Jan. 08--The Savannah Airport Commission on Wednesday named Gregory B. Kelly airport executive director, removing the "interim" designation from the title he has held since longtime executive director Patrick Graham retired in July.
"It is with great pleasure and high expectation that the commission announces the selection of Greg Kelly as the permanent executive director of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport," airport commission chairman Sylvester Formey said at the commission's monthly meeting.
"Greg has worked tirelessly and quietly behind the scenes for years, managing several of our most successful accomplishments."
Kelly began his career at the airport in 1989. The New York native had a degree in applied mathematics from the University of Florida and had just completed four years of active duty with the U.S. Army at Fort Stewart when he approached Al Bishop, who was running the Embry-Riddle Aeronautic program at Hunter Army Airfield.
"He suggested I talk to Dan Coe from the Savannah airport, who also taught classes at Embry-Riddle. Dan suggested I go see Gary Moore, the director of the Brunswick airport, who sent me right back up to Savannah," Kelly said, laughing.
"Gary Moore said he could put me to work as an intern in Brunswick, but thought I should at least talk to Dave Davidson, the executive director of the Savannah Airport, before committing," he said.
"Gary Moore said Savannah was one of the best-run airports in the country, that it would be a great place to learn and I should at least give it a shot."
Kelly said he was surprised to get an interview -- "I didn't have any airport experience, after all" -- and was surprised when Davidson offered him a two-year paid internship.
"That two-year internship was a very intense, hands-on learning experience through every department," he said. "Knowing what I do now, I would say it was the equivalent of a master's degree in airport management."
That was in 1989. When his internship was up, Kelly was hired in the maintenance department, quickly working his way up and moving from maintenance to operations to management.
During his first decade, the airport undertook an ambitious project to build a new terminal, giving him the opportunity to be part of everything from contract negotiations to maintaining smooth operations in the midst of major construction.
Today, Kelly's influence in the aviation world stretches well beyond his own airport. An accredited airport executive and private pilot, he serves on the board of directors for the Airports Council International-North America, the Southeast chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives and the small airports committee for ACI.
He is finishing his master's degree in public administration from Savannah State University.
"From the airfield and terminal, to our diverse real estate holdings, Greg's imprimatur is everywhere," Formey said Wednesday. "With his attention to detail and keen sense for macro-level planning, he has earned the position.
"The commission is confident that under his administrative guidance and community outreach, our airport will maintain and exceed its reputation as a first-class way to fly."
Kelly is a former member of the Georgia Airports Association board of director and serves on the board of directors for the Savannah Area Tourism Leadership Council, Visit Savannah and the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce.
Kelly thanked the commission for its vote of confidence and pledged to continue to work to move the airport forward.
In other airport business, the commission:
--Approved a staff request for a military construction cooperative agreement with the National Guard for the repair and/or replacement of "arresting barriers" -- the tail-hook cables that rise up from the runway to stop fighter jets, just as they would on an aircraft carrier deck. Savannah is one of only four civilian airports in the country designated a Combat Readiness Training facility. Because the Savannah airport is a civilian facility, the military provides the money in the form of a grant and the airport does the work, Kelly explained.
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