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Questions we think Tampa airport director candidates should be asked

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 05:33 PM
TAMPA -

To begin the search for a new director for Tampa International Airport, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board and its executive search consultants asked:  "What are we looking for?"

One of the attributes for candidates laid out by Miami-based consultants Spencer Stuart was that candidates would be experienced and comfortable "in the spotlight" and "under the microscope. An additional point involved adeptness in dealing with the media on a regular basis.

Ironically, however, board member interviews scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday with the four candidates on Spencer Stuart's short list will neither be in the spotlight nor under the microscope, as they are being conducted legally and privately.

A reception for the four vying to replace Louis Miller is scheduled Wednesday evening with the news media and public.

Because the public won't be privy to the interview questions and answers, the Tribune has produced its own list of questions for candidates, based on interviews with more than a dozen aviation industry sources and suggestions from TBO.com readers.

For all candidates:

1. One strength Tampa International passengers frequently mention is a rapport between employees - whether they work for the airport authority, the airlines or vendors - and airport patrons. What can you do to make sure that rapport is maintained? What else do you think Tampa International Airport does well and what can me improved upon?

2. Amid a growing sense in the community that Tampa airport issues have become increasingly and uncharacteristically political, who would you, as airport director, view as the airport's prime customers: Passengers, airlines, economic development interests, would-be passengers, contractors, others? Whose priorities are met first if needs, desires and proposals to spend money are in conflict?

3. Considering that economic development officials foresee Tampa Bay-Orlando becoming a "super region," like the Research Triangle in North Carolina and Silicon Valley in California, how should Tampa International compete and possibly cooperate with Orlando International Airport and other nearby airports?

4. What resources will you need to provide airlines with incentives or guarantees to provide flights for which they believe there is not sufficient passenger demand at Tampa International? What steps - if any -- would you take to obtain money from business and possibly state and local government sources to provide airline incentives?

5. Long-time director Louis Miller left after conflicts with new board members over issues ranging from a lack of many international flights to demolition of a vacant office building. How certain are you that the circumstances leading to Miller's departure have been resolved or, if they have not been resolved, how will you handle the philosophical differences that led to his departure?

6. Tampa International 's 2011 budget shows 26 executive level positions, not including the executive director, with salaries higher than $100,000 and three more at more than $93.000. How will you evaluate executive management, how long will that take, what do you expect to find given what you know about the airport's performance?

Additional questions for individual candidates:

Kevin Dillon, president and chief executive Rhode Island Airport Corporation

1. You have faced a decline of flights and traffic at the Providence, R.I., airport, and Southwest Airlines, your busiest carrier, recently starting flying from nearby Boston. What can you do to address the ongoing decline in flights in Tampa, while other airports are recovering from the recession more quickly?

2. You worked
as deputy executive director in Orlando, so how do you see the Tampa and Orlando airports evolving in the short- and long-term? In particular, what is possible for Tampa International in terms of growth in the shadows of Orlando's theme parks, economic development initiatives and central state location?

3. Your service in Orlando was
for less than a year before taking a position of greater responsibility - the top job - at a much smaller operation. Why did you leave Orlando and how does Tampa fit into your long-range career plans?

Kent George, director of aviation, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

1.  You have been at Fort Lauderdale since 2007, a relatively short time compared with your decade long tenures as director in Pittsburgh and director in Rock Island County, Ill. Why are you interested in the Tampa position, which could be viewed as a lateral move?

2.  What has Fort Lauderdale done that Tampa has not in recruiting international flights and what can be done to improve the situation here, allowing that certain demographic and geographic circumstances are different?

3. What lessons did you learn
in international flight recruitment in Pittsburgh, where the business community along with state and local government entities kicked in what amounted to more than $1 million annually to support international flights? How can these lessons be applied to Tampa?

Joseph Lopano, executive vice president Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

1. How do you compare the financial, staff and community and regional resources you have at Dallas Fort Worth for marketing with what is available for marketing in Tampa? How can you make marketing succeed in a much smaller market, with a paucity of corporate headquarters, unlike Dallas?

2. Can you guarantee additional non-stop international flights serving Tampa if you get the director's job? Why and how?

3. In Dallas, the airport's public affairs manager responds to media requests for assistants to the director, while in Tampa, managers and employees have been allowed to speak directly with the press. What will be your policy and why?

Lester Robinson, former chief executive Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit

1.  Why did the board not extend your contract earlier this year in Detroit (no one is talking publicly on that issue)? 

2.  What do you anticipate being different about Tampa's business community, where there are few local headquarters, and Detroit, and what challenges and opportunities are there in Tampa to improve the local business situation?

3.  How did you manage to improve the infrastructure at Detroit's airport to where it has
won numerous recent customer service awards and what do you see that must be improved at Tampa International's facility, which is nearing 40 years old?

MEET THE CANDIDATES

A reception for the public to meet the four candidates for executive airport director will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Tampa Airport Marriott.

Candidates will meet Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board members for interviews on Wednesday and Thursday in closed sessions.

The board at its Oct. 7 regularly scheduled monthly public meeting is expected to discuss the candidates and vote on a new director for Tampa International Airport and the county's three general aviation airports.

Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at 813-259-7817.

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