AIRPORT EXECUTIVE; LIKELY OFF FOR FLORIDA

Ft. Lauderdale expected to hire Kent George


Kent George, who has overseen Pittsburgh International Airport since 1998, appears poised to become director of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida.

Mr. George confirmed last night that he has been offered the job and said he would accept it if a contract is worked out.

"It's a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to going to work for them," he said.

Mr. George, 60, was hired by the Allegheny County commissioners in 1998 to oversee Pittsburgh International and the county airport in West Mifflin. Control of the airports shifted to the newly created Allegheny County Airport Authority the following year, with Mr. George as executive director.

Since then, he has grappled with the retrenchment of US Airways, the airport's largest carrier, which has eliminated nearly three-quarters of its flights since late 2001.

Mr. George deserves credit for attracting low-cost carriers to help fill the void, and for helping the airport set a record last year for "origin and destination" passengers -- those who begin or end their trips in Pittsburgh -- said county Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

Also, Mr. George played a key role in persuading US Airways to build a new flight operations center in Moon that will add 650 jobs to the region, Mr. Onorato said.

"Kent has been a great asset for the county and the airport authority," he said. "If he goes, he will be missed."

According to The Miami Herald, which reported on its Web site yesterday that Mr. George was offered the Fort Lauderdale post, that airport serves 21 million passengers a year, or nearly double the traffic at Pittsburgh International.

The newspaper reported that Mr. George would be paid $250,000 a year. His salary with the airport authority here is $215,000.

The Broward County commissioners are scheduled to vote on Mr. George's appointment Aug. 28. He said if contract talks reach fruition, he expects to take the new job in October.

Mr. George said he has "enjoyed completely my time here" and said the US Airways service reductions did not factor into his decision to seek the Florida job. He said people he knows in the aviation industry encouraged him to apply for the post.

"It's an opportunity to run a growing facility with a very large capital improvement program, $1.5 billion over the next five to 10 years," he said.

Mr. Onorato said the airport authority board has a transition plan in place but it was premature to say how a successor to Mr. George would be sought.

Before 2001, Pittsburgh was the largest hub and employment center in the US Airways system, with nearly 12,000 employees and connections to 112 cities.

The retrenchment of the airline industry after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks hit Pittsburgh hard. Since then, 10,000 local airline jobs have been lost, and the most recent wave of US Airways cuts has dropped the number of cities it serves from Pittsburgh International to 48.

The airline's number of daily flights has declined in that period from more than 540 to 127.

Under Mr. George, the airport has clawed back by recruiting US Airways' low-fare rivals to fill some of the empty space. Among them was Southwest Airlines, which as of June was the second-busiest carrier at Pittsburgh International, with 12 percent of the airport's traffic.

Another milestone for Mr. George was US Airways' announcement in February that it would build its new flight operations center here. Pittsburgh had competed with Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., for the $25 million project.

In 2006, Pittsburgh International had 8.2 million "origin and destination" passengers, a record for the airport and a 9 percent increase from 2001. Those passengers now account for 82.6 percent of traffic at the airport, compared with 37.5 percent in 2001, when US Airways used the airport as a place primarily to connect people from city to city.

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