Nantucket Memorial Airport will soon have a new leader.
After a decade at the helm of the second busiest airport in Massachusetts, airport manager Tom Rafter is stepping down and passing the torch to his longtime assistant, Noah Karberg.
The Nantucket Memorial Airport Commission is expected to approve a new three-year contract with Karberg next week that will promote him to the airport manager position, effective on Jan. 1, 2023. The plan is for Rafter to stay on with the airport as “special projects director” for a period of 10 months to assist with the transition.
Rafter was hired to run the airport in April 2012 following a period of turmoil that ended with the resignation of two Airport Commission members and the firing of former manager Al Peterson. He left a job with the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey to come to the island. Over the ensuing 10 years, Rafter helped stablize the airport’s finances, staffing and operations. But on Thursday, Rafter said it was time to think about his next chapter in life, while helping Nantucket Memorial Airport make a smooth transition into a new era of leadership.
“I’m not getting younger,” said Rafter, 63. “I’ve been at this for over 41 years which is a pretty good amount of time. I try to look long-term. If I said I wanted to retire in a year or 18 months, do I want to wait and just give 30 days notice? To me, it was about fairness and an appropriate transition. I’m glad the commission saw the benefit to that too. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to do a transition.”
Karberg has been at Rafter’s side as assistant manager for the past five years. Prior to that, Karberg had served as the airport’s environmental coordinator, and has been with the organization for a total of nine years. The two have worked closely in recent years, and both said Rafter had served as a mentor to Karberg as he learned the management side of the airport.
“I’m excited about the opportunity and want to thank Tom and the commission for their mentorship and leadership respectively,” Karberg said. “I look forward to continuing to serve the community in this role.”
With an academic background in natural resources management and public/environmental policy, Karberg’s rise at Nantucket Memorial Airport was an unexpected career path in the aviation industry.
“I never thought I would end up in the aviation field,” he said. “Growing up, my parents traveled a lot and took my sister and I on these trips. I loved traveling and loved being at the airport as much as I loved being on the plane. But the airport as a career wasn’t expected. Tom mentored me in this position, and I’m fortunate in two ways: Tom has worked with me and worked with the commission to identify a transition plan in which he’ll be involved for awhile. There will be no sudden movement.”
The new contract the Airport Commission will consider at its Nov. 15th meeting would pay Karberg a starting annual salary of $152,000, plus benefits. Looking ahead to 2023 when he takes the helm, Karberg said the immediate challenges will be staffing and recruitment of airport staff. But overall, he emphasized, the airport is in a far better position than when he started.
“The credit goes to Tom and the Commission for building up the airport and leaving it much better than it was a decade ago,” he said.
Karberg’s hiring and the transition from Rafter will look far different from the last leadership change a decade ago following Peterson’s firing. The airport tapped for Island Airlines owner Bill McGrath as its interim manager, then hired ADK Executive Search to run its search for a permanent replacement. After finalists were selected, the hiring process included an assessment center, a meet-and-greet at the Rose & Crown, and public interviews with the Airport Commission.
This time around, Airport Commission chair Art Gasbarro said the airport was in a far different position, and the choice of Karberg was clear to him and his colleagues on the commission. While they considered hiring a search firm and advertising the position, Gasbarro said contract offer to Karberg was a vote of confidence in someone who had come up through the organization, was invested in the community, and is raising a family on the island. He added that the Airport Commission got clearance from town counsel that the position was not required to be advertised, and the job could be offered to Karberg directly.
“It’s been a good run with Tom, about 10 years, and the commission has come to terms with Noah to take the reins,” Gasbarro said. “I think it’s really positive. It’s someone local and invested in the community who has all the qualifications, institutional knowledge, and is willing to step up.”