After Years in Flight, Newark Liberty GM Opts for a Ground Stop

Diane Papaianni

By Cheryl Albiez, Media Relations Staff

Early in her Port Authority career, Diane Papaianni had a chance elevator encounter with Sue Baer, a revered veteran airport general manager and Papaianni’s professional role model. Baer, who would become the agency’s first woman Director of Aviation, asked her younger colleague where she saw herself in the next few years.

“Running an airport, like you did,” Papaianni replied with a laugh.

“Well, we better start getting you ready, then,” said Baer.

Through the support of mentors like Baer and a talent for leadership in aviation, Papaianni achieved her dream, becoming general manager of New Jersey airports – Newark Liberty International and Teterboro airports – in 2016. Today, after an accomplished 39-year PA career, Papaianni is flying off into retirement.

Her departure coincides with the end of Women’s History Month, and Papaianni has been a strong example of the progress women have made in key senior leadership roles at the Port Authority. She was the second woman (after Baer) to run New Jersey’s biggest and busiest airport. The Aviation Department and the airports have been home to many talented women who’ve been successful at the highest levels.

“Don’t be afraid to set your goals high, because if there is something you want to do, you know there are definitely opportunities and ways to make it happen,” she said, citing her professional philosophy that guided her nearly four decades.

Untitled-1Papaianni came a long way from her first PA job as an entry-level secretary in the Tunnels, Bridges and Terminals department, and held various roles within other agency departments before switching to Newark Liberty in the late 1980’s – a move that served as her introduction to the Aviation industry.

At Newark, Papaianni held various positions with increasing responsibility — from airport operations, to supervising AirTrain operations, overseeing customer service and managing Terminal B’s international facility. In 2011, she was promoted into the position of manager of airport operations, in 2014, she was named deputy general manager, before being appointed general manager two years later. 

Managing an airport in one of the most complicated air spaces in the world is not an easy task. She handled presidential visits, hurricanes, blizzards, power outages and celebrity sightings, which have become a routine part of the job for Papaianni and her Newark Liberty family. Papaianni says she enjoyed the challenge, crediting another mentor – current Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence, who she succeeded in several positions at Newark Liberty – with providing support and contributing to her success.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of finding the right mentor, and developing a road map that will you put you in a position to achieve your career goals,” she said.

Her tenure, PA colleagues and friends say, has been a lesson in helping others achieve their career objectives.

Former Port Authority Aviation Director Thomas L. Bosco said that “Papaianni has had a brilliant career, leaving behind a legacy of superb leadership and professionalism.”

“Diane has been an inspiration to both female and male leaders in our airports. She leads with both passion and compassion. She will be greatly missed,” said Lysa Scully, Papaianni’s long-time colleague and the current general manager of LaGuardia Airport.


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