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Four finalists chosen for Tampa International Airport director post

Four airport executives have been picked as finalists to replace former Tampa International Airport executive director Louis Miller, who resigned six months ago.

The group includes the bosses at airports in Fort Lauderdale and Providence, R.I., but no one from Tampa International. TIA interim executive director John Wheat and at least one other senior executive applied for the top job.

Michael Bell of the executive search firm Spencer Stuart forwarded resumes of the four candidates to the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board earlier this week. The finalists are scheduled to interview one-on-one with board members in mid September, with a final decision expected at the Oct. 7 board meeting.

The finalists are:

• Kent George, 63, director of aviation for Broward County, which operates the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. He previously served as executive director of Pittsburgh International Airport.

• Kevin Dillon, 54, chief executive of T.F. Green Airport in Providence. He was one of three deputy executive directors at Orlando International Airport in 2007 and 2008.

• Lester W. Robinson, 58, chief executive of Detroit Metropolitan Airport from 2002 until the Wayne County Airport Authority board decided not to renew his contract in May.

• Joseph Lopano, 55, executive vice president of marketing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. He is in charge of bringing new airline service to the airport and previously worked for Lufthansa Airlines and Continental Airlines.

Wheat and any other local candidates might not be out of the running yet. Authority chairman Al Austin said he'd want to consider applicants from TIA if board members aren't overwhelmed by any of the four finalists.

"I would not rule John Wheat out,'' he said. "I always like to leave the door open.''

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio disagreed. One of two elected officials on the five-member board, Iorio said the executive head-hunter conducted a nationwide search and determined the finalists were "far superior'' to any applicants at Tampa International. "We asked the consultant to bring out his best candidates,'' she said. "That's what I'm going to focus on.''

Whoever lands the job will be only TIA's third executive director since the mid 1960s. George Bean, who directed construction of the current airport, retired in 1996 after 31 years.

After nearly 14 years in the job, Miller, now 62, expected to stay until retirement. But he clashed with authority board members, starting with Tampa attorney and Republican fundraiser Steven Burton. It began with Burton's idea to create a committee — with himself as chairman — to market the airport to airlines seeking to add new routes.

After that came criticism of Miller's decision to demolish the former Continental Airlines reservations center. Then came questions about his approval of permits for structures near the airport that exceeded height limits, though federal authorities deemed them to be safe.

Miller abruptly resigned Feb. 24, saying he was happy with what he'd accomplished at TIA and would look at other opportunities.

Earlier this week, he was named among three finalists for the top job at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world's largest airport.

One of his competitors is Robinson, the former Detroit airport director. Atlanta's mayor pledged to announce the choice by Sept. 3.

Like Miller, Robinson left with a lot of questions unanswered.

The Wayne County Airport Authority board voted to replace him in May with few members commenting, except to praise his work. One member accused Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano of orchestrating Robinson's ouster to give a political ally the job.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Four finalists chosen for Tampa International Airport director post 08/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 28, 2010 12:47am]

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