'Perfect storm' brought new airport director to Rhode Island


Kelly Fredericks uses the words “perfect storm” when he describes what he found in Rhode Island.

Fredericks was named President-CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) Wednesday afternoon, a position he will assume on April 8. In his present position as senior vice president of the Corradino Group in Fort Lauderdale, he is program manager for the design and construction of a multi-billion dollar airport expansion program at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Those who run airports do not often think of “storm,” in positive terms, and “perfect storm” would seem to be the worst of the worst. In this case, however, Fredericks is thinking of the events leading to the point where Green Airport is today. A number of projects have been completed or are in place. They include the environmental impact statement for a runway extension and other runway and facility upgrades; funding for most of the projects is in place and the Interlink is up and running. In addition, Fredericks said, he was looking to return to the Northeast and to run a medium hub airport.

But it was more than having everything line up perfectly that cinched the deal. In a telephone interview Friday, Fredericks said it was the people he met, and their conviction that the airport is a critical element to the state’s economy, that convinced him he wanted the job.

“It’s the people that resonated with me,” he said. In particular, he said the RIAC staff and how they work together impressed him. He said he found the same commitment to building the airport’s future from members of the RIAC board and other officials he has met on his trips to the state.

“I want to play for that team,” he said.

As he thought about it, Fredericks said the airport has many assets and “this was much more of an opportunity than I first thought.”

Fredericks comes to Rhode Island at the end of more than a decade of contentious debate over the extension of Runway 5-23 from 7,166 to 8,700 feet, and at a time when airport traffic has been on a steady decline from the heydays of 2005, when Green serviced more than 5.7 million passengers and 6 million seemed likely in a few short years. But, as the recession set in, passenger totals went into a dive. Air traffic at Green for 2012 was 3.6 million, down from 3.8 million the year before, a decline of 5.9 percent.

Fredericks calls 5 million passengers “achievable,” adding, “6 million is doable.”

How is that possible?

“The demand is there,” Fredericks answered, but “it’s being captured by somewhere else.”

He identifies the “somewhere else” as Boston. He said bringing the traffic to Green is a matter of working with the carriers and marketing Green’s assets.

But what can be done if flights are cheaper from Boston? Why would people use Green?

Fredericks doesn’t fault people for shopping for the best ticket deals, but he does feel steps can be taken to influence carriers so they offer competitive prices and service at Green. And, he adds, there are steps that can be taken to enhance the marketability of Green. One of those assets, he said, is attitude and the partnership with the state and the community.

In a follow-up email, Fredericks was asked what he would make his priority upon arriving at Green. Here’s how he replied:

“I would have to say team building. What I mean by that is getting to know the RIAC team and working with them to build upon the already excellent relationships with the business community, airport tenants, elected officials, FAA, RIDOT and others as we place a strong focus on the following: commercial air service enhancements; successful completion of the runway expansion; cargo service enhancements; advancement of our general aviation airports and further development of and around the InterLink facility.”

Fredericks, 52, is an Accredited Airport Executive, Registered Professional Engineer (PE) and a Licensed Private Pilot. He has significant airport management experience, having previously served as the Executive Director-CEO at Erie International Airport, Tom Ridge Field from 1999 to 2008, Deputy Aviation Director (COO) at Pittsburgh International Airport 1996 to 1999, and Manager of State-Owned Airports/Improvements at Harrisburg International Airport 1980 to 1993.

Fredericks succeeds Kevin Dillon, who left Rhode Island last summer to become president and CEO of Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. It was Dillon who eventually steered RIAC through the environmental impact statement process for a longer runway. Dillon and Peter Frazier, who served as acting CEO during the search for a new director, worked out an agreement with the City Council whereby the council dropped an appeal of the environmental ruling in exchange for guarantees on the relocation of the Winslow playing fields and other promises.

In a statement released following his appointment, RIAC Board Chair Dr. Kathleen Hittner said: “The search for this position has been thorough and deliberative and provided a number of very qualified candidates; however, Kelly was the unanimous choice with years of proven industry experience. He brings a fresh perspective and hands-on leadership with runway expansion work, which we feel will be especially important to us in the next 3 to 5 years. Kelly’s skills will complement those of the staff at RIAC. He is a dedicated professional with a history of strong community involvement which can only serve to strengthen our relationships with the civic and business leaders of the state, as well as the citizenry of the host communities of Green and our general aviation airports. Lastly, on behalf of the board, I would like to take this time to express our gratitude to Peter Frazier for serving as Interim President and CEO during this search period.”

Fredericks said he met briefly with Mayor Scott Avedisian last Tuesday and looks forward to keeping communication open with the mayor and city officials. As a practice, Avedisian and Dillon met monthly. Fredericks said he plans to carry on that tradition and even meet more frequently, if that can be worked out.

As President-CEO of RIAC, Fredericks will also be responsible for overseeing the state’s five other airports. He said he is looking to expand general aviation as well as cargo flights.

Fredericks is a native of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Penn State University. He remains active in several industry organizations. He previously served as vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Aviation Advisory Board under three different governors.

His resume lists the following as his job objective:

“Seek executive level leadership position at a transportation or development related organization or company that utilizes my leadership strengths for maintenance, operations, security, development and implementation of strategic airport and business growth to optimize the economic impact, safety and efficiency of the airport(s) and/or business to the region.”

He will be paid $255,000 and the same benefits as his predecessors.

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