A Maryland planning executive whose firm is involved in the $1.8 billion expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport was named the state's top aviation administrator yesterday, ending a search that has spanned one of the most turbulent years in the airport's history.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening's office announced that Paul J. Wiedefeld, vice president of engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas Inc., was his pick as executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, which oversees BWI and other state-run airports.
News of the pending appointment surfaced two weeks ago when an executive search firm hired to identify candidates resigned, complaining that the search was tainted because it had not screened Wiedefeld. The company, Boyden Global Executive Search, later apologized for questioning the integrity of the search. Wiedefeld formally accepted the job this week, transportation officials said.
"Anyone who has worked with [Wiedefeld] in his various capacities over the years can't help but be impressed with his ability to work with the public and build consensus even when people disagree, and they often do on transportation issues," said Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who recommended Wiedefeld for the job.
A former planner in the state Department of Transportation, Wiedefeld inherits an airport that is struggling to keep up with its rapid growth while dealing with fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The aviation administration was in the midst of its 5-year, $1.8 billion airport construction program at BWI when the attacks sent the industry into a tailspin.
In the months since, the airport has had to contend with long lines at security checkpoints, a drop in passenger traffic and the shrinkage of its second-largest carrier, US Airways, which has eliminated more than half its service to BWI as part of a restructuring plan.
Despite the many challenges, Wiedefeld, 46, said taking the $185,000-per-year job was virtually a "no brainer" because of his passion for transportation work. And he discounted concerns about his lack of airport management experience.
"I think it's about leadership," he said of running an airport.
"I think it's about working within the public/private sector environment, it's about marketing, it's about negotiating, it's about relationship building, it's about delivering projects - and that's what I've done in my career," Wiedefeld said.
In many respects, Wiedefeld is the opposite of his predecessor, David L. Blackshear, who had a lengthy background in airport management and was often described as folksy and plain-spoken.
Blackshear, who resigned the post amid controversy in July, often clashed with politically connected staff members and complained that the state-run airport was being held back by a cumbersome government bureaucracy.
By contrast, Wiedefeld is a soft-spoken - some say quiet - executive who spent much of his career working for the same state government Blackshear chaffed under.
Wiedefeld grew up in Govans, attended Mount St. Joseph High School and Towson University, where he earned a political science degree. He went on to get a master's in urban planning at Rutgers University. After a stint as a planner in Morris County, N.J., he began working for the state Transportation Department in 1986.
While at the agency, Wiedefeld played a leading role in managing dozens of transportation projects, including several at the airport. In 1991, he was promoted to head the department's Office of Systems Planning and Evaluation, but was lured away by Parsons three years later.
One of Wiedefeld's mandates at Parsons was to develop an aviation practice at the firm. Today, the international engineering firm has a $23 million contract to design portions of BWI's expansion program, including an 8,400-space parking garage.
Wiedefeld said he has no reservations about working for a state-run airport.
"I think the airport is effectively blessed because there are a number of people that have its best interests at heart," he said. "That's what you see at the governor's level and at the state level in Annapolis. They all want to see it succeed."
Colleagues praise Wiedefeld's "quiet confidence" and ability to build consensus with diverse groups.
Wiedefeld wasn't the aviation administration's first choice. Steve Grossman, director of Oakland International Airport, was a leading candidate for the job, but pulled out of the running because of family concerns.
Transportation officials said several other candidates were also were considered.