(Submitted by Derrick Stanford - image credit)
Outgoing Saint John Airport CEO Derrick Stanford has a message for anyone who might be alarmed by his decision to resign: don't be.
Stanford, one of the most ardent and outspoken defenders of the province's airports, has decided to leave the post he has held for almost five years, effective March 10.
But in an interview Wednesday, he was emphatic when asked if we should be worried about what the decision means for the future of the Saint John Airport.
"Oh no! No, I've just got other things that I want to do with my career, beyond the aviation industry," he said, noting he came to the airport from a very different career background. "Before I came here, I was in the software industry for 18 years."
His decision to take on the YSJ challenge led him to a thrilling new chapter, he said.
"It was an interesting business challenge for me because it needed only everything," Stanford said with a chuckle. "It was exciting."
Under his leadership, the airport secured funding for a modernized airfield, saw the launch of Porter flights, became Flair Airlines' exclusive New Brunswick destination for flights set to begin in May, the opening of the first standalone duty-free store at a New Brunswick airport, renovations of the departure lounge and many other property renovations.
"If you look at the top 10 things the board wanted when they hired me, we've largely achieved all of those things," Stanford said. "There was only one thing that we didn't achieve and that was a direct flight to the U.S., and we came really, really close on that."
He declined to say what his next career move will be, saying "out of respect for the airport" he'd share more on that later.
But in the meantime, he is preparing to hand the reins over to Greg Hierlihy, the airport's director of finance and administration, who Stanford says has "been a great addition to the team and has done a wonderful job with our reporting, our finances, our funding applications."
"The airport will certainly go through its due diligence in exploring who's available in the market. But in the interim, it will be Greg, and I'm hopeful that in the long term it will be Greg, too."
On course for 'slow, steady recovery,' Stanford says
Stanford concedes this is "not an easy time" for anyone to take over as CEO.
The COVID-19 pandemic created uncertainty for most of 2020, and this has continued into early part of 2021.
Air Canada's decision to indefinitely suspend all flights out of the Saint John Airport as of early January was a blow, and there are currently no commercial flights into or out of YSJ.
That was followed weeks later by Air Canada's decision to lay off 1,500 staff company-wide — including 83 workers at its call centre in Saint John — and cancel 17 more routes.
But Stanford says things are beginning to look up, with COVID-19 case numbers beginning to decline globally, the airport on a "stable footing" and the airline industry taxiing toward steadier ground.
"I won't say the worst is behind us, but we're on a course now for a slow, steady recovery," he said.
"When Air Canada returns — and it will return, although it might not be on April 11 as it says on its website — but when it returns, the airport will be ready."