DALLAS -- Denver aviation director George Doughty abruptly resigned yesterday from overseeing construction of the nation's largest airport to manage a small Pennsylvania airport.

Mr. Doughty told Mayor Wellington Webb late Monday that he would leave his position of eight years by June 30 to direct the Allentown, Pa., airport.

Mr. Doughty, who for the past week has denied local published reports that he was leaving to manage the smaller Pennsylvania airport, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Webb has named Deputy Mayor Bill Smith to run Stapleton International Airport and manage completion of the $3 billion new Denver International Airport until a national search for a director is over. Stapleton will close when the new airport is finished.

City officials do not expect other changes in the management of the new, bond-financed airport. "It looks to be just George," said Mr. Gamblin.

Mr. Doughty's sudden departure surprised some in the airport finance business, who speculated he may be leaving because he expects difficulty in completing the project on budget by its October 1993 opening date.

"Allentown only has eight gates," said one source, who asked not to be identified. "That's a real step down from what he has had."

Colleagues said Mr. Doughty believes he is leaving the project under good terms.

"It's a personal decision of George's," said Gennifer P. Sussman, finance director for the Denver project. "He told the staff this morning that if he were worried about the project, he wouldn't be leaving."

Members of his staff said he is taking the new position because of its challenges and to be closer to family.

The decision to resign comes nearly a year after the Webb administration took over city hall and speculation began that Mr. Doughty and other members of the airport management team might be replaced. But city officials assured rating analysts and bond investors at the time that no major staffing change was forthcoming.

"A change at the beginning of a new administration would have been more disruptive than it would after a year," said Mr. Gamblin.

Analysts and others yesterday agreed that the installation of a new airport director will not affect bond ratings or investor interest because the $3 billion debt program is entering its final phases.

"It's less of an issue this year," said Adam Whiteman, vice president at Moody's Investors Service, which rates the project Con. Baa 1. The bonds are rated BBB by Fitch Investors Service and Standard & Poor's Corp.

No one expect much change during the interim. Mr. Smith, who oversees the city's public works department, was previously an assistant to Mr. Doughty and has managed construction of the new airport.

"[Mr. Smith] is someone we know," noted a portfolio manager who owns Denver airport bonds. "More importantly, he is someone who knows the project."

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