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Cleveland Hopkins manager Robert Kennedy announces retirement

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Robert Kennedy, who navigated Cleveland Hopkins International Airport during the COVID-19 crisis and helped craft a $2 billion plan to rebuild the aging facility, announced his retirement on Tuesday.

Airport manager Kennedy, 69, said he would stay with the city during a transition process, which could take several months.

Kennedy arrived in Cleveland in early 2017, three years after United Airlines closed its hub in Hopkins. In the years since, the airport has steadily increased passenger traffic and improved its customer service scores with travelers – at least until the coronavirus pandemic all but brought traffic to a halt. nationwide air travel in early 2020.

His departure comes at a delicate time for the airport, as the facility continues to recover from the pandemic and the airport prepares to begin talks with airlines about funding a major reconstruction of the terminal. “There’s never a good time,” said Kennedy, who came to Cleveland from Atlanta, where he worked as a consultant and executive at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. “There’s always something going on.”

Among his accomplishments, he cited the development of a 20-year master plan for the airport, completed last year, which calls for a $2 billion investment in the aging Cleveland Hopkins terminal. Later this year, the city is expected to begin negotiations with airlines that operate in Hopkins about funding for the plan.

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“Our facilities are old,” he said. “They haven’t been the best maintained. They are not effective. We have modern aircraft arriving in a 1950s facility.”

“We have a big city, a big region,” he added. And it deserves a better airport.

He said he would advise the mayor to hire a replacement with experience in funding major capital projects and managing programs. “We have a lot to do,” he said. “There is a way to get there.”

Baiju Shah, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, praised Kennedy for his transparent leadership throughout the pandemic. “We’ve emerged in a very strong position, in terms of the number of seats and flights out of Cleveland daily,” Shah said.

Any successor must be able to manage short-term goals — adding more flights, especially to business destinations, he said — with longer-term needs, including running terminal improvements. “You have to be able to work in both timeframes, to continue to drive the transformation of this airport into a true 21st century airport, while managing the realities of monthly challenges,” he said.

In 2018, Kennedy oversaw the addition – and subtraction – of two new airlines to Cleveland Hopkins offering nonstop flights to Iceland. No road lasted a year. He said he expected new nonstop service to Europe from Cleveland within the next year or two.

He also led the airport through several crises during his tenure, including the disabling of some computer systems at the airport in 2019 during a ransomware attack, and the resolution of a civil penalty filed against the airport by the FAA for snow removal problems that arose under Kennedy’s predecessor.

Kennedy said a trip to California last week to visit his children and grandchildren prompted him to pull the trigger on his retirement. “I had such a great time,” he said. “You’re not recovering this time.”

Kennedy, hired by former mayor Frank Jackson, was one of the few department heads new mayor Justin Bibb decided to keep, in a non-acting role.

“We are grateful to Director Kennedy for his steadfast leadership, particularly for seeing our airport system through the many challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Bonnie Teeuwen, the city’s chief operating officer. “The city is ready to conduct a national search for a new airport manager. We continue to seek out the brightest and best candidates for leadership positions, especially those who can help take our city and our services to the next level. »

As Cleveland’s director of port control, Kennedy also oversees Burke Lakefront Airport, the small downtown facility that Bibb’s administration intends to study to see if it should remain open. Add that to Kennedy’s successor’s to-do list.

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