While growing up in Sherwood, Doug Newson used to watch airplanes fly overhead as they landed at the Charlottetown Airport.
At the time, he never dreamed that he would one day work in the aviation industry, let alone be the CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority.
This month, Newson, 42, celebrated his 11th year as the airport authority’s CEO.
Newson has a bachelor of business administration from UPEI (1997) and an MBA from Dalhousie University (2000). After graduating, he stayed in Halifax and worked for Air Canada Jazz and then the former CanJet airlines as its director of sales and marketing.
The airport authority has come a long way since Newson took over the CEO job in 2007. It is in the final stages of its three-year runway improvement program, including the rehabilitation of its main runway and connecting taxiways. As well, the airport had 370,688 passengers in 2017 – a 17-per-cent increase compared to 2015.
Sometimes, Newson will leave his office and watch some of those very passengers get off an airplane and enter the Arrivals area. He explains that he feels grateful to be part of an organization that has an impact on people.
“You never know if it’s people coming for business. If it’s people coming for a tourism perspective — to see P.E.I. for the first time. If it’s people coming that are moving to P.E.I. for the first time from a foreign country or they’re immigrants to P.E.I. I think it’s incredibly rewarding to know that you played some small role in making sure that our airport is a place where people can do that.”
Newson sat down with The Guardian this week to discuss the experience of being the CEO of the Charlottetown Airport Authority and the role it plays in the community.
Q: Over the past 11 years, what have you learned about yourself in this role as CEO?
A: I’ve learned that relationships are important. More than anything, especially working in a small (city) and working with several stakeholders and partners, having strong relationships, whether it be with staff, tenants, partners, government, airlines — a lot can be done by having positive working relationships with people like that. So, I try to spend as much time as possible on communicating with key partners and stakeholders and staff to make sure that we’re all going in the same direction with the same vision and working towards common goals. Because it is the community’s airport and what’s good for the airport is good for the province, and vice versa. We can’t control everything and we can’t always make everybody happy, either. So, as much as I’d love to have direct flights to Boston or Mexico, it’s not always possible, and you know, we have to work on managing community expectations, understanding that we can’t control that and people are going to be unhappy sometimes when we don’t have the services they expect. But I’ve learned not to take that personally because, at the end of the day, as we continue to grow and the province continues to grow, those things will come. But right now, we’re just not big enough for some of those services, and the airlines are the ones that make the decisions.
Q: It’s interesting that compared to other, more traditional CEO jobs, yours involves a security and safety component. Talk about that component in terms of your role at the airport.
A: Safety and security at the airport will always be at the forefront of everything we do. If you don’t have a secure or a safe airport, then I always say you don’t have an airport. We spend a lot of time and put a lot of resources into the safety and security of the airport. Again, I’m very thankful to have a great team that looks after that on a daily basis. But the big thing, especially from a security perspective, is that we don’t control all of the aspects of the security side. So, we work closely with our regulator, Transport Canada. We work with CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) and their contractor that implements the passenger and baggage security side of the operation.
Q: Given the security and safety component to the job, is it fair to say that you’re on call 24/7?
A: Well, I don’t get the first call most of the time. My vice-president of operations would typically get the first call. I’m shortly after if there’s a major issue or incident that happens at the airport. But I think anytime you’re the CEO or the leader of an organization, you can expect to get emails or phone calls at any hour of the day. But again, thankfully I have a great team that is sort of the first line of any escalated issues. Obviously if there was a major issue at the airport, we’d all respond and be here quickly. But, I truly believe that the best leaders are able to surround themselves with other leaders and great people. And, I’m fortunate to have those types of people working here at the airport. It makes my job a lot easier.
Q: In terms of the airport, how do you measure success?
A: I think we measure success in several ways. Everybody likes to look at the passenger stats and measure the airport that way. But to me, it goes beyond that. I’ll go back to safety and security. Did we do everything possible to make sure that we have a safe and secure airport? Are we financially responsible? So, do our fees and our charges to our airlines and our passengers – are they competitive with other airports in the region? Did we complete our projects on time and on budget? So, success is not just the passenger numbers, because a lot of times there’s parts of that are out of our control – whether it be weather or airline decisions. But, you know, we want people to have a good experience when they come through the airport, and we want Islanders to use our airport. So, we look at things from leakage to other airports and we look at the customer experience. There is a number of ways to measure success and it’s not just the number of passengers that go through your airport. We want to make sure people are proud of their airport. It is the community’s airport. It is P.E.I.’s airport, only commercial airport. So, there’s a number of ways to look at it. But, at the end of the day, we do want people using our services and our facilities, and it’s up to us to make sure that we’ve got the flights that can meet Islanders needs or businesses coming to P.E.I. It’s not just the bottom line of the airport.