Sunday, September 07, 2014

Seasoned Naples Municipal Airport (KAPF) chief takes flak and awards

Consummate professional, intimidator. 

Those are two ways Naples Municipal Airport chief Ted Soliday is described.

Soliday says he’s no bully, but the decorated Vietnam veteran and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot makes no apologies about battling for what he thinks is right. He agrees he’s encountered a lot of ups and downs lately.

The high points include being named Aviation Professional of the Year by the state transportation department, the second time in his 20 years leading the airport — and earning an award from the Florida Civil Air Patrol for his accomplishments, community involvement and support of aviation education for young people.

Among the low spots: Drawing a letter of reprimand from the Naples Airport Authority board, for his email to Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk that along with two misspellings, suggested an airport watchdog group be “at least (reined) in a tad or at least (scared).”

Sign or screw-up?

The watchdog group said Soliday’s action was an attempt to intimidate and to trample on their free speech rights. They weren’t satisfied with the letter of reprimand.

“His contract recently was extended, but clearly there are problems with his judgment,” said Alan Parker, co-founder of Naples Airport Watch. Parker added: “Does the city of Naples want this kind of person in charge of the airport when the going gets tough?”

Soliday’s supporters contend this was an isolated case of bad judgment.

“He’s a genuinely decent, good man,” said Mike Reagen, retired Naples chamber of commerce director.

The airport puts an estimated $273 million into the area economy, and handles more than 90,000 general aviation takeoffs and landings each year. It is debt-free, and pays for its operation, maintenance and improvements through state and federal grants and income it generates.

Soliday “is deeply involved in economic development and tourism council activities. He’s a player in the business community,” Reagen said.

“I’d judge him on the totality of his career. He’s a consummate professional,” said John Allen, airport authority board chairman, who left the board Friday after completing two terms.

‘A bad mistake’

In a recent interview with The News-Press, Soliday said he wouldn’t have written that email to the sheriff if he wasn’t concerned about the legality of word changes on the copy of an airport document posted on the watchdog site.

He still doesn’t believe the changes — including the garbling of the airport’s slogan — were unintended technology glitches.

“There was one sentence in my email that was inappropriate and had two misspelled words,” Soliday said.

“That was a bad mistake. I accepted the mistake, and I and my staff have learned from it.”

Soliday sees no end to the “strained” relationship with Naples Airport Watch, but said he’d behave “as I have in the past, with integrity and honesty.”

Aircraft challenge

Points of contention include what can be done to curb aircraft noise during takeoffs and landings and whether resuming scheduled commercial airline service would do more harm than good for the community.

The airport is engaging a consultant to study the feasibility of again pursuing airlines. Development patterns over the decades are one obstacle.

Since the airport opened in 1943, a largely residential community with sensitivity to aircraft noise has emerged near its borders.

In 1997, the Naples authority became the first airport operator in the nation to successfully ban noisy Stage 1 and 2 jets weighing less than 75,000 pounds.

Starting in 2012, an airport authority campaign emphasized the airport’s recommended 10 p.m.-7 a.m. aircraft curfew, preferred flight corridors, “keep it high” landing procedures and quieter departure techniques.”

More than 98 percent of aircraft operators observe the voluntary curfew now, according to Soliday, who added: “Can we do more? We’re trying.”

One new avenue might be promoting voluntary use of an “idle reverse thrust” technique for slowing planes before they land. The aviation chief for Hertz Corp. described it to the airport noise compatibility committee. Soliday thinks it’s promising.

Balance interests

Parker of Naples Airport Watch balanced his criticism of Soliday with a compliment: “He’s looked out for the interest of airport owners and users diligently.”

What is still needed: “A balance of interests between the airport and the community,” Parker said.

Asked about that, Soliday said:

“Aircraft, freeways, automobiles, travel — generate noise. It’s hard to balance the interests.

“But I think no other airport in the nation can brag as we can, about what we’ve accomplished over the last 20 years.”

Naples Municipal Airport

• Address: 160 Aviation Drive N., Naples

• Opened: Dec. 23, 1943, as the Naples Airdrome

• Employees: 69 (full-time equivalent). Estimated 300 work for airport tenants

• Governed by: five-member board, appointed by Naples City Council, for four-year terms

Theodore D. “Ted” Soliday

• Age: 67

• Title: Executive director, City of Naples Airport Authority, Naples Municipal Airport

• Joined airport authority: 1994

• Annual salary: $212,992, not including $8,400 expense allowance

• Military service: Captain, pilot (mainly helicopters) and air traffic controller for the U.S. Marine Corps. Decorated for combat service in Vietnam

• Family: Cheryl, wife of 45 years; two sons, also Marine Corps vets; seven grandchildren

• Professional honors: Florida Aviation Professional of 2014; also in 2002; President of Florida Airports Council, 2010-2011 and recipient of its Eagle Award

• Community honors, affiliations: Silver Beaver Award, highest honor for adult Boy Scout leader; Rotarian of the Year, 2003; Masonic Lodge; Retired Officers Association; and Marco-Naples Reserve Officer’s Association.


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