A host of local government and business dignitaries symbolically broke ground for a new North Terminal at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner, La. Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 including New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, speaking at right, Airport Director of Aviation Iftikhar Ahmad, center, and newly sworn in Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, who previously served on the project as mayor of Kenner.
Iftikhar Ahmad, who helped boost passenger levels, court new airlines and launch the construction of a massive new terminal as the top man at Louis Armstrong International Airport, is leaving to oversee Rhode Island's six airports.
Ahmad, whose title was director of aviation, will leave the New Orleans airport Oct. 12 to take over as president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corp., according to a statement from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration.
He came to New Orleans in 2010 from the Dayton, Ohio, airport.
Ahmad's departure comes as the New Orleans airport is in the midst of one of the largest construction projects in the city's history, a new 760,500-square-foot, 30-gate terminal.
“I am truly humbled to have served this community at such an important time under this mayor,” Ahmad said. “We have completely turned around this airport and are now underway on a new $826 million north terminal project."
Ahmad started at Louis Armstrong at a time when the airport was under scrutiny for contracting problems and questionable spending. Since then, the airport has received plaudits from the city Inspector General's Office for partnering with that agency and making changes to its policies on contracting, take-home vehicles and credit cards.
The airport also has seen significant improvements under Ahmad, including a $300 million renovation of the existing terminal before the Super Bowl in 2013 and reaching marks of 10.7 million passengers last year and nonstop connections to 57 destinations.
“What we have accomplished there together would not be possible without Iftikhar’s leadership and expertise," Landrieu said.
The airport now is in the midst of its most ambitious project, the new terminal that will replace the existing facility. That project is expected to be completed by October 2018.
City Councilman Jared Brossett, who chairs the council's Transportation and Airport Committee, said Friday that other airport staffers and the joint venture hired to manage the project will keep it on track after Ahmad leaves.
"I think there's good, able people out there that can continue to steer the ship, and work will go on uninterrupted," Brossett said.
In 2014, the New Orleans City Council approved a new contract for Ahmad through 2019 that set his base salary at about $270,000 a year. In his position in Rhode Island, he will be paid about $346,500.
The New Orleans Aviation Board plans to launch a national search for Ahmad's replacement.
Airport board names new president and CEO, at higher salary
WARWICK, R.I. — Iftikhar Ahmad will head the operations of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation as its president and chief executive officer beginning next month.
"I'm very excited to be here. I'm looking forward to working with this excellent team," Ahmad said after he was congratulated by the board of directors and his family at a meeting of the board Thursday night.
He also said he has ideas about how to grow T.F. Green Airport, and wanted to "build some rapport" as he gets to know people.
"This is a big asset of the community, and we have to use it to bring more economic development," he said of T.F. Green.
Ahmad has been director of aviation at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport since 2010, according to a news release from the corporation.
He previously worked at the City of Houston’s Department of Aviation, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, the City of Dayton’s Department of Aviation and the New Orleans Aviation Board.
Since 2015, he has also served as a U.S. civil aviation expert for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, for which he is not compensated. He has master's and bachelor's degrees in civil engineering from Oklahoma State University.
Ahmad received the full support of the board, which voted unanimously to appoint him to the position. He is moving to Rhode Island and plans to start on Oct. 13.
Ahmad is the third person to take on the position in less than a decade.
Kelly J. Fredericks resigned in January to work at the Ontario International Airport Authority in California. At the time of his departure, he was being paid $294,198 a year.
Fredericks arrived in 2013, taking over from Kevin A. Dillon, who also spent a short time at T.F. Green, from 2007 to 2012, before heading to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut.
With each departure and during the searches for a new leader, Peter Frazier, who has worked at the corporation for more than a decade, has taken over operations on an interim basis.
Board chairman Jonathan N. Savage said Frazier was one of two finalists with Ahmad on Thursday night.
"He has led in a remarkable fashion," Savage said of Frazier, adding as he addressed him directly, "You make us proud."
Frazier said he will now return to his previous role as senior vice president and general counsel for the corporation.
"I feel very respected," Frazier said after the meeting.
Asked if he might look for a different job now, Frazier shook his head.
"I bleed Rhode Island," he said.
Speaking of Ahmad, he said, "The airport has scored an industry expert."
T.F Green’s open position attracted a lot of interest. More than 100 candidates applied for the job, said Patti Goldstein, senior vice president of marketing and communications. The board hired Spencer Stuart, a national executive search-consulting firm, to help with the six-month-long search.
Ahmad has had many past accomplishments that the corporation highlighted in the news release.
The airport corporation credited Ahmad with increasing passenger traffic by more than 36 percent, from 7.8 million in 2009 to a record 10.7 million in 2015 in New Orleans.
Since 2010, he has recruited 10 more airlines for a total of 15, and increased nonstop flights from 28 to 57, while also adding new routes to Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada and Europe, the news release stated.
Savage said Ahmad's salary will be $346,500 annually.
"We needed to be competitive," he said, noting that the board hired a consultant to give a range.