Cook On Concord: Manchester’s airport — the way to get things done

New Hampshire Business Review featured an interview last issue with departing Manchester-Boston Regional Airport Director Kevin Dillon, who recently left to become deputy director of the Orlando International Airport.

As Dillon leaves, the history of the airport’s development as an example of good cooperation between government and the business community is worthy of review.

Originally Grenier Field, a military base, the Manchester Airport was a small regional airport for many years. In the 1980s, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce established an Airport Committee focused on the development of a larger facility as an economic engine, recognizing that transportation availability would spur business in Manchester, the region and the state.

Originally chaired by attorney (now Senior U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge) Norman Stahl, the committee worked hard to investigate construction of a larger terminal, attracting additional airlines and obtaining financing. When Stahl became a judge, I got the job of chairing the committee.

Committee members met with aldermen, had the airport put on the capital improvements budget of the city and continuously fanned the flames of interest.

One of the first things the Airport Committee did was approach then-Mayor Raymond Wieczorek about the entire project. Wieczorek was receptive and embraced the project — an important recognition of its need and support vital to its success.

Interestingly, the airport, while owned by Manchester, is largely located in the town of Londonderry, and the new terminal as proposed was entirely in Londonderry.

The project moved forward and received aldermanic support, even though that resulted in drying up the trickle of income the city derived from the airport, Federal Aviation Authority rules requiring that all income from the airport be invested in it if a major construction project was to be undertaken.

A new airport director, Alfred Testa Jr., was hired. Testa, an assistant director at T.F. Green Airport in Providence, R.I., was blunt, feisty and fast-moving. Patrick Duffy was elected chairman of the Manchester Airport Authority board, and he and Testa, while not always seeing eye-to-eye, were two formidable personalities with experience in getting things done. Together, they solicited and received the support for a major construction project — a significant architectural undertaking — and the result was the new Manchester Airport terminal. “Dedicated to the Residents of New Hampshire, December 31, 1993,” according to the plaque in the lobby.

Lavallee-Brensinger, local architects, were involved. The program manager was O’Brien Kreitzberg & Associates Inc. and local engineering firm Hoyle Tanner & Associates was in charge of the engineering. H.J. Stabile & Son of Nashua was the construction company.

A gala opening dedication New Year’s Eve party ushered in the new facility, which began receiving flights on January 1.

Since its opening, the terminal has been expanded, the runways have been rebuilt, Southwest Airlines came and doubled the traffic size and what had been an airport with 300,000 or so passengers a year is now one with over 4 million. Its economic impact has been substantial, and its service to the Boston area recognized in the change of name. The future remains bright.

Fred Testa left for a short tenure as head of Philadelphia International Airport and then other assignments, and Kevin Dillon was hired from Boston, having had experience in New York. He has had a successful tenure and led a talented team.

The search will now be undertaken for his successor. A reorganization of the staff structure will see a new deputy airport director, who probably will come from one of the present assistants, several of whom reportedly may seek the top job, as well.

The airport was supported by Wieczorek’s successor, Robert Baines, and his successor, Frank Guinta, and other elected officials wisely have not meddled in its affairs or operations.

A community, acting together, led by its business sector as well as elected officials, can get something large done when it puts its mind to it, as Manchester-Boston Regional Airport attests.


In a special election on May 29, voters in Manchester’s Ward 2 elected an outstanding young man to the House of Representatives.

David Scannell, an administrator with the Manchester School District, was elected to an open seat that resulted from the resignation of a representative elected in November. Democrat Scannell, a Manchester native, edited The Little Green newspaper at Central High School, attended and graduated from Colby College in Maine, graduated from law school, ran the Summerbridge program in Bethlehem, Pa., served as an assistant to former Mayor Baines and works tirelessly for the school system. He has been involved in many civic and cultural activities and will bring substantial ability to the Legislature. This is a representative to watch!

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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