Joe Lopano, point man for attracting new airline flights to Dallas-Forth Worth, has been selected for the top job at Tampa International Airport.
Lopano, 55, emerged from a field of four finalists to replace Louis Miller, who after nearly 14 years as executive director abruptly resigned earlier this year amid friction with airport board members.
The board picked Lopano, executive vice president of marketing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), in a 4-1 vote Wednesday afternoon. Mayor Pam Iorio chose Lester Robinson, 58, former CEO at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. She then asked to make Lopano's selection unanimous.
His track record for bringing new carriers to Dallas — including daily flights to Amsterdam and London's huge Heathrow Airport since 2007 — impressed board members.
Excluding Canada, TIA's only routes outside the continental United States connect Tampa to London's Gatwick Airport; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Grand Cayman Island.
"He has a scientific approach to air service development,'' said board member Steven Burton, managing partner of Broad and Cassell's Tampa law office and a Republican fundraiser. "A few key flights internationally can mean hundreds of millions of dollars to a community.''
Airport officials reached Lopano with the news in New York City. He and Jeff Fegan, DFW's chief executive, were meeting with rating agencies about a bond issue for airport terminal renovations.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity and look forward to coming to terms on a contract,'' Lopano said. "The airport has a fantastic foundation to build on. There are great opportunities for the airport and the community.''
Lopano is looking for a salary close to the $253,294 a year Miller earned before leaving, board chairman Al Austin said. Lopano told the airport's headhunter his Dallas job paid $250,000, plus an annual bonus and a car.
Most board members weren't inclined to match the amount Miller earned after nearly 14 years. Besides, they noted, Miller took the top job at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International — the world's busiest airport — for $220,000 annually.
"We're a very desirable airport,'' Iorio said. He wants the position and should accept "a reasonable professional salary with all the prestige it offers.''
Lopano and the airport also will need to negotiate a starting date. Austin hoped to have him on board before Thanksgiving.
He received glowing references from commercial aviation heavyweights, including the chief executive at AirTran Airways, which Southwest Airlines agreed to buy Monday.
"Joe is a super individual,'' wrote Robert Fornaro in an e-mail to the airport's search firm. "Smart and on the ball. Tampa is a very important airport for AirTran and post deal even more important. Joe would do a superb job balancing the interests of the community and the airport operators.''
Kevin Cox, his former boss at DFW, called him "one of the most energetic and analytical people I have ever encountered. He brings the perfect balance ... to deal with the softer side in terms of marketing and political relationships, and the financial numbers side.''
He has one hole in his resume: no CEO-level experience. Lopano supervises a couple hundred DFW employees in his job overseeing marketing and airport terminals. Tampa International employs just under 600.
"Being able to direct how people work together and working with a board, he's not had to jump through those hoops,'' said David Stamey, who runs an airport consulting firm in Dallas and considers Lopano a friend.
He also inherits a board split over airport priorities.
New international airline flights top the agenda for two board members — Burton and Dr. Joseph Diaco. Both chafed when Miller talked about how competition from bigger airports in Orlando and Miami limited Tampa's chances for more service.
At one point Wednesday, Diaco noted that Lopano didn't complain during his interview about Walt Disney World limiting what Tampa International could achieve.
But Austin and Iorio identified declining passenger traffic — and the drop in airport revenues that result — as TIA's biggest concern. Giving airlines incentives for new flights would be a mistake until travel picks up, Austin said. "We have a disagreement over this,'' he said.
But they all liked Lapano's confident, can-do attitude and marketing experience both at airports and airlines including Continental and Lufthansa.
"What you see is what you get,'' said reporter Benet Wilson, who has covered airports for Aviation Week magazine. "You don't always see that with airport executive.''
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.