Chris Hastert’s first couple of months on the job as the Santa Maria Public Airport’s general manager have been “a little bit of a whirlwind.” He joins the airport at a time when longtime plans call for creating a business park and golf course south of the airfield, extending the runway and expanding airline service — all amid a staggering economy.

Hastert, most recently deputy director of Ventura County Airports, was hired in October after a long search that began earlier in the year. He worked the past 11 years at Ventura County Airports, which includes the Camarillo and Oxnard airports.

Since taking the post Oct. 14, Hastert’s agenda has included getting to know people, reviewing airport policies and seeing his family settled into their new city. The transition has been made easier by a welcoming community, he said. “We’ve been accepted with open arms,” he said.

Hastert, 36, was born in Granada Hills and grew up in Simi Valley. Hastert and his wife of nine years, Kathy, have two sons Riley, 4, and Colin, 1.

Hastert rose to Oxnard Airport manager within a couple years, before moving on to lead the Camarillo Airport. As deputy director for the county-owned and -operated airports, he was responsible for leases, airport operations and managing the maintenance staff.

He holds a private pilot’s license and is an active member of several professional organizations. During his days in Oxnard, he owned a Cessna 150. Hastert is about a year away from completing his degree in aviation management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

He is under contract for three years at a salary of $115,000 annually.

Santa Maria’s airport is somewhat rare because it is operated by a special district, not a city or county. It is governed by a five-member board of directors who are elected to four-year terms. Airport Board President Ted Eckert, a member of the panel for 21 years, described Hastert as the most qualified of 76 applicants for the position. Hastert’s ability to start as soon as the contract was inked was one of his attributes, according to Eckert.

The job requires a number of characteristics beyond knowledge of running an airport and Hastert has adjusted well to the variety of activities and size of the airport.

The Santa Maria airport grounds are considerably larger — about 2,598-acres — than the 218-acre Oxnard Airport and 650-acre Camarillo airport.

Since starting, Hastert has spent his time productively getting to know city, county and Vandenberg officials while managing his staff effectively and working with the board of directors, Eckert said. “It’s a complex job with a lot to learn,” he said. “He’s becoming more competent from experience.”

The business park project, named the Santa Maria Airport Business Park, has raised concerns from mobile-home park residents located within the planning area about how and when their park would be closed.

Hastert’s goals include a resolution to the proposal to relocate mobile home park residents. “We want to do the right thing there,” Hastert said.

Groundbreaking for the business park, which is set to be developed in multiple phases over several decades, could come as soon as 2010. “There’s lots of work to be done,” Hastert said. He said the timing of the project will hopefully coincide with an economic turnaround and become a steady source of revenue.

With the economy skidding, general aviation activity has also softened with fewer business and recreational flights. In recent years, the airport has struggled to increase its passenger flights while expanding the terminal to handle bigger groups of people and larger planes.

Hastert said airport officials have met with two marketing firms as part of a “big push” strategy to talk to community business owners and managers on how best the airport can meet their needs.

The public’s backing is especially key as the airport tries to meet demands for more services and flights, he said. “We have great community support,” he said.

Additionally, the relationship between the airport and the city is “as strong as its ever been,” he said.

According to the owner of a business providing fuel and amenities for private aircraft and their passengers at the Santa Maria airport, Hastert has been a welcome addition. Jim Kunkle of Central Coast Jet Center said he is pleased with Hastert’s work so far and is looking forward to work with him further. “We’re happy he is here,” Kunkle said. “He’s bringing a new direction and a fresh view to the airport which we will appreciate.”