Akron-Canton Airport leader says good-bye after 36 years

Aviation
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Rick McQueen is retiring as chief executive officer at Akron-Canton Airport following 10 years leading the operation.

GREEN  Working nearly four decades at an airport, a person can pick up all sorts of information.

For example, Rick McQueen knows the weight of the airplanes that fly in and out of Akron-Canton Airport. He understands Bernoulli’s principle and how it explains flight.

“I know how much they weigh, and I still don’t understand how they get up in the air every day,” McQueen said. “I am amazed. I’m just like a little kid, after 36 years, to watch those airplanes take off every day.”

For the past 10 years McQueen has had a prime spot for airplane watching, the corner office on the fourth floor of Akron-Canton Airport’s tower. He moved in as president and chief executive officer following Fred Krum’s retirement in 2008.

McQueen’s last day is Dec. 31. Renato “Ren” Camacho, who has been with the Cleveland Department of Port Control and Hopkins International Airport since 2011, will step into the role leading Akron-Canton Airport operations.

Since October, McQueen has been working with Camacho and helping him transition into the new job.

Stark County native

McQueen grew up in North Canton and graduated Hoover High and Walsh University. He worked a year at Ernst & Whinney accounting before applying to be accountant at the airport.

Although they had grown up down the street from each other, McQueen didn’t know Krum. He also didn’t know that Krum’s first job at Akron-Canton was as an accountant. “I interviewed on a Thursday and reported for work on Monday,” McQueen said, noting the date, Aug. 2, 1982.

“Nothing is the same as the first day I walked through those doors.”

The airport entrance has been changed twice. Ticketing and baggage areas have been expanded, while space was created for Transportation Security Administration screening. Parking lots have been expanded and covered parking was added. New gates were built and now that area is being expanded.

Property surrounding the airport has been developed. McQueen has long enjoyed telling audiences about Akron-Canton being the only airport with a chocolate factory — Fannie May and Harry London — on its property. There also is an ice rink (Center Ice Sports Complex) and plenty of factories and warehouses.

Two airport runways have been lengthened, while a third was closed and now is used only to taxi aircraft.

Projects extending the main runway, which runs from the northeast to the southwest, probably rank as most important, McQueen said. Initially 5,600 feet long, the main runway was extended in 1985 to 7,600 feet. In 2001, work started to lengthen the runway to 8,204 feet. Finished in 2010, the project cost $60 million and involved moving 5 million cubic yards of dirt, or enough to cover 50 acres with 5 feet of soil.

The additional length made it possible for flights to reach the West Coast, Mexico and the Caribbean. Now, because of improved engine technology, flights leaving Akron-Canton can travel non-stop to parts of South America, which benefits corporate customers.

Work to extend the runway started under Krum’s leadership and ended after McQueen took the helm. The project was done with the airport’s future in mind, McQueen said.

Growth

Serving as president and CEO made McQueen a steward of a public facility, he said. “I’m honored to have been able to lead this team. But I’ve often looked at my job, and I know Fred did as well before me, our job is to position this facility to be successful and take advantage of opportunities that come our way.”

When McQueen started in 1982 the airport saw only about 150,000 passengers per year on commercial flights. In the 1990s, low fare airlines began using Akron-Canton and the number of travelers grew steadily, topping 1.83 million in 2012.

Passenger numbers have fallen sharply following a string of airline consolidations. McQueen believes the cycle has hit bottom and that the future will bring growth, noting decisions by American and United to add service to New York City, Chicago and Houston.

Through the years Akron-Canton has anticipated and worked to be ready. An example is the expansion of the airport’s gates. Half of the gates date to 1962 when the terminal opened. The area is cramped and passengers must walk across the tarmac to board a flight. When the work is finished in 2020, all commercial flights will have access to elevated gates and there will be space for growth, McQueen said.

“That positions us for what may come our way.”

McQueen credits Krum, airport director from January 1981 until September 2008, for teaching him about airport operations. After working as airport accountant, McQueen became controller, assistant director of finance and administration and finally assistant director. When Krum retired, he recommended McQueen as his replacement.

“To have a mentor like Fred Krum for 26 years, I don’t think too many people get that opportunity,” McQueen said.

McQueen ranks Krum as one of the smartest airport industry professionals he’s met during his career. “The foundation that he was able to start, that I’ve been able to continue to build on, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” McQueen said.

Shortly after taking over, McQueen introduced a program called CAK 2018 that included 10 projects to help modernize the airport. Many were projects that he and Krum — who died in March 2009 — had discussed. Improving the gates was the final piece and that work started this year.

When ground was broken for the gate project, McQueen wore a special tie for the event. It had belonged to Krum, who always wore ties featuring airplanes.

“Because I know none of that would be possible without all that Fred did for me and I wanted him to a part of that as we continue forward,” McQueen said.

When he retires, McQueen plans to take time to decompress and get a few things done around his Plain Township home. Friends have told him not to make many commitments too soon. “I think I’m going to take that to heart.”

Not that he won’t have some things to do. McQueen will serve as the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce chairman. He also has seats on boards for the Ohio Aviation Association, the Stark Economic Development Board and the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). That’s plenty of meetings to help stay busy, he said.

He was appointed by Gov. John Kasich to the NEOMED seat and expects to complete the term, which ends in September 2023. But he might step down from the other boards if that move affords Camacho an opportunity to fill his slot. It’s an opportunity, McQueen said, for Camacho to become more involved in the community.

Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or edd.pritchard@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @epritchardREP

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