A Q&A with CEO Haley Gentry

Jan. 12, 2022

For more than a year Haley Gentry has been in the cockpit, so to speak, at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, steering the Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, through some of the most turbulent months in recent memory.

Gentry began her career as an intern at CLT 30 years ago. She worked her way through the ranks and in October 2021 was named to her new leadership role. Gentry has a breadth of knowledge and experience that is unique, in part because of her tenure in the industry. But of particular note, she is the first woman to lead CLT as its chief executive officer and aviation director in the Airport’s 87-year history.

The Charlotte Observer recently picked Gentry and one of five Charlotte leaders to watch in 2022. Gentry and the others are at the center of key happenings and leadership in the Charlotte region headed into the new year, the Queen City newspaper said.

Here’s a look at an expanded version of a question-and-answer interview Gentry participated in.

What are the main challenges or opportunities for the Charlotte airport in 2022?  

COVID will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future.  We must find a way to live with the virus and associated challenges for travel. 

The past two years have changed our workplaces and how we conduct business.  Our employees are our most valuable resource and are essential to providing the services that make the airport functional.  The lack of human resources has significantly impacted all employers at the Airport.  Maintaining the staff, we have and identifying future employees is a top priority.  We must continue to develop creative strategies to address this challenge. The other significant opportunity is to continue diversifying our revenue portfolio by increasing non-aeronautical revenue.  The past year certainly taught us the importance of this.  We must continue to safeguard the Airport by ensuring we are financially self-sustaining regardless of passenger volume.  

The Charlotte airport has been one of the busiest in the county this year as air travel rebounds from deep drops in passenger travel at the height of the pandemic. What strategies have helped CLT recover from the pandemic challenges? Is CLT uniquely situated to continue a strong recovery?  

Very early in the pandemic, American Airlines made it known that Dallas and Charlotte would be their two hubs of focus.  The strength of the hub has pulled CLT through the last two years and propelled us to being the 6th busiest airport in the country.  Other airports throughout the country have not been so fortunate. CLT has a long history of fiscal conservatism and that served us well during this worldwide crisis. We take pride in being a good business partner, in the good times and bad.  This crisis of the past year brought the aviation industry together in unprecedented ways, further solidifying our strong partnerships.

Why is a strong airport important for the city? How does the airport's COVID-19 recovery affect Charlotte?

The Airport is this region’s top economic tool.  It is the gateway to the world for our community and generates $24.6 Billion in local economic impact. In January 2019, (pre-pandemic) the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) reported the Airport’s contribution to 132,000 jobs for North Carolina residents.  A healthy, thriving airport is an indicator of a strong and prosperous community.  The recovery of CLT is a positive economic indicator of our region.

What should Charlotteans expect to see with Airport construction in 2022? How have those plans changed during COVID, if at all?

Passengers will continue to see and experience the impacts of our Terminal Lobby Expansion.  This became a focus project for us at the onset of the pandemic. Initially, we were able to gain some strides with fewer passengers in the building.  This upgrade to our front doorstep is a $608 million investment and will provide an additional 366,000 square feet of new and renovated space to our lobby space, making a dramatic improvement to the passenger experience and overall functionality of the terminal.  We also anticipate the initiation of a project which adds 10 gates to Concourse A.  This new structure will be a sister concourse matching the 10-gate expansion previously added in 2018.  This is critical to providing additional gate capacity for the hub and non-hub airlines. 

2022 will mark the beginning of your first full year as Charlotte's permanent aviation director — can you share how you're feeling about the next year in the job? And can you share any reflections on your transition to the job over the past year?

It has been a unique time in history to be in a leadership role.  There is no playbook for how to operate a business during a pandemic.  COVID has impacted our professional and personal lives in so many unanticipated ways.  We have had to rely on the tried-and-true basics of keeping it simple while sprinkling in some innovation.  We have learned it is essential to remain nimble and be able to pivot when the environment changes and I think this is something the Airport team has done very well.  We often say to new employees, you will never be bored at the Airport.  I suspect the upcoming year will live up to that mantra.

Read more about Haley Gentry on the Airport website.