Gary airport operator hunts for general manager

2014-02-10T16:00:00Z 2014-02-10T21:09:01Z Gary airport operator hunts for general managerBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Gary/Chicago International Airport's new private operator is already talking to prospects for the post of airport manager and plans to have someone on the job by the end of March at the latest.

AvPorts, the Dulles-Va.-based company picked last month to run the airport, has the right to pick the new manager, Airport Interim Director B.R. Lane told the Airport Authority on Monday. The authority will not be making that decision.

The hunt for a new manager to run the airport shows how much responsibilities have shifted there, just two weeks after the authority signed a 40-year privatization deal with Aviation Facilities Company Inc. and its AvPorts subsidiary.

In response to questions about her own job after the meeting, Lane said it is her understanding her own position will continue to exist.

"They will still need an airport director that reports directly to the board and is accountable to them," she said.

The new manager will oversee airport operations. They will be an employee of AvPorts and paid by AvPorts, not the airport, Lane said.

However, it appears the contract recently signed between AvPorts and the authority requires that the authority pay the airport manager's salary and relocation expenses.

AFCO Executive Vice President Steve Forrer confirmed Friday the company is searching for an airport manager for the Gary airport and confirmed the hire will be paid out of the airport's current budget.

Lane was approved by the authority in September after being tapped by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson for the job. As interim director, she oversees all airport operations and is paid a salary of $120,000 per year.

Lane had been serving as the mayor's chief of staff, a post that paid her a salary of $99,000 per year.

Lane said staff from AvPorts already have been at the airport to meet staff and delve into issues such as airport operations, maintenance and public safety. But the airport's $166 million runway expansion project has been the priority, Lane said.

"Our primary focus, right now as a team, is on the runway expansion," Lane told the authority.

Authority member Denise Dillard said communication between AvPorts and the Airport Authority will be a key factor as it takes on its responsibilities at the airport.

The authority also approved change orders on several projects that are part of the expansion Monday.

It approved a $318,755 decrease in the cost of the Airport Road overpass project, with its final price tag coming in at $10.6 million. The authority approved a change order adding $49,107 to mark the area of the runway that is still incomplete. And it approved another $309,000 increase for additional topsoil needed for the runway expansion.

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