LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Regional Airport Board of Commissioners whittled the number of candidates vying to become director of the Lafayette Regional Airport from 34 to eight on Thursday.
The hunt to fill the position, left vacant since the June resignation of longtime Director Greg Roberts, drew applicants from across the country.
The five-member search committee in the next few days will again review the résumés of the eight applicants who made the cut and decide later whether to interview all eight or as few as five.
Later this month, the remaining applicants will be interviewed via video conference for a further paring down.
The final round of interviews for the strongest two or three candidates will be done later this year. Those interviews will take place at the applicants’ current locations.
Larry Sides, whose firm Sides & Associates is working with commissioners in the director search, said a new director should be in place by the beginning of 2015.
Four of the eight who made it through the first round work in Louisiana: David Blackshear, vice president of Applied Airport Technology in Lafayette; Jason Devillier, director at the Iberia Parish Airport in New Iberia; David Slayter, executive director of the Houma-Terrebonne Airport Commission in Houma; and Ralph Hennessy, assistant director of aviation at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport.
The other four are Robert Benson, former ground transportation manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Robert Kennedy, vice president of Aviation Strategies International in East Point, Georgia; John O’Neal, former chief general aviation development coordinator for Miami-Dade Airport Aviation Department; and Steven Picou, deputy director of Aviation at the Amarillo (Texas) International Airport.
Of the eight applicants, three tied for the highest initial score, with Benson, Devillier and Kennedy receiving recommendations from four of the five members of the search committee who reviewed the applications. The remaining five had support of three of the five members who reviewed the applications.
Roberts resigned from his director’s position following an incident in which he pointed a fake gun at an engineer on June 11. Roberts and the engineer were in a discussion with others when there was a disagreement and Roberts allegedly brandished the gun.
Lafayette Parish District Attorney Mike Harson declined to pursue charges against Roberts after the engineer requested the case be dropped.
Sides & Associates on Aug. 15 began placing ads nationally for the position. It pays $100,000 to $155,000 a year plus benefits, depending on experience and education.
The next director will oversee day-to-day operations of an airport that now accommodates half a million passengers a year, with growth estimates projecting 600,000 passengers annually in the next 10 years.
The airport also is in the middle of millions of dollars in upgrades and construction of a Bell Helicopter assembly plant, projects that Assistant Airport Director Mike Burrows is overseeing. Burrows did not pursue the director’s position.
Search committee member Kenneth Boudreaux said it was important that the next director be a “people person,” a good marketer who feels comfortable engaging others.
Paul Guilbeau Sr., vice chairman of the airport commission, said the next director “should be the face of the airport.”
The future of the airport also will be impacted in an election Dec. 6, when Lafayette Parish voters decide whether to pass a temporary 1-cent sales tax to pay for construction of two additional boarding gates at the airport. The tax would run from April 2015 through November 2015 and raise about $35 million.
Sides said commissioners did not feel they had to install a new director before the Dec. 6 election.
“The commission made a decision that they’re not going to rush the executive director hiring,” he said.