Vassiliadis to succeed Walker as director of aviation

/ Las Vegas Sun

Senator Harry Reid is joined by airport deputy director Rosemary Vassiliadis and he speaks to the media about McCarran International Airport’s new terminal Tuesday, January 12, 2009.

Click to enlarge photo

McCarran Airport Director of Aviation Randy Walker speaks after Air Berlin's inaugural flight to Las Vegas Thursday, May 10, 2012.

Longtime Clark County Aviation Department Director Randall Walker will retire in June and his deputy of 15 years, Rosemary Vassiliadis, will take his place at McCarran International Airport.

Walker, 59, who oversaw dramatic growth in facilities and technology at McCarran, is capping a 34-year career in administrative and financial positions with Clark County and the city of Las Vegas. He sent a letter to Clark County Manager Don Burnette announcing his plans to retire on June 3.

Within hours of Burnette’s announcement of Walker’s retirement plans, Vassiliadis, 55, was named the 11th person to head the Aviation Department and would be the first woman to hold the position if her appointment is ratified, as expected, by the Clark County Commission.

The commission is expected to consider ratification of the appointment at its March 5 meeting.

Walker said the completion of the $2.4 billion Terminal 3 project last summer marked the end of the biggest capital improvement additions needed at McCarran and he believes the airport is now headed for a period of expanding operational efficiencies.

“We’re going into a new era,” Walker said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s been nonstop construction for 30 years and our focus has always been to get facilities in place and for the airport to never be an impediment to the growth of tourism in Las Vegas.”

But now, he said, it’s time for a change.

“The timing is good for the airport and it’s good for me personally,” Walker said. “We had a good succession plan in place, just like the (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) had (President and CEO) Rossi (Ralenkotter) ready behind Manny (Cortez). Rosemary has been the equivalent of a chief operating officer and has been doing much of the day-to-day operations work, so I’m pleased that the county manager has taken my recommendation.”

Vassiliadis said Wednesday that she would await the affirmation of her appointment before announcing any of her plans for the airport. She said she expects to appoint at least one deputy director when she updates the airport’s organizational chart.

She said she was proud to be named the first woman director of the Aviation Department, saying that she came from a traditional Italian household with a mother who didn’t work or drive and that she was the first female in her family to earn a college degree.

With Vassiliadis’ appointment, two of Nevada’s busiest airports will be headed by women. Krys Bart is the top executive at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Walker has piloted much of McCarran’s growth even before he became director in 1997.

“Randy Walker is known for his commitment to customer service, his management savvy and for his ability to look forward and plan for our community’s future needs,” Burnette said in a release issued by the county.

“With that in mind, it’s easy to see why under his leadership the airport has seen tremendous growth and success over the past decade and a half. McCarran is not only an economic force integral to our hospitality and tourism industry, but our airport has become a model within its industry that is emulated around the globe.”

Walker joined the Department of Aviation in 1990 as deputy director to Robert Broadbent at a time when McCarran was serving about 19 million passengers a year. At that time, Walker helped implement the federal passenger facility charge program at McCarran.

Under his leadership, Walker helped plan the D gates, the airport connector tunnel, the McCarran Rent-A-Car Center and Terminal 3, the largest capital improvement project in the airport’s 65-year history.

Walker also guided McCarran’s efforts to become a technological leader in the industry.

Under Walker, the airport became one of the first in the United States to implement common-use terminal equipment allowing airlines to easily move between airport gates. He also guided McCarran’s adoption of a radio frequency identification system to track outbound checked baggage.

Improvements at the airport earned McCarran the 2006 J.D. Power & Associates award for highest customer satisfaction among major North American airports.

Several industry leaders praised Walker’s accomplishments.

“The LVCVA and McCarran International Airport have developed a marketing partnership that is envied throughout the industry, seamlessly integrating the branding of the destination and the airport over the years,” Ralenkotter said in a statement.

“Randy has played a key role developing Las Vegas into a thriving domestic and international destination — which includes more than 180 weekly international flights, redefined the experience for international visitors with the opening of Terminal 3, and helped secure the World Routes conference for the first time ever in the United States,” Ralenkotter said.

“Southwest Airlines extends its congratulations to Randy as he winds down what has been a truly remarkable career at McCarran International Airport,” said Bob Montgomery, vice president of airport affairs for Southwest, McCarran’s busiest commercial air carrier.

“For years, Las Vegas has been an integral part of Southwest’s system and our growth and success there would never have been possible without the partnership of an airport that shared our desire to give our passengers the best experience possible,” Montgomery said.