New San Jose, Calif. Airport Chief Looks at Expansion, Curfew, Track Record

As aviation director, Bill Sherry will oversee air service for about 11 million passengers a year, as well confront a formidable challenge.

Bill Sherry is set to arrive May 2 from Port St. Lucie, Fla., to become Mineta San Jose International Airport's new top administrator. As aviation director, he will oversee air service for about 11 million passengers a year, as well confront a formidable challenge -- completing the $2.8 billion airport expansion plan in the absence of sufficient funding.

Another problem he'll face is the airport's new noise curfew policy and the strain it has put on already tense relations with neighbors.

Sherry, 49, was hired by the city at an annual salary of $185,390 after being interviewed by two panels, which included representatives from nearby neighborhoods, the local business community and executives from airlines and other airports.

Sherry is a pilot, aviation consultant, accountant and real-estate broker who directed aviation operations for 15 years in Florida, including those at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where he oversaw a $4.2 billion expansion.

He replaces Ralph Tonseth, who retired after 14 years.

Here, Sherry answers questions about his new job:

Q: How are you going to change neighbors' perception that the airport is unresponsive to their concerns? Just this month, for instance, the airport gave the community extremely short notice about a public meeting until Councilman Ken Yeager complained and got it rescheduled for a later date.

A: If that's their impression, then it must be true. I want to start a new relationship with them, and I want them to know I'm sensitive to their issues.

Q: Do you have anything specific in mind for improving relations?

A: I can only speak for the first couple of weeks. I'm preparing an orientation program, and as part of that, I've asked to be put in touch with the appropriate representatives of all the neighborhoods. And I certainly want to hear from them.

Q: In Fort Lauderdale, you clashed with neighbors opposed to a plan you supported to add a second major runway. Were you forced to resign?

A: No. What happened in Fort Lauderdale was the community was trying to transition from a spring break-college town to a more cosmopolitan, upscale destination. They asked me to bring in as much growth and development as I could, and I did that. Fort Lauderdale became the fastest-growing large-hub airport in the United States. Then the community passed a charter amendment that took commissioners from being at-large to representing districts. The community started saying maybe growth is not that desirable. I was labeled pro-growth, and that was a label I couldn't shake. I don't think I was pro-growth.

Q: But you continued to advocate for the second runway?

A: I was prepared, willing and able to stop the runway if that was the goal of the county commission. But I don't believe I'm hired to sugarcoat things. I'm not hired to speak lies. I had an obligation to the county commission to advise them of the negative attributes that would result if that runway was not built. It appears those facts are coming to fruition, since Fort Lauderdale now has almost as many delays as the nation's two busiest airports combined. I was also concerned that the noise problems would be worse without that runway because of having so many delayed planes circling and because they're now going to be faced with letting jets land on the south runway and on a diagonal runway that is the noisiest for the neighborhoods.

Q: Did the Fort Lauderdale airport where you last worked have a noise curfew?

A: No.

Q: In San Jose earlier this month, relations between the airport and residents concerning the curfew deteriorated when America West launched a daily flight from Las Vegas that lands at 1:25 a.m., about two hours later than the usual curfew cutoff of 11:30 p.m. The airline could have flown the 50-seater in the middle of the night under the city's old weight-based curfew, as well as under its new noise-based policy. But America West originally wanted to fly larger, somewhat noisier jets, and could still seek approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to do so in the future. What will you do to enforce the curfew?

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