When Huntley Lawrence moved with his family from London to Queens in 1969, he lived a stone’s throw from LaGuardia Airport and attended the aviation program offered at P.S. 127. Here he learned first-hand about flight at LGA and John F. Kennedy, the major international airport located a short distance from his East Elmhurst home.
Little did he know that those early lessons would lead him to one of the most prestigious aviation jobs in the United States — Director of Aviation for the Port Authority, a post that oversees the regional airport system – John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty International, Stewart International, Teterboro Airport, and Atlantic City International Airport with whom the Port Authority has a management agreement.
From Lawrence’s perch, he commands one of the world’s busiest airport systems that handled a record 124.2 million passengers in 2015, generated annual revenues of $2.4 billion, and spurred regional economic growth of more than $84.7 billion in economic activity.
Lawrence formally assumed the director’s seat last month, replacing Thomas Bosco, who retired from the Port Authority after more than 30 years of service to the agency.
His affinity for aviation and his connection to the Port Authority go way back. “Fortunately, when I went to high school I was able to attend ground school, courtesy of the City of New York,” said Lawrence, who noted the city allowed qualified students to use Republic Airport on Long Island. Students were able to fly and become familiar with smaller, private planes during flying lessons.
During Lawrence’s time at August Martin High School he attended core classes such as science but it varied from the traditional academic curriculum. Science classes focused on the different types of weather a pilot may face and how it affects travel. Students were also able to experience the weathers impact on flights by flying in different conditions. Shortly before graduating high school, Lawrence had passed his written pilot’s test.
Upon graduation, Lawrence landed an internship at the Port Authority. “We had a program called ‘Training with Industry’ when I was in high school and was able to do an internship in the Aviation Department at the Port Authority in 1980,” he said. “It was a really great experience. I also learned a lot about aviation planning during the internship.”
Lawrence attended Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., which had an extensive aviation program that included flight training. Like many aviation enthusiasts, his real interest was aviation, not earning a living as a commercial pilot.
When he returned to the Port Authority full-time, he worked as an operations supervisor at Newark Liberty International Airport. “My former supervisor in aviation had told me about a program that the Port Authority was putting together. She said see this guy named Mike Massiah,” Lawrence recalled. But finding an opportunity to meet with the busy Massiah was difficult.
So Lawrence went to the Port Authority’s personnel office and waited outside until he caught Massiah in the hallway, and arranged an interview. Long story short – he was hired in July 1985 and a long and distinguished Port Authority career began. In his 31 years at the Port Authority he has also held supervisory and management roles at Teterboro Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport’s Terminal B, and International Arrivals at JFK.
His objective as head of aviation is to assure a high quality of performance from Port Authority employees in service to the airport’s passengers and other customers, and to help build and maintain a strong economic base for the airports.
“I think that’s what we’re about—providing these types of facilities, and ensuring a standard of quality in the services we and our partners provide,” he said. “It’s really about improving infrastructure, facilitating employment, and providing a positive economic impact.”