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Q&A with Ted Kitchens, new director of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 26. 2018 12:37PM
Travelers collect their bags on arrival at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Incoming airport director Theodore "Ted" Kitchens says it will take a community effort to reverse the airport's decade-long passenger decline. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER FILE)

Ted Kitchens starts in Manchester Oct. 1.

MANCHESTER -- A return to the high-flying days of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport more than a decade ago won't happen overnight, the incoming airport director says.

"I don't want to say that we will never get there, but it's going to take some time to do that," Theodore "Ted" Kitchens said in a phone interview last week.

After peaking at 4.33 million passengers in 2005, the state's largest airport has seen its passengers numbers decline every year, dipping below 2 million last year.

Other New England airports have recorded upticks in passenger totals this year. Portland, Maine, notched an all-time record last year.

Kitchens, 45, general manager of George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, didn't offer specifics on how he would stem Manchester's slide, but said the effort would take "a village" with the community's help.

"A lot of these things I'm going to have to wait until I get in there and try and figure out," said Kitchens, who will start his new post Oct. 1. "That's why when your colleague asked me what my strategy was, well, I don't want to spill it right now because I need to figure out what the airport has already tried and attempted and make certain my strategy respects and builds upon what the previous efforts have been."

Kitchens beat out four other candidates, including two internal ones. He hopes to work with everyone once he arrives here.

"I like to include everybody that is on that senior management team and even down into the front-line employee ranks into the decision-making process," he said. "I'm a firm believer that none of us is as smart as all of us put together, so I think just sitting down and having an honest discussion first and foremost and getting to know each other will go a long way to helping understand each other."

Kitchens, who will make $203,513 a year, has worked at airports in Houston, Atlanta and Virginia, but Manchester will be the first where he is the man in charge.

"This has been where I've been trying to get to my entire career," said Kitchens, who's married with two school-age children.

Here are his thoughts on other subjects, condensed and lightly edited:

Q: When was the first time you flew in an airplane and where to?

A: The first time I recall flying I was with my father. We're flying from Gainesville, Fla., up to Nashville, Tenn. He was giving a speech up there, and I remember very vividly going through Atlanta and then connecting on Eastern Air Lines into Nashville. And we landed in the middle of a snowstorm. And they lost our bags, and here I am now in this industry.

Q: What's your favorite airline?

A: I don't really want to answer that one (laughing). I like 'em all.

Q: Why would you want to leave one of the top 15 largest airports in the country to work at the much smaller Manchester-Boston Regional Airport?

A: It's an opportunity for me to continue the growth of my career. The best move anybody can make is when there's a lot of professional reasons and personal reasons, and this one was certainly both of those.

Professionally, it's the next step in my career. Every move I've made has been an advancement to getting to this stage of my career.

Personally, it's a great place to raise a family, the quality of life, all the things that everybody knows that lives up there that are very strong points of the region.

Q: Two members of the selection committee said they were highly impressed by your report analyzing the airport and offering observations. Did you expect to score so many points with that?

A: Honestly, no. The reason I did that report was, and I mentioned this to the panel, was so they can see how I like to think and how I approach problems and that I was obviously taking the position very seriously. But I wanted to show them what I could do and how I would come up with potential solutions or an approach to a problem.

I certainly walked them through there with the report. I approach everything with that same level of professionalism and with the same level of attention to detail and using data and analysis to draw a conclusion. A lot of people can get into paralysis from overanalysis, but I'm not that way.

Q: Would you recommend anyone going for a job interview to come armed with a report?

A: I think you should, yes. You need to make the job interview your own. You need to show that you're ready to take ownership of the position. I think anybody should come in there with a plan of action like that. It's just an opportunity to show somebody your skill set.

Q: You want to expand service with United, but that airline recently announced it was cutting service between Manchester and Chicago's O'Hare as you noted in your report. How do you reconcile those two directions?

A: We need to certainly approach United and even some of the other carriers and help them understand all the positive things that are going on in the region. Sometimes, the carriers, they've got a lot of cities in their network, and they might not see those microtrends happening, but you as an airport are, and have to pick up the phone: "Do you see this happening? How can we help change the competitive strength for that route?"

Q: Don't the airlines already do the detailed work in maximizing their aircraft and finding the most profitable routes?

A: They do, but sometimes it's a dialogue. There's a relationship there that you have to have with a carrier.

Q: While in Houston, how much were you responsible for recruiting more airline service?

A: We have an air service development team, and I do work with them. My experience has been more when those carriers are visiting here to look at the facility, look at the operation and certainly (I) have interfaced with carriers at that juncture. But I do work very closely with air service development team.

Q: How long do you expect to work in Manchester?

A: As along as I'm being effective, and I have the support of the aldermen and the community, why would I ever leave?

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