Birmingham International Airport has dropped a major surprise with the announcement that its new chief executive will be Paul Kehoe, who is currently in charge at the far smaller Bristol Airport.
BIA acting managing director Joe Kelly had been hot favourite to get the job, which was advertised nationally at a salary of £200,000 this year.
Mr Kelly took over control of the airport temporarily last year, following the death in a car accident of former managing director Richard Heard.
No date has been set for Mr Kehoe to take up his new appointment, and airport officials were making no comment about the future of Mr Kelly.
Mr Kehoe was previously managing director at London Luton and Belfast International Airports during his eight years with the airport group, TBI.
During a 20-year career in the aviation industry, Mr Kehoe has also been an RAF air traffic controller, manager of BAe Systems airports portfolio and a senior executive with the Serco Group.
He has an MBA from the University of Warwick.
BIA chairman John Hudson said: "We are delighted to have attracted Paul to Birmingham Airport following a very competitive selection process. He brings with him a wealth of airport operating experience and the board looks forward to Paul’s leadership during the challenging times ahead".
Mr Kehoe said: "This is a tremendously exciting time to lead the team at Birmingham Airport.
"The developments that are either planned or under way are ambitious and will enable the airport to continue to make a significant contribution to the success of the region".
The new chief executive’s first task will be to oversee the £120 million extension of the main BIA runway, which will allow non-stop flights to take place from Birmingham to India, China and the west coast of America for the first time. The airport plans major expansion over the next few years including construction of a new international flights terminal.
The airport’s Master Plan ‘Towards 2030’ envisages major expansion over the next few years including construction of a new terminal for international flights.
A Midland aviation expert with close links to Birmingham International Airport spoke of a sense of shock among staff who had expected Mr Kelly, who joined the airport in 1998 as finance director, to be named chief executive.
The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, added: “Joe Kelly has done a first class job during his period in charge. This appointment is really surprising.
“Mr Kehoe is seen in the industry as someone with a history of driving up profitability and shareholder value. He has a track record of cost control and of driving expansion projects forward.”
Birmingham Chamber of Comerce chief executive Jerry Blackett paid tribute to Mr Kelly, who he described as a “quiet and unassuming leader”.
Mr Blackett added: “We should be extremely grateful to Joe, who has done some very good things on his watch. Significant progress has been made and Mr Kehoe should be grateful that he joins when a lot of the hard work has already been done.”
The decision to appoint Mr Kehoe was taken by BIA shareholders, the seven West Midlands metropolitan councils and private sector partners Airport Group Investments. Even senior staff at the airport knew nothing of Mr Kelly’s failure to get the job until shortly before an official announcement was made at 1pm on Friday.
A national advertising campaign for the BIA chief executive role called for a “compelling and charismatic leader” with the ability to engage staff, deliver business transformation and increase passenger numbers from nine million in 2007 to more than 18 million by 2017.
It was also made clear that shareholders wanted a new emphasis on marketing and PR.