XNA authority promotes Kelly Johnson to chief operating officer

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 1,034 views 

Airport Director Kelly Johnson of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) in Highfill has been promoted to chief operating officer and will start in the position Nov. 1.

Members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority approved the promotion Wednesday (Oct. 24) in a special meeting via conference call. Johnson’s annual salary will increase 16.7%, from $158,481 to $185,000.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity and will do a good job,” Johnson said after the vote.

Chairwoman Blake Woolsey explained Johnson’s duties in the position, including to oversee airport operations. This oversight includes engineering and construction, maintenance and public safety departments.

Following is a statement from Johnson, when asked about changes to her position: “While several of the duties were included with my former role, one of the most exciting opportunities is being a party to the shaping of the new organization. This will include working with our board, CEO and team to identify new positions and their associated job functions, reporting lines of authority, etc. We have to grow the staff to keep up with passenger and traffic demands, all the while preparing for the future at a more visionary level. The only constant about the aviation industry is change, and it consistently faces challenges that it doesn’t create or control. We need to assure that the airport is positioned for these challenges and change in such a manner that our future success will be the outcome. Being a part of the team that will do this work I find both exciting and energizing.”

“We are in a good place,” Woolsey said. “Congratulations, and we thank you for your commitment to us Kelly. You are way too valuable to this airport, and we are super happy that you accepted this position. We thought it was important to act on this matter promptly and not wait until the next regular meeting.”

On Sept. 27, the board approved offering Johnson the position of chief operating officer with an annual salary of up to $185,000. On Oct. 17, Woolsey said negotiations continue for the position.

Also on Sept. 27, the board selected Aaron Burkes as the next CEO and executive director to succeed Scott Van Laningham, who will retire Dec. 31. Burkes will start in the position Oct. 30 and have an annual salary of $205,000. Johnson was one of the top three candidates considered for the CEO position.

On Dec. 13, the board approved spending up to $200,000 to hire executive search consultant Russell Reynolds to help find the next CEO and complete a structural review of the airport administrative staff. The consultant’s work has been completed , and other positions the board will look to fill include chief financial officer and chief business development officer. As the number of airport staff reaches 50, the consultant had suggested a human resources position, instead of that being an outsourced position.

The consultant also provided guidance on salary for the CEO position, and the next step is for XNA to set salary ranges for the other executive level positions, Van Laningham said.

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