Allegheny County Airport Authority demotes director Bradley D. Penrod

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The executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority has been demoted as part of a shake-up that includes a national search for a new CEO whose focus will be on attracting flights to Pittsburgh International Airport.

As part of the changes, Bradley D. Penrod, who has been executive director since October 2007, will become president and chief strategy officer. Jim Gill, the chief financial officer, will become executive vice president.

At the same time, the authority intends to conduct a national search for a CEO with a "primary focus on the development of additional air service and new destinations," according to a release announcing the changes.

In an interview Tuesday night, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said there has been a "level of frustration" on the board and in the business community over the level of service at Pittsburgh International, which has seen the number of flights drop dramatically since US Airways eliminated its hub nearly a decade ago.

"I think this is something the board wanted to see happen, and I was in agreement with what the board wanted to do," he said.

While Mr. Fitzgerald said that Mr. Penrod had done a good job operating the airport, he wasn't nearly as generous rating his performance in attracting flights.

"Obviously, we haven't gotten more flights. We've done very poorly over the last eight or nine years," he said. "We've got to take corrective action."

Mr. Fitzgerald said the changes would allow Mr. Penrod to focus on the airport's operational side, while the new CEO will be someone who "wakes up every day thinking about getting more flights."

Reached Tuesday night, Mr. Penrod said he did not see the change as a demotion. He said the restructuring would help the authority to move into the future and prepare for 2018, when the airport's current agreement with the airlines expires and nearly all of the debt from the construction of the midfield terminal will be retired. That will allow the authority to significantly reduce rates to the carriers.

Contrary to Mr. Fitzgerald's assessment, Mr. Penrod gave himself high marks for attracting flights, saying the highlight was securing nonstop service to Paris several years ago. Asked if he thought there was a need to make a change at the top, he replied, "That's something you'll have to ask the board."

Board chairman David Minnotte could not be reached Tuesday night but said in the release that the moves were designed to keep the airport "sustainable" and to increase its competitive position.

The changes come less than a week after the Port Authority board fired CEO Steve Bland, a move engineered by Mr. Fitzgerald. It also comes a few days after the Airport Authority hired county councilman Vince Gastgeb to the new position of director of corporate and community relations to work with the corporate community and government to increase the level of local traffic at the airport.

Mr. Fitzgerald said Tuesday's moves and Mr. Gastgeb's hiring were "totally unrelated."

Mr. Gastgeb stepped down from his county council seat Tuesday night, aiming to avoid the appearance of a conflict as he begins a $113,500-a-year job at the airport.

While maintaining it would have been legal to work both in county council and the airport it indirectly oversees, Mr. Gastgeb said he wanted no impropriety attached to his name.

"I thought it best to exercise an abundance of caution," he said.

The Republican from Bethel Park has been a member of council since it formed more than a decade ago, carving out a sizeable presence in a body dominated by Democrats. As he departed Tuesday, his colleagues lauded his career and his accomplishments, saying he put the interests of the people first, not his party.

The councilman said he received a legal opinion from county council solicitor Jack Cambest that indicated he could keep his seat. Airport Authority solicitor Mark Wojcik said he found no state or federal law requiring Mr. Gastgeb to step down.

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