After close to 40 years of working in aviation — a stint that saw airline bankruptcies, a terror attack and a vast expansion of passenger travel, the longtime executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission has announced plans to retire next spring.

Jeff Hamiel, 68, began his career with the MAC in 1977 as the organization's first noise program manager, following a stint as a pilot in the Air Force. He rose through the ranks at the MAC and was named CEO/executive director in 1985.

Hamiel oversees the day-to-day operations of one of the nation's largest airport systems, which includes Minneapolis-St. Paul International, plus Airlake in Lakeville, Anoka County-Blaine, Crystal, Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie, Lake Elmo and St. Paul Downtown.

The MAC has 580 employees and a budget of about $300 million this year.

Hamiel "has made an indelible impact on air travel in Minnesota," MAC Chair Dan Boivin said in a statement. "Under his leadership, Minneapolis-St. Paul International has earned a reputation as one of the nation's best managed airports. The number of passengers served annually has more than quadrupled during Jeff's tenure. He has provided a steady hand to keep air service strong in Minnesota not only in good times but also when airlines one after another were filing for bankruptcy, merging and discontinuing hub operations at other airports."

Traffic at MSP increased to nearly 35 million passengers last year, up from 8.4 million in 1977, when Hamiel joined the MAC. The number of flights increased in that period by 56 percent to 412,695 in 2014 — the airport is now the 16th busiest in the United States.

During Hamiel's tenure, the airline industry changed dramatically, including deregulation in 1978, the security changes brought on by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the bankruptcy of Northwest Airlines, which later merged with Delta Air Lines.

The airport has also expanded at its current site (after studying others), and launched a $3 billion program in 2010 that included new concourses at both terminals, gates, parking and cargo facilities, light-rail service and a fourth runway. The MAC also developed an airport noise mitigation program involving nearly 15,000 homes in the metro area.

Hamiel's last day will be May 16, 2016. A replacement is expected to begin work in mid-April.

The MAC has retained an executive recruiting firm, Spencer Stuart, to conduct a national search for Hamiel's replacement. A "blue-ribbon" panel will be named by the MAC to vet applicants, Boivin said.

Michael Bell, who co-leads the firm's Aerospace, Aviation and Defense practice, said possible replacements could come from the airport and airline industries, and the public, private and quasi-public sectors. Advantages for recruiting to the Twin Cities include the longevity of the current leadership team, the structure of the MAC and its positive relationship with the airlines serving the airport, he said.

One challenge in recruiting a top candidate will likely be salary.

After a survey of other large airports showed Hamiel was the lowest paid, the MAC gave Hamiel a 1.7 percent raise in July, bringing his annual salary to $200,095.

But even with his pay raise, he's still second from the bottom — Las Vegas is last.

The search for a new aviation commissioner to oversee O'Hare and Midway airports in Chicago took several months because the original salary of $186,000 a year was seen as too low. Ginger Evans, an airport veteran who was ultimately hired, is being paid $300,000, with the opportunity to earn a $100,000 performance bonus.

Spencer Stuart will be paid one-third of the CEO's final salary, plus expenses, according to the MAC.