Longtime American Airlines executive Peter Dolara retires Friday in Miami, handing the reins to the region’s new vice president, Art Torno.
Art Torno still remembers the meeting that changed his career — and ultimately his life.
On a Saturday in 1986 at New York City’s Chrysler building, Peter Dolara — an American Airlines executive who became a longtime mentor — hired Torno to run the airline’s hub in San Juan, Puerto Rico. So began a path that eventually led to Miami, where Dolara retires Friday as senior vice president for Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America after a more than 40-year career.
Filling that position: Torno, 56, appointed earlier this year as vice president for Mexico, Caribbean and Latin America.He was also stationed here as vice president for Miami from 1991-1999, building the hub with Dolara, and most recently worked as vice president in New York City.
“He’s groomed me for this job for 26 years,” Torno said of Dolara. “He spent a lot of time and patience bringing me along. It’s a great honor and a privilege to step into a vision and into a city that he has really set up very nicely.”
A onetime flight attendant, Torno has been working in Miami since March, shortly after American announced changes in senior management — including a trim from 14 to 10 executives — as part of a restructuring plan following the company’s bankruptcy filing last year. He’s an enthusiastic company man who even met his wife Carolina on the job; they have three children.
In a telephone interview from Colombia Thursday, Torno said he’s been traveling at least once a week to visit one or several countries in the vast region to introduce himself and discuss the company’s restructuring efforts.
“I’m making the most of my time because I do want to make sure I’m able to communicate where we’re going as American Airlines and reassure local communities that we’re here, we’re strong, we’re going to grow,” he said.
In Miami, questions remain about how the company’s bankruptcy will affect the region’s 9,000 employees. With contract talks expected to resume with some groups and pilots voting on an agreement, the final number of layoffs at one of the county’s largest private employers is still unknown.
But Torno said he’s confident that the company’s plan to grow all five major hubs by 20 percent is achievable in Miami. “Our vision is to grow and maybe even exceed that,” he said.
Over the next five years, he said, the target is to grow from the current 307 daily flights to 400 a day. Already this year, the airline has announced new service between Miami and Barcelona, Seattle, Brazil and Paraguay.
Those moves are seen as good news by local tourism and economic development officials, who say they look forward to continuing a strong relationship with the airline.
William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he’s had meetings with Torno about joint marketing programs and other issues that are important to the destination, which gets 97 percent of its visitors by air.
Nothing in those talks has reflected the airline’s bankruptcy, Talbert said. “I expect the partnership will continue to flourish.”
Just last week, the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development partnership, honored Dolara and Torno. At the event, American presented a check for $500,000 as part of the Where Worlds Meet marketing program, which was a previous commitment from the airline.
“We have the money, not just the faux check,” said Beacon Council president and CEO Frank Nero. “That’s what’s important.”
Nero and Torno go back more than 15 years to when Torno was part of the search committee that selected Nero for the Beacon Council position.
“It’s like a renewed relationship with an old friend,” Nero said. “I think not only for me personally but for the South Florida region, there couldn’t have been a better choice. But…he has huge shoes to fill. They’re Shaquille O’Neal-sized shoes.”
Stuart Klaskin, an aviation consultant whose firm Jetstream Aviation Capital is based in Coconut Grove, said Dolara — whose shoes Nero was referring to — is “an immensely respected guy” who he described as an “ambassador and operation czar” for the region.
Klaskin, who does not know Torno personally, said he sees a seamless transition ahead. And while he expects some who had Dolara’s ear will miss the access, he anticipates that others could look forward to forging new connections.
“I think there’ll be people who by their nature will welcome new blood and maybe a chance to reset relationships,” he said.
Dolara has said that he intends to stay in Miami and continue to advocate for the community and the airline. And Torno said he looks forward to working with his mentor to push for the area’s development as a hub for industries other than tourism and service.
During restructuring talks, Torno said Dolara fought against anything that would hurt partnerships that the airline has in Miami.
“My work will be to continue what we’ve done in partnerships and work with the city as we evolve,” Torno said. “I can tell you firmly without a doubt that American Airlines will continue its work in the community and continue its work with sponsorships and be thrilled to be a part of it. This is a long-term strategic commitment for Miami and for American Airlines.”