NEWPORT NEWS — The Peninsula Airport Commission (PAC) terminated the employment of Newport News/Williamsburg Airport Executive Director Michael Giardino on Monday by a 4 to 1 vote.
Chairwoman Lindsey Carney Smith said the move was taken to support the growth and development of the airport, noting adding more commercial air service was a key factor in the decision.
The airport is currently served by American Airlines and Avelo, which started service to Florida in October. The decision takes place with immediate effect.
“We need to foster the relationships that we have with American and Avelo. And we can’t forget about our general aviation hanger tenants and our commercial hangar tenants,” she explained. “We just feel like we’re at a point where we needed a leadership change to really facilitate that growth and that development, and so that’s why the PAC went in the direction that it did.”
Giardino took the helm as executive director on Nov. 6, 2017, at the end of a difficult period for the airport. Earlier that year, a state audit began after the Peninsula Airport Commission used taxpayer dollars to back a line of credit to the now-defunct PEOPLExpress airline to the tune of nearly $5 million.
A federal jury later convicted Giardini’s predecessor, Ken Spirito, on 23 charges, including intentional misapplication of funds, money laundering, false declaration, perjury and obstruction of justice.
Recent years have seen a decline in commercial service to the airport as airlines consolidated operations to nearby Richmond and Norfolk. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated that trend.
Delta temporarily suspend operations at the airport, only to decide not to return. Giardino told told the Williamsburg City Council in July 2020 that revenues were down “half a million dollars a month” due to the pandemic, adding the airport mostly relies on parking and rental cars.
The decline in commercial service is something PAC needs to reverse, and ultimately, warranted the change in leadership.
“It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly. It was discussed over the course of several meetings. And we just ultimately came to the conclusion that the change in management was necessary,” she added.
Deputy Director John Borden will lead the airport on an interim basis. Smith said the community would be kept apprised of the search and hiring of a permanent executive director, stressing “Patrick Henry Field is open for business and we are moving in a positive direction.”