Feb. 12--If you see a black 2002 Corvette with HIA 1 on the license plate cruising from Camp Hill to Harrisburg International Airport, it's Fred Testa on his way to work.
Testa, 64, stands out, and not just because of the car or even the New England accent he describes as a "Rhode Island-Italian twang."
He is the highly visible, voluble and volatile executive director of the Lower Swatara Twp. airport -- its chief salesman and passionate advocate.
A new terminal and parking garage -- part of a $240 million expansion project -- were his idea. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he convinced his bosses on the board of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority to abandon their plan to expand the 17-year-old terminal. He had plans for a bigger terminal, one he could boast was the first designed with post-9-11 security considerations in mind.
Testa, who has an undergraduate degree from the University of Rhode Island and a law degree from Suffolk Law School in Boston, can be disarmingly charming when he is marketing the airport. He also can rail against his critics and show an impatient, even explosive, temper.
Testa acknowledges he can get testy sometimes. "Incompetence sets me off. Lack of understanding sets me off. Stupidity sets me off. I'm a very tough boss to work for. I demand they work hard and they work efficient. Does that mean I'm unreasonable? I don't think so," he says.
"I've always told everyone on my staff that everyone makes mistakes," he adds. "But don't ever make the same mistake twice."
In a Feb. 23, 2005, memo to airport tenants Testa accused some employees of using the terminal's smoking lounge "as a 'bitching' forum [for] venting improper observations and/or stories about themselves and their companies" in front of passengers.
Testa warned that "cameras and recording equipment are being placed in this smoking lounge to monitor and record these unseemly conversations and observations."
Airport spokesman Scott Miller said the memo was just a threat and no monitoring equipment was installed.
Admirers say he is simply running a tight ship at the airport.
Bob Barbush, president of Barbush Rentals Inc., which has the Avis car-rental franchise at HIA, remembers the time before Testa, when the state and then a management company ran the airport.
"Nobody has done more for this airport, that affects me, than Fred Testa," Barbush said. "Fred's management, along with the staff he currently has, [has produced] the best managed airport that I have ever been involved with."
Miller says Testa is a hands-on manager who walks the terminal building at least twice a day and drives the perimeter of the airport daily to make sure everything is operating smoothly.
Others believe his tempestuous temperament may actually help fuel his success.
Karen Deklinski, owner of the Perfectly Pennsylvania store in the terminal, laughed when asked about Testa's management style.
"He's definitely a character," she said. "When you need to get a project done as big as an airport, you need a bulldozer to get it done. You need a strong personality to get done something that big."
Testa attracted controversy at his other jobs, too.
After he left Manchester Airport in New Hampshire, where he was director for eight years, he was named, along with the city, in a lawsuit involving "job discrimination," according to court records.
Court documents state that the case, which involved a former airport employee, was "dismissed -- settled" in 2001. Efforts to reach the worker and her former attorney, as well as city officials and their attorneys, were unsuccessful.
Testa denies the allegation and says the lawsuit was settled "for almost no dollars." He says he can't talk about the exact terms because the judge imposed a nondisclosure order.
Testa was fired in 2000 from his next job as director of Philadelphia International Airport after 11 months and escorted from his office by police.
Last month, 103,378 travelers flew into or out of HIA, a 5.58 percent decrease from September 2004.
-- Jan. 15--Alfred Testa Jr., tapped to temporarily preside over the embattled Blue Grass Airport, has a reputation for doing things his way. In one case, that led to his firing, complete...
The total number of passengers was down more than 11 percent in July and 2.3 percent so far this year when compared to 2004 figures.
Aviation consultant Mike Boyd said HIA's chances of getting a low-cost carrier like AirTran anytime soon are "almost nil."