Friday, October 13, 2017

Michael Giardino: Rochester native chosen to lead Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (KPHF)

The Peninsula Airport Commission appointed a retired Navy commander who has been running a much larger airport in Rochester, N.Y., as the new executive director of Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport on Friday.

Michael A. Giardino, currently director of aviation at the Monroe County Airport Authority, will take over Nov. 6 from interim executive Sandy Wanner.

Wanner has been running the airport since March, when the commission put then-Executive Director Ken Spirito on leave while state auditors investigated the commission’s repayment of a $4.5 million debt owed by People Express Airlines to TowneBank.

The commission fired Spirito in May after the auditors reported he had used several thousand dollars of airport funds to cover personal expenses.

Giardino’s salary will be $160,000. Spirito’s was $223,939.

The contract the commission signed with Giardino includes a lower car allowance than Spirito received and tighter language about expenses and the airport credit card, Wanner said. Records assembled for the audit found Spirito's travel bill approached $80,000 over the three years before his firing.

The state audit found that a loan guarantee that required the commission to pay off People Express’ debt was arranged secretly and without enough care to investigate the risks and legality of the deal. It found that Spirito had made purchases totaling $321,947 without following state and commission procurement rules. Those purchases included a $116,057 video wall, $98,421 of equipment for a new restaurant after canceling the longtime concessionaire’s lease and $40,000 for a customized van used for airport marketing.

Giardino has been aviation director in Rochester since 2012. He worked as village manager for Brockport, N.Y., taking up that job after his last naval post as executive officer at Naval Air Station Key West.

A graduate of the State University of New York at Brockport, with a degree in meteorology, he earned two Defense Meritorious Service Medals for service in Afghanistan and an Air Medal and Humanitarian Service Medal for 110 rescues off rooftops, flooded farmlands and backyards after Hurricane Floyd.

He is currently out of the country, but in a prepared statement said he is looking forward “to openly assess and aggressively address the community’s air travel needs.”

Wanner said he believed Giardino wanted to move from the larger airport because of a desire to settle in Hampton Roads.

Rochester is served by seven airlines that tie the city to 18 airports in 14 different metro areas. Newport News is currently served by two airlines.

One of Giardino’s first jobs after taking over in the upstate New York city was to nail down a agreement to keep six airlines at the airport for a period of up to seven years. The agreement included a commitment by airlines to cover any part of the airport’s operating expenses that the airport couldn’t out of its parking and concessionaire lease revenue. At the time the airport and airlines signed that agreement, Giardino estimated it represented a $17 million commitment by the airlines.

Peninsula Airport Commission Chairman George Wallace said he is confident that Giardinio will help the airport exceed the expectations of state officials and Peninsula communities.

In response to the audit, and demands from Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, the commission has tightened its procurement, travel and expense policies and underwent training in state conflicts of interest and freedom of information rules. The state, meanwhile, is withholding half the roughly $2 million a year the Newport News airport would normally be entitled to receive until the airport recovers some $3.5 million of state funds it used to repay the $4.5 million People Express debt to TowneBank.

Meanwhile, York County’s Board of Supervisors has voted to take a seat on the Peninsula Airport Commission, and named vice chairman Jeff Wassmer to the commission. The 1946 General Assembly act that created the commission allows York, James City County and Williamsburg to appoint commissioners.

Wassmer said the airport has a significant impact on York County, and the supervisors felt the county needed to be more involved. He said he knows people involved with the airport through his business in Newport News, and noted that he has a pilot’s license and sometimes uses the private portion of the airport.

Wassmer emphasized accountability on the commission, and said its business must conducted in the open and with the public in mind.

Moving forward, Wassmer said the new director and new commissioners would hopefully provide stability to eventually increase traffic. He also said the county may want to fill its seat with someone other than an elected official further down the road.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.dailypress.com

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