Interim airport manager does it his way

Jan. 15, 2009


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 with a plainclothes police escort out the door of the Philadelphia airport.

Testa, who ran East Coast airports for 15 years, is working with Jacobs Consultancy, hired by the airport board to help run Blue Grass after the shakeup of top management. Four of the top five directors have resigned amid questions about lavish spending.

Testa was director of the Manchester Airport in New Hampshire from 1991 to 1999 before taking the top job at Philadelphia International Airport for a year. His last full-time director job was as head of the Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania, which he held from 2001 until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2006.

In the rough-and-tumble political climate in Philadelphia, Testa's sometimes feisty nature led to a messy divorce from his job.

He took over the airport there just before a change in city administrations after the 1999 election. In February 2000, Testa "criticized the city policy" that allows Philadelphia's Parking Authority to oversee airport lots, according to court documents.

Two weeks later, then Mayor John Street's chief of staff summoned Testa to ask for his resignation.

Testa asked for a severance package. When Street's top aide, Stephanie Franklin-Suber, called Testa the next day to demand his immediate resignation, he again requested a severance package.

Instead, several police officers, showed up at Testa's airport office to escort him out.

Testa fought back, suing Franklin-Suber for defamation after she said Testa seemed to be "acting irrationally." The suit was later dismissed.

Timothy Tate, chairman of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which owns the Harrisburg airport and several others in central Pennsylvania, said he didn't know the details of the Philadelphia situation, but wasn't surprised that Testa's personality didn't mesh with the city's unforgiving brand of politics.

"It was just a little too political for him, I think," said Tate, a member of the airport authority's board since it was created in 1998.

After Philadelphia, Testa went to Harrisburg, where he was charged with building the airport's management staff from scratch. The airport had been operated by a management consultant for years, Tate said.

His temperament makes him "the right man for the job" in Lexington, Tate said of Testa.

"I have to say he's a no-nonsense, get-the-job-done kind of guy," said Tate, who praised Testa for overseeing an expansion of the terminal that cost more than $200 million and came in "at budget and a little bit ahead of schedule" -- a project that led to a daily flight to Orlando operated by low-cost carrier AirTran Airways.

"We needed somebody who was going to make decisions and deal with architects and engineers and really look out for our best interests," Tate said. "He did a wonderful job."

Testa announced his retirement in October 2006 at age 64 after the completion of the new terminal and surgery on his carotid artery -- his second such operation, Tate said.

"He told me personally, 'Man this really knocked me out this time,'" Tate said.

He said Testa wasn't asked or forced to resign.

"He stood up in a board meeting and said, 'I'm going to retire.' I think I recall his words being: 'I've been smelling too much jet fuel and just don't have the stamina that I had before,'" Tate said.

Herald-Leader news researcher Lu-Ann Farrar contributed to this report.