Meet the Man Leading One of the Busiest Airport Systems in the World

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Huntley Lawrence ’85 leads one of the busiest airport systems in the world—with revenues of $2.4 billion and a staff of nearly 1,600 aviation professionals. As director of aviation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, he oversees operations at John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International, Teterboro and Stewart International airports, which in combination served 132.6 million total passengers in 2017. It’s a big job in the midst of big plans.

In addition to managing overall airport operations and the customer experience, Lawrence is leading an ambitious 10-year, $11.6 billion redevelopment initiative aimed at modernizing airport facilities and keeping pace with projected passenger growth in the coming decades. This work includes the $2.72 billion Terminal One Redevelopment Program at Newark Airport, the $8 billion complete renovation of LaGuardia Airport and the JFK Airport Vision Plan. With an additional $10 billion in private sector investment, the capital plan totals more than $20 billion.

Each project is a complex, multiphase endeavor designed to enhance the passenger experience through improved functionality, aesthetics, sustainability and usability. It includes the construction of new terminals, new parking garages, new electrical and fueling infrastructure, repaving runways and addressing airport access.

“The Port Authority’s airport system is one of the region’s greatest economic engines and continues to experience robust and sustained growth,” he said. “Underscoring the importance of the agency’s goals of developing world-class airports, our agency’s $32.2 billion 2017–2026 capital plan sets aside 36 percent in total spending for modernizing and upgrading our facilities.”

Lawrence is well-suited for this challenge. A 32-year veteran of the Port Authority, he started his career as an intern in the aviation department right out of high school. After earning his degree in aviation management from Florida Tech, he returned to the Port Authority, ascending through positions of increasing responsibility before being named deputy director of aviation and, ultimately, director of aviation in 2017.

“I’ve had the good fortune to work at all three of our major airports—JFK, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia—in nearly every division, including operations, security, properties and customer service. Along the way, I’ve gained valuable insights about what works and what’s important, and how best to meet our objectives,” he said.

Lawrence’s interest in aviation started at a young age. He attended the aviation program offered at his elementary school and was able to complete pilot ground school as part of his high school curriculum. At Florida Tech, his interest in management and leadership was sparked.

“There was this whole emerging field in the late ’70s and early ’80s to develop careers in airport management, and I was intrigued by that,” he explained. “You deal with a broad range of issues—legal, commercial, financial. It really runs the gamut. In effect, you’re running an important business enterprise for the benefit of the public.”

He says he appreciates the technical foundation he received at Florida Tech as well as the larger understanding of management, leadership, transportation and intermodalism he gained—skills he continues to use today.

And, his affinity for his alma mater has remained strong.

“If I’m close by, even in Orlando, I like to sneak a peek of campus,” he said, noting the transformation of south campus, where he used to conduct Army ROTC drills on the pistol range and rappelling tower located there, and the WFIT studio, which was in the basement of Roberts Hall when he hosted a weekly radio program as a student.

At Homecoming 2017, Lawrence received the George M. Skurla Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Aeronautics.

“I am quite humbled by the honor in receiving the Skurla Award,” he said. “I’ve always tried to provide value in every role that I’ve held.”

It’s this value mindset as well as his management expertise and institutional knowledge that distinguish Lawrence’s leadership during this transformational time for the Port Authority.

“Large organizations are tough. Bureaucracy can be frustrating; but at the end of the day, you eventually get it done. I have high expectations for myself and my team, because our customers expect a lot of us,” he said. “Seeing today where we’ve got a lot of support from our board and our governors to rebuild our airports—that really inspires me.”

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Christena Callahan is editor of Florida Tech Today magazine.

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