With the departure of airport manager Tony Simpson, a long-time pilot and port commissioner is stepping up – at least for the short term.
Dwight Guss has been named interim manager, a position that could last up to six months.
“I’m passionate about this airport and the community around it,” he said.
Simpson, who has held his position for five years, is leaving Feb. 25 to be a full-time pilot. Nearly 60 people have applied for the job. Port of Orcas commissioners Clyde Duke, Steve Hopkins, Bea vonTobel and Greg Sawyer have whittled the candidates down to 25.
Guss, who has been a commissioner for the past eight years, has also applied. In case he isn’t hired for the job, he’s asking the board to keep his commissioner spot unfilled for 90 days so that he can return to it.
Guss, who owns Avalon Construction, moved to Orcas in 2000 and earned his pilot’s license two years later.
“My dad was a pilot, and we went more places by plane than by car, growing up in California,” he said.
Guss has completed 3,000 jumps as a skydiver, and he says the main reason for buying a plane was to fly himself to his jump spot in Seattle. He and a group of fellow skydivers gathered on Orcas last summer, and he hopes to do it again.
“I would love to introduce some other crazy people to it,” he laughed.
Guss bought his first plane, a Cherokee that he still flies today, in 2003, the same year he began volunteering as a mercy flight pilot. He’s flown hundreds of Orcas residents to and from medical appointments on the mainland. Guss also transports animals for Pilots N Paws and the Orcas Animal Shelter.
“I love helping out the local shelter for transporting dogs,” he said.
Guss adopted his dog Canela as a puppy 10 years ago in Mexico, where he travels every year. Since then he’s brought back five dogs, all of whom have found homes.
Guss has helped coordinate the Orcas Fly-In for the past 16 years, and this year he will complete his 100th Young Eagles plane ride with kids interested in flying. He’s also a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
“My number one goal is to keep it a safe and friendly airport,” he said. “I do feel it needs to expand. Our terminal is rotting and falling down, and is too close to the runway. I also want to guide it to the next phase: finishing the master plan.”
The port began drafting its 20-year master plan in September 2017 and is projected to conclude the document in March 2019. It s a Federal Aviation Administration requirement that is reviewed every five to 10 years; the last update for Orcas came in 2008.
The airport, currently deemed a B1 airport, is likely to be recategorized as a B2 airport, requiring a runway width expansion but not lengthening. Airport size categories are dependent on the size of aircraft the facility accommodates. Because the Port of Orcas gets many Cessna Caravans – like those owned and operated by Kenmore Air and FedEx – it will need to be retrofitted to suit its purpose.
Conforming to the FAA standards is a contingency to receiving funding from the federal entity.
What Guss loves most about the airport, which has around 10,000 planes landing on its airstrip annually, are the pilots.
“All the pilots here are my friends, and I love gathering here on the weekends. It’s my life,” he said.