Six candidates want to be the next CEO and executive director for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) in Highfill, and each one will be interviewed individually by the airport’s board Thursday (Aug. 30).
The Board of Directors of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority will meet briefly before going into executive session to interview the six candidates throughout the day, said Scott Van Laningham, CEO and executive director. After the interviews, Van Laningham said the board is expected to reconvene to narrow down the list of candidates to three. While not expected, the board might choose who will be the airport’s next CEO.
Following are the six candidates.
• Steve Hennigan, assistant general manager of operations for Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) of the Houston Airport System;
• Aaron Burkes, president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority;
• Tom Nolan, executive director for the Palm Springs International Airport;
• Bradley ‘Brad’ Livingston, who recently retired as the airport director for Dane County Regional Airport;
• Kelly Fredericks, former CEO of Ontario International Airport Authority; and
• XNA Airport Director Kelly Johnson.
The candidates were narrowed down by the executive search consultant Russell Reynolds Associates from a pool of more than 100 people who were considered for the position. About 70 people applied for the position, including the six candidates who will be interviewed by the board. During the interviews in executive session, the only people present will be the board members, Van Laningham and the candidate being interviewed. Candidates will be interviewed in the order previously listed, and the order was based in part on travel schedules.
Johnson has been XNA’s airport director since 1996 and has overseen the growth of the airport since it opened in 1998 from two to 16 non-stop air services markets. She has directed more than $157 million in federally funded capital projects and over $58 million in non-federal capital projects. Before starting at XNA, she was assistant director for the Fayetteville Municipal Airport for more than 10 years.
“I look forward to the opportunity to be involved in this process and am excited about the future of our region’s airport,” Johnson said.
Aaron Burkes, president of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, is the only other candidate with Arkansas ties and does not have aviation experience. Since 2015, Burkes, a licensed attorney, has led the agency with $1.1 billion in assets and a net position of $307 million, offering low-cost financing for affordable housing developments, small industries, government, education and public facilities and healthcare. The Northwest Arkansas native said the XNA position would offer him the opportunity to move back home. Burkes serves in the cabinet of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and he’s notified the governor about his interest in the position.
“The opportunity to come home to Northwest Arkansas and to play a role in the economic vitality and quality of life of the region is quite appealing,” Burkes said. “My combined private sector and public sector experience will help me effectively address the goals of the authority board – completing important infrastructure projects, like the access road and continuing efforts to bring more carriers, more routes and lower airfares to the region.”
At IAH, Hennigan oversees 250 employees and a $20 million budget, and before he joined the Houston Airport System in 2013, he worked in various management positions with Denver International Airport. He started his aviation management career in 2006 after working for FedEx and United Airlines.
With more than 30 years of aviation management experience, Nolan has been executive director of Palm Springs International Airport since 2007 and has managed almost $400 million in airport capital projects. Passenger traffic has risen 30% to a record of more than 2.2 million. Before Palm Springs, he worked various at U.S. airports, including the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
Also with more than 30 years of aviation management experience, Livingston served as airport director for Dane County Regional Airport, from 2003 until he retired in 2018. He oversaw an airport with nearly 2 million annual passengers and a $300 million capital improvement program. Before his position at Dane County, he was director of operations for Omaha Eppley Airfield in Nebraska.
Fredericks was CEO of Ontario International Airport Authority until 2017 and led the efforts to transfer ownership of Ontario International Airport from the Los Angeles World Airports to Ontario International Airport Authority. He also oversaw the expansion of flights between Ontario and Mexico and established Ontario as a destination for commercial flights from China after brokering a deal with a Chinese charter company. In 2013, he joined the Rhode Island Airport Corp. after serving as senior vice president of the Corradino Group.
If the board narrows down the list of candidates rather than selecting one candidate as the next CEO, the next step is for the board to introduce the candidates to staff and Northwest Arkansas stakeholders, such as the Northwest Arkansas Council, before a final round of interviews by the end of September.
On Dec. 13, the XNA board approved spending up to $200,000 to hire Russell Reynolds to help find the airport’s next CEO and complete a structural review of airport administrative staff. In 2017, Van Laningham announced his plans to retire.