The man chosen as the new director of Sacramento International Airport is a longtime airport executive with a solid business background who has taken an up-and-down ride to his new position.
County Executive Brad Hudson announced Friday that he will recommend John Wheat, head of a small Florida airport, to the Board of Supervisors next week as county airports director, a job that includes overseeing Mather Airport and Executive Airport.
The job pays $189,716 plus benefits. Wheat would replace Hardy Acree, who retired in December after overseeing the airport's recent $1 billion terminal and concourse construction project.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Hudson's recommendation. If confirmed by the board, Wheat is scheduled to start work in Sacramento on April 14.
Wheat, who was chosen from among 18 qualified candidates during a national search, did not respond Friday to a Bee call.
The 30-year airport executive currently serves as head of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, a 3-year-old airport outside Panama City that has no international flights, is served by only four airlines and has one-tenth as many passengers annually as Sacramento.
Before his Panama City job, however, Wheat worked for 12 years as a deputy director at one of the largest airports in the country, Tampa International Airport, and, for a few months, as that airport's interim executive director.
Wheat resigned in early 2011 after he was passed over for the permanent executive director position, and after the new director indicated he was going to eliminate Wheat's position, according to several media reports.
Those same reports said Wheat had been admonished during his time at the Tampa airport for a relationship with another airport employee who later became his wife. Sacramento officials said that incident was minor and not considered of consequence in evaluating Wheat.
He is credited with helping the fledgling Northwest Florida Beaches airport stabilize itself after a rough start.
"It was an airport in a lot of trouble financially," said Rob Leonard, a Sacramento County executive who participated in the hiring panel. "They had a lot of debt and not a lot of activity."
Wheat also previously served in executive positions at Salt Lake City International Airport from 1983 to 1999.
Hudson on Friday referred questions about Wheat to Leonard. His office submitted a written statement, saying, in part, Wheat's "broad-based experience will be critical to the continued success of our airport system."
Sacramento, now one of the most expensive airports in the country for carriers, faces the challenge of expanding service to help pay the large debt from its recent terminal expansion.
Supervisor Phil Serna said Friday he has not met Wheat but has heard that the proposed director has the background for the task ahead. "His background is pretty business heavy. Based on his qualifications, he brings appropriate skill sets for the airport."
Serna said his goal for the new director is to land more carriers and more international flights.
Supervisor Susan Peters said she has heard Wheat has a good reputation among airlines, which should be a bonus in encouraging them to increase flights here. She added, "We need somebody who is really going to focus on the finances of all three airports."