Wednesday, July 05, 2017

New airport manager for Sikorsky Memorial Airport (KBDR), Stratford, Fairfield County, Connecticut

STRATFORD — Bridgeport officials launched a national search for a new airport manager, and all along she was in their backyard.

Michelle Muoio, who lives in Shelton and works for Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, accepted the $98,298 position running the Bridgeport-owned, Stratford-based Sikorsky Memorial Airport. She starts July 5.

John Ricci, who ran the airport for years until 2013 and now helps oversee it as head of Bridgeport’s public facilities department, said Muoio was chosen from 13 applicants and three finalists — one from Kansas and one from Colorado. The opening was advertised through the American Association of Airport Executives.

Ricci interviewed Muoio along with Kurt Sendlein, an airport administrator on loan to Sikorsky from the Connecticut Airport Authority since early last year.

“Once we saw Michelle’s resume, experience and education, and after we sat with her, I’d already made up my mind,” Ricci said. He added it helped that Muoio was local and would not experience the “sticker shock” of the area’s high cost of living.

She was subsequently unanimously approved by the Airport Commission.

For the past nine years Muoio has worked in the flight operations section of Sikorsky Aircraft, moving up from coordinator to supervisor to manager. Between 2004 and 2008 she was employed in New York with airport management and consulting firms and as a safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“She has very impressive credentials,” said Bridgeport City Council President Tom McCarthy, who sits on the airport commission. “She was local and understands the need for marketing and the value of the airport for economic development.”

Muoio’s arrival, it is hoped, draws to a close a turbulent few years at Sikorsky during which city officials had to implement a long-delayed, federally required runway safety upgrade amidst sudden, sometimes shocking, management changes.

Ricci was shepherding that project through until he was fired by then-Mayor Bill Finch. He subsequently aided former Mayor Joe Ganim in his 2015 bid to oust Finch during that year’s Democratic primary. Ganim put Ricci in charge of public facilities.

Ricci’s successor running the airport, Pauline Mize, died from cancer in 2015. And her successor, Steve Ford, died suddenly in early 2016 after a fall at his home.

The runway work had been temporarily halted in June, 2015 after a construction worker was killed when the gas-powered saw he was using kicked back and struck him in the neck. Then another contractor, over the following Labor Day weekend , allegedly drove a truck through an area where planes taxi, alarming the FAA.

Federal officials put a lengthier stop to the runway work and audited the airport’s management and policies. That ultimately resulted in the Connecticut Airport Authority, which runs several other facilities but not Sikorsky, sending Sendlein to help satisfy the FAA’s demands and see the safety upgrades to their conclusion.

Ganim and Ricci have both made it clear they believe the airport, which continually operates in the red, should be sold. And, as previously reported, the city is hoping the buyer would be the Connecticut Airport Authority or CAA.

Is the hiring of Muoio proof that Sikorsky will be on the city’s books for several years to come?

“The sign that you can take from that is that Kurt’s (tenure) was going to expire,” McCarthy said. “I love Kurt. He did a great job. But we were in need of an airport manager.”

Ricci said Muoio was told about a possible “takeover” in the future, “particularly by the CAA.”

“(But) they’re going to need a manager whether they take it over or not,” Ricci said. “And my thinking is even if we came to some kind of deal with CAA, they’re still a couple years away.” Ricci added it would also require a lengthy FAA approval process.

But, Ricci emphasized, “We’re making every effort to get out of the airport business.”

David Faile, president of the Friends of Sikorsky Airport, said he was sorry to lose Sendlein. Faile said he learned a new manager had been hired and was awaiting the details.

“She’s had a lot of aviation jobs,” Faile said about Muoio’s resume. “Maybe she’s great. Hope she is. I hope she’s a hands on person. That was the great thing about Kurt.”

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