Jeff Van Dyck is the new executive director of the Institute of Flight. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Jeff Van Dyck is the new executive director of the Institute of Flight. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

New director must chart the future of the Future of Flight

The popular Paine Field attraction faces uncertainty as the county seeks a new operator.

MUKILTEO — The largest tourist attraction in Snohomish County faces an uncertain future.

Each year, a half million people visit the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour to see the nearby factory or visit the aerospace gallery, educational programs and special events.

For its entire history, the Future of Flight has been managed by a local nonprofit, most recently under the name Institute of Flight.

Who will continue to run the center is up in the air. The county, which owns the building at 8415 Paine Field Blvd., entered talks with Seattle’s Museum of Flight last year to take over operation of the attraction.

Those discussions ended without a deal.

The county’s contract with the local nonprofit is set to end in June.

“We are working towards having another operator in place by then,” said Arif Ghouse, Paine Field Airport’s director, in an email.

Enter Jeff Van Dyck.

He’s the new executive director for the Institute of Flight. He’s optimistic that the county will continue its relationship with the nonprofit.

“My view has always been, in my career, that the best idea should win,” Van Dyck said. “So we need to study and find out what the best idea is and execute on it. I think we have a really strong case for staying and continuing and signing a new contract. I’m excited about it. The employees are excited about it.”

Van Dyck became just the third executive director of the organization. He replaces Bonnie Hilory, who left last month after reaching an “agreement of separation that is of mutual benefit to all concerned.” Barry Smith launched the nonprofit in 2003 and opened the center in 2005.

The nonprofit has an annual budget of $3.8 million a year and employs 33 and works with dozens of volunteers and contractors. Those employees’ livelihoods are in limbo while management of the center is determined.

Van Dyck, who has lived in Edmonds for more than 30 years, served on the nonprofit’s board for four years. After Hilory left, employees suggested that Van Dyck take over as executive director.

He recently retired from Boeing, one of the Future of Flight’s most important partners. He spent 20 years as director of creative services of the Shared Services Group, overseeing design, architecture and brand building.

“The relationship is instantly improved, because I have known the head of the tour department for many years,” Van Dyck said. “She used to be in sales and marketing and I used to work with her. She was the brand manager for the 787. We worked closely, so I know her very well.”

He has a healthy respect for the employees who operate the Future of Flight and manage ticketing for the Boeing tour.

“The staff is incredible,” Van Dyck said. “They’re smart, experienced, even some of them who are younger of age are very experienced. They’re energetic even with the contract in flux. They’re working harder than ever and putting a really good face forward.”

County spokesman Kent Patton said in an email that the county expects to make an announcement about the Future of Flight later this year.

“With 2018 bringing both the end of the management contract at Future of Flight and the beginning of commercial service, we saw an opportunity to take the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour to the next level of success, Patton said.

Van Dyck said that he knows there could be a number of scenarios, including renewing the contract with his nonprofit, hiring a third-party contractor or even leasing the building to Boeing.

Until then, he wants to continue plans to have more interactive and education-driven exhibits and make the Future of Flight a more fun place.

“I’ve only been in the position for a couple of weeks,” Van Dyck said. “It’s new to them and they’re watching what’s going on. Who knows? Give us a window and we’ll show you it’s a completely different group.”

Noah Haglund contributed to this report. Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; jdavis@heraldnet.com; @HBJnews.

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