With airport director's surprising takeoff, LVIA authority up in the air


March 01--Lehigh Valley International Airport lost its second executive director in six months Monday when interim Director Larry Krauter decided to take a job at Spokane International Airport.

The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority offered Krauter the executive director's job, but he informed them Monday he is taking the job in Washington state.

Support for Krauter on the board was not unanimous, but his decision seemed to surprise some members. His last day is March 18, and a six-member committee will determine how to proceed after he's gone.

Krauter's departure comes six months after the board forced 19-year airport Executive Director George Doughty to resign, saying it wanted to take the airport in a new direction. Now, both that direction and who will be leading it are unknown.

"This gives us the opportunity to reshuffle the deck and figure out where we want to go as an airport," said John Conklin, who was chosen Monday to be chairman of the transition committee. "I was a Larry Krauter supporter, and I'm sorry to lose him, but I have to admit, I'm excited about the opportunity this gives [us]."

Conklin said while it forces the authority board to move quickly, the clean management slate gives it an opportunity to implement some of the changes recommended in a $100,000 study that, in 2009, suggested the airport streamline its management structure. In fact, Conklin said, it may be that the board won't have to hire a new executive director or deputy to replace Doughty and Krauter.

"It may be that a management company can be hired to do this more efficiently," Conklin said. "I know that the right management firm has had great success at other airports of our size."

The board met behind closed doors for 75 minutes Monday. Afterward, Chairman David Haines declined to answer questions.

"Mr. Krauter's expertise will be missed. He has been a fixture of ABE and LVIA for over 20 years, very active in the community, and helped reshape the landscape of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority," Haines said in a subsequent statement. "We extend our best wishes to Mr. Krauter and his family for continued success as he pursues further career goals on the West Coast."

Krauter, who starts his $160,000 a year job in Spokane on April 1, has not returned several phone messages the past two weeks. He started at LVIA in 1990 and has been deputy executive director since 2003.

Since Doughty's resignation, the board appeared in no hurry to name a permanent director, but Krauter forced its hand when he surfaced as the top candidate among a pool of 43 identified during a national search by Spokane airport directors. Though Krauter appeared to have the support of a majority of the 16-member LVIA authority board, several members made it clear they would not vote to hire him as director.

Still, even with the Spokane offer on the table, several LVIA authority board members were shocked that Krauter did not accept the board's counteroffer. So when Krauter resigned, it forced the board to begin looking for Plan B.

The board quickly appointed a six-member transition team that consists of Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Cindy Feinberg, Frank Kovacs, Jane Baker, Robert Buesing and Conklin. The committee is charged with exploring all the options for continuing management of the airport after Krauter leaves, so the full authority board can decide how to proceed during a special meeting March 15.

"Basically, they'll be looking at all the options of who's going to manage the airport when we wake up March 19," said authority solicitor Glenn Williams.

The board, under Haines' direction, is attempting to increase airport usage by local businesses, to attract new airlines, and to improve relations with owners of land contiguous to the airport. Perhaps the board's biggest job is figuring how to pay a $26 million court judgment against the airport for land the airport took from developers in the mid-1990s.

Haines helped forge a $10 million settlement with one of the landowners in the dispute. But the remaining $16 million remains contested in Lehigh County Court, where a mediator and judge are left with the task of determining how quickly the airport must pay the debt.