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Airport authority begins severing relationship with management company

HANOVER TWP., Pa. - Big changes are coming to the senior management team at Lehigh Valley International Airport near Allentown.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority unanimously voted to hire Charles Everett, Jr., as the airport's executive director.

That may not sound like news because Everett already is the airport's executive director. But currently he is employed by Avports, a management team that operates the airport for the authority.

The board's action makes Everett a direct employee of the airport authority. It also apparently marks the beginning of the end for Avports at Lehigh Valley International, which will save the financially-challenged authority hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

"He's demonstrated that he's the right guy right now," said authority chairman Tony Iannelli. "He has done an outstanding job."

Ironically, the airport authority hoped Avports would help increase profits when it hired the management company in August 2011.

Everett said his salary will remain the same: $142,000 a year.

Both Everett and Iannelli stressed Everett will be an "at will" employee, with no contract. "He will be working hard to prove himself," said Iannelli. "We're hoping this is a long-term marriage."          

After the board's vote, Everett said five people on his staff also work for Avports. He explained it will be up to him to decide whether he rehires any of them. He said he does intend to rehire some, but added: "I'm not sure which ones."

"Some of the senior management will find themselves out of work," said Iannelli.

Those five senior managers are:

·      Thomas Stoudt, director of operations, safety and systems.

·      Susan Kittle, director of external affairs.

·      Sherri McTavish, director of administration and finance.

·      Brian Sinnwell, director of planning and facilities.

·      Darren Betters, director of commercial services.

The airport also had a vacant deputy director position, but Everett said that was eliminated in the 2013 budget.

Everett has been managing the airport since September 2011.

Before coming to LVIA, he was a Congressional Liaison with the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C.

"I left a career position at FAA to be an airport manager, something I really wanted to do," said Everett. "Avports and the airport authority gave me that opportunity.

"I'm delighted that the board has the confidence in me and believes I will work well. I look forward to working with them as an employee."

He said his sole charge will be to serve the airport's board by implementing its policies and decisions. "We have a very good working relationship."

The authority's management contract with Avports runs through the end of this year. Iannelli said the authority has not yet made a formal decision to not renew that contract. But he added hiring Everett away from Avports "certainly doesn't enhance the potential for renewal of that contract."

Iannelli also said: "It didn't make sense to wait until the eleventh hour to move forward if we weren't going to have Avports as part of the future."

He said eliminating the contract with Avports will save the airport authority money, as will reducing the management staff. He added: "We could improve staff."

The chairman said that contract costs the authority $250,000 a year, not including salaries for members of the senior management team. He could not provide a total of those salaries Tuesday afternoon.

When the airport authority hired Avports in 2011, the airport management company was paid $325,000 a year.

The 50-year-old Everett, who lives in Upper Saucon Township, said the change will "enhance the operation" as well as saving money.

No official start date has been set for Everett to begin working directly for the airport, said Iannelli, "but it will be sooner rather than later."

The chairman said an exit strategy still has to be worked out with Avports:  "This is all pending a happy separation from Avports."

At Tuesday's board meeting, secretary-treasurer Dean Browning reported the authority has to come up with roughly $53 million in cash over the next three years "in some way, shape or form."

"We're going to generate $16 million or so from operations, which leaves us short $37 million over the next three years," said Browning. To get the rest, he said the FAA will help pay capital improvement costs, the authority must sell land to settle its multi-million-dollar legal debt and it must continue to make that $16 million figure for operations.

Browning said passenger traffic at the airport in January totaled more than 43,000 people, substantially lower than in January 2012. In fact, he added:  "It is the lowest month we've had in the past four years."

He also indicated net income from operations in January was more than $200,000 less than the $461,000 in revenue in January 2012.

And Browning said the airport's cash balance is dwindling. It was just over $4 million on Jan. 31, compared to $5.6 million at the same time in 2012, $7.1 million in 2011 and $10.9 million in 2010. "We are trending down on cash," he said.

Iannelli said the airport's "culture" will have to change "rapidly from an operational culture to an entrepreneurial culture."

The authority discussed plans to generate more general aviation business for its airports during the Feb. 2, 2014 Super Bowl XLVIII in  New Jersey's Meadowlands sports complex  near New York City and during upcoming NASCAR and Indycar races at Pocono Raceway in Monroe County.

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