Retired naval aviator Richard Wharton appointed to airport commission

Martha's Vineyard Airport relies on a contract air traffic control tower, as opposed to an FAA control tower. - Nelson Sigelman

Richard Wharton Jr., a retired naval flight officer, starts a three-year term as a newly appointed airport commissioner this week. The Dukes County Commission appointed him to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission at a meeting on March 1. The seven county commissioners also voted to reappoint Richard Michelson to a second term on the commission.

Mr. Wharton and Mr. Michelson were two of four applicants seeking two seats on the seven-member volunteer airport commission, which is appointed to three-year terms by the county commissioners. Each received four votes.

Incumbent airport commissioner Christine Todd and another candidate, airline consultant Geoff Wheeler, each received three votes. Ms. Todd, also a county commissioner, had served three years on the airport commission.

County commissioner Gretchen Tucker-Underwood, who is Mr. Wharton’s aunt, told the commissioners before the vote that she had filed a declaration of the appearance of a conflict of interest. Under state law, she was allowed to participate in his appointment as long as she filed a public disclosure of the conflict.

In an application letter to the county commissioners, Mr. Wharton noted he is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He spent a 13-year career in aviation as a naval flight officer (NFO), achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.

Although NFOs are not pilots per se, they often perform co-pilot duties, depending on the aircraft. Mr. Wharton’s experience included flying maritime antisubmarine-warfare and intelligence patrols that spanned the North Atlantic, from Bermuda and Keflavik to the Azores, and in the Mediterranean, from Spain to Sicily.

“I firmly believe the airport and county would gain from my operational leadership as a naval aviator, career in finance, and immediately benefit from the local knowledge, budgetary and staff management and vendor relationships I’ve gained at Windemere,” Mr. Wharton said in his application letter.

After retiring from the military, Mr. Wharton completed a master’s degree in business administration, and spent 14 years in the investment banking and financial services industry. He now serves as director of plant operations and environmental services at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and is an Oak Bluffs resident.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission is responsible for the care and operation of the airport, and the one square mile of land upon which it is located, according to the Dukes County website.