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Widely Praised Chief to Step Down From Airport Agency

Lydia H. Kennard was hailed for new security measures at LAX after Sept. 11 attacks. She says she wants to work in the private sector.

August 14, 2003|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

The head of the city's airport agency, who was widely praised for implementing new security measures at Los Angeles International Airport after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Wednesday that she will resign this fall.

The announcement by Lydia H. Kennard comes as Mayor James K. Hahn launches his effort to win approval of his $9-billion modernization plan for the airport, which faces skepticism from many in the airline industry and some neighbors.

Kennard said she supports Hahn's plan, which the mayor says emphasizes security over expansion, but wants to pursue opportunities in the private sector. She added that she had planned to leave the $259,000-a-year post before the terrorist attacks, but decided to stay to help the agency recover.

In addition to LAX, Kennard oversees airports in Ontario, Van Nuys and Palmdale, as well as an $862-million annual budget. She was named acting executive director of the airport agency in 1999 and appointed director in 2000.

In a statement, Hahn praised Kennard's leadership.

"Under Lydia's direction, the [city's] airports have set a high standard for airport management, financial stability, safety and security," the mayor said.

Known for her unwavering calm, Kennard steered the city's airport agency through the aftermath of the skyjackings, which caused the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down the nation's airports for two days. Once LAX reopened, Kennard worked with a multitude of agencies to implement new security requirements and reassure the public that it was safe to fly.

In one of her more controversial moves, Kennard stuck by a decision to keep private vehicles out of the airport's central terminal area for more than five weeks despite almost daily pleas from the airlines and many of the city's political heavyweights to reopen the airport's horseshoe-shaped roadway.

Her resolve helped her win nationwide attention.

The publicity-shy executive director, 49, suddenly found herself talking about airport security on CNN and was profiled in People magazine. Even the servers at her local coffee shop recognized her after seeing her on the news.

On any given day, she has had to juggle phone calls from federal legislators, the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration, Gov. Gray Davis and the Los Angeles Police Department. The political pressure was constant, leading Kennard to remark shortly after the skyjackings that the only thing she disliked about her job was the politics.

Under Kennard, the airport met federal deadlines last year to screen passengers and baggage, even as other major airports received extensions from Congress after complaining that they could not comply. Always in the background was the knowledge that LAX, the fifth-busiest airport in the world, had been targeted by terrorists who planned to bomb a terminal on New Year's Eve 1999.

"Statistically we had the biggest challenge -- we have more baggage than any other airport in the country and we have more passengers in terms of processing," Kennard said.

"There was no real focus on not being able to do it -- the focus was on getting it done," she said.

The double whammy of increased security costs and lost concession revenue brought on by the terrorist attacks left the city's airport agency with a $100-million gap in its 2001-02 budget.

Kennard and her staff mended the gap by cutting other expenses and tapping a healthy reserve.

Today, LAX has received the highest bond rating available to airports from several ratings agencies, allowing it to borrow money at lower rates.

Kennard began her decade of public service when she joined the city Planning Commission in 1991, where she served until 1993.

Her background in planning and law prompted city officials to recruit her to the city's airport agency as deputy executive director of facilities, design, engineering, construction and maintenance in 1994.

She began her tenure by brokering a deal with the airlines -- after a nine-year impasse -- that led to the construction of a $300-million terminal complex at Ontario International Airport

"She's demonstrated a willingness to work with the airlines," said Kelley Brown, a consultant who represents carriers at LAX. "She's tried to make [the city's airport agency] a lot more business-oriented ... and she's been successful on that too."

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