John Hickenlooper named the former executive director of Los Angeles World Airport to replace the retiring Turner West, Day faced the steep run-up in fuel prices, the bankruptcy filing of Frontier Airlines and a global economic meltdown. The nation’s fifth busiest airport handled a record 51.2 million travelers in 2008, and she took charge of creating a road map for the 15-year-old airport’s growth.

ExecEdge_KimDay.jpg

Photo by Todd Nakashima

But it was a moment last December as she returned home from Christmas shopping that will forever stay with her. A Continental Airlines jet veered off the runway on takeoff and caught fire, forcing passengers to evacuate on emergency slides. Thirty-eight were injured. Miraculously no one died.

“It was unbelievable. I felt like I was in a movie – everybody knew their job and was incredible as they went about doing it. It was because of that, that no one died on that cold, blustery day,” she said.

Two days later she toured the accident site with Hickenlooper. “It was very emotional to see the wreckage and realize how every day we take the lives of people into our hands,” she said.

Day, 54, came into her 30-year aviation career as an architect after earning a bachelor of architecture degree from Cornell University and completing graduate course work at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I always had an interest in space,” she said. “My mom used to say that when they’d come home after being out, I had rearranged all the furniture – really, I did it several times moving big pieces of furniture around the room.”

Architecture was an emerging field for women when Day landed her first job at Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall, traveling between the firm’s Los Angeles and San Francisco offices where she ultimately was named vice president and oversaw everything from pre-Olympics improvements at Kingsford Smith International Airport in Sydney, Australia, to two new terminals at Ontario International Airport.  Her career took her to Los Angeles World Airport, where she oversaw a $600 million operating budget and managed 3,000 employees. 

“Architecture is all about seeing the big picture and paying attention to  small details, and that’s what you have to do in airports,” she said. “One of the reasons I came here was because I had been involved in airports as a strategic planner, and I knew there was something special here, and there are a lot of options in planning the future.”

First up is resolving problems with DIA’s train system, the lone passageway to concourses that can cause huge delays over the slightest shutdown.  There are plans to configure a new runway and a study under way to determine if winds are consistent enough to support wind power. FasTracks is on the books, and Day has ideas for increasing airport revenue by adding more shops and restaurants. DIA sold crop circles during last summer’s Democratic National Convention, so as passengers flew in, they saw a Papa John’s Pizza logo crafted in a DIA-owned field.

“The economic downturn actually gives us breathing room to plan – without the pressure of having to deliver a gate next year. This is the airport everybody envies,” Day said.

Watch ColoradoBiz's interview with Kim Day.

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Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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