After a nationwide search for an airport director, San Jose officials on Tuesday named a Florida executive who is highly regarded by the aviation industry, but resigned from his last job after battling neighbors worried about airport noise.
Despite his record on the noise issue, the city council unanimously approved the appointment of William F. Sherry, 49, to run Mineta San Jose International Airport because of his extensive experience. Sherry is a pilot, accountant and real estate broker who directed aviation operations for 15 years in Florida, including the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where he oversaw a $4.2 billion expansion.
Sherry left the Fort Lauderdale airport in 2003 after his bosses on the Broward County Commission retreated from a plan to add a second major runway in the face of neighbors' concerns about environmental damage and noise. With only one major runway, the airport is now near maximum capacity with massive flight delays.
But Councilman Ken Yeager, whose District 6 includes most of the city's airport neighbors, said he is confident that Sherry will be more sensitive to noise concerns here. The appointment, recommended by City Manager Del Borgsdorf, comes at a crucial time for the airport, which has been hard hit by the dot-com bust.
The new director must find a way to pay for the airport's $2.8 billion expansion despite slower-than-expected passenger and revenue growth, and complaints from airlines over rising costs, while at the same time appeasing neighbors who are fearful of noise.
''We questioned him quite a bit about noise issues, about working with neighborhoods and being protective of our noise curfew,'' Yeager said. ''He said he'd work closely with neighbors and the council to make sure their lives are protected, so I felt comfortable with him.''
Councilman Chuck Reed, the council's liaison to the airport commission, said Sherry had the most experience of some 100 candidates in overseeing a major airport expansion while keeping the cost per passenger paid by airlines at a reasonable level. In 2000, Sherry was named commercial service airport manager of the year by the Federal Aviation Administration, besting 80 of his colleagues in the southeast region, for administering a massive construction program with a minimum of disruption for travelers.
San Jose's expansion, originally expected to be finished by 2012, could be delayed for years, partly because low-cost airlines are balking at the cost.
Sherry will start May 2 at a salary of $185,390. He's been working as an aviation consultant since he left the Fort Lauderdale airport.
''I'm very excited about coming to San Jose,'' Sherry said in a brief interview outside the council chambers Tuesday, adding that he looks forward to working with the community.
The appointment came as a surprise to neighborhood residents concerned about noise, who expected Borgsdorf to recommend another finalist, airport Assistant Director Frank Kirkbride. Finalists were interviewed by two panels, including representatives from nearby neighborhoods, the local business community, as well as executives from airlines and other airports.
''I hope Mr. Sherry has a better relationship with residents over noise than his predecessor had,'' said Dr. Ken Hayes, chairman of Citizens Against Airport Pollution, referring to retired Aviation Director Ralph Tonseth. ''I hope he is an intelligent man who can profit from his experiences.''
During the council meeting Tuesday, Borgsdorf commended Kirkbride, who had been filling in as aviation director, but said in a statement that Sherry can provide the strong leadership necessary to maintain the airport's key role in the region's economy.
Sherry's appointment was praised by Jim Cunneen, president and CEO of San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. Cunneen served on one of the advisory panels.
During Sherry's nearly seven-year tenure in Fort Lauderdale, the airport grew from a field serving 8 million passengers to one that served about 22 million. That airport now has almost as many delays unrelated to the weather as the nation's two busiest airports combined -- Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale reported Tuesday.