To stay abreast with the latest trends across the aviation ecosystem, Connected Aviation Today regularly connects with various experts in the industry to share their stories, experience, and insights with our readers. As part of our Executive Spotlight series, we recently connected with Rick Belliotti, Director of Customer Experience Design and Innovation at San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.
Belliotti shared with us his insights about the path forward for the aviation industry following what has been a particularly challenging year for the space. Here’s what we discussed:
Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: Tell us a bit about what your career path looks like and how did you get to where you are today.
Rick Belliotti: Like a lot of people that find themselves in the aviation field, my path to it was sort of a left turn for my career. When I was younger, I wanted to work in transportation, but I always imagined that role to be more related to the automotive world. Aviation was not even something that was on my radar until 2001.
At the beginning of 2001, we were starting to go into a recession. I was in the semiconductor industry, so I was looking for a new opportunity and a friend of mine sold a house to Frank Barich (who ultimately became a friend and a colleague) and he had just won a contract in Sky Harbor. I started talking to him about what a new career in aviation would look like and that’s how I got into it. At the end of the day, it was really just because a friend sold a house, and the rest is history.
And when you get the aviation “fuel” in your blood, you just can’t get it out. Airports are a wonderful place to be; there is just so much positive energy, excluding where we’re at today. Normally, people are very excited to be in an airport – they’re going somewhere, there are reunions and separations, some anxiety of course, but there’s normally the expectation of fun. The overall feeling is it’s a very happy, enjoyable space, and the fact that I can affect people’s lives that way by helping them have an enjoyable time, that’s what I love about it and has kept me in the industry.
CAT Editors: What have been a few defining moments in your career?
Belliotti: I mentioned that I came into the aviation industry in 2001. This is right when my wife and I had triplets, and in the middle of navigating all of that, my company at the time decided they needed to cut our pay by 10 percent. Being in the semiconductor world, those are normally the first companies to start dropping in a recession, so they insisted that we all had to take a pay cut. So, I quit. That moment was pivotal for my career and led to my entrance into the airport industry.
One of the things that drew me into aviation is that it’s a very stable industry. It’s always growing, even with the cyclical nature of it. I joined in July of 2001 and then, of course, 9/11 happened. Luckily, I had developed a strong business relationship with the person I was working with in Phoenix and we were starting a consulting business together. The loyalty that we developed in the company is what carried us through. That whole year was really pivotal in keeping me in the industry and helping me thrive.
Then I jumped from the consulting side to the solution provider side and worked for Ultra Electronics, where I then got laid off, another pivotal moment for me. It seems like those types of things are always pivotal.
That was when I discovered an opportunity in San Diego and moved there from Arizona. That was about eight years ago now and it’s been great for me. Any time I’ve had a big surprise in my career, I go big or I go home. For me, it’s about doing the next big thing, and luckily, that approach has worked out well so far.
CAT Editors: At this point in your career, what excites you most about your role in the industry?
Belliotti: Of course, right now, it’s precarious, and obviously a lot of folks are hurting out there. But I think it’s times like these that create impactful opportunities. While everybody is hunkering down and waiting for the growth and the travel to come back, it’s a good time to really be planning for what the future of your business or your personal career looks like. We don’t know where it’s going to end, but we are all pulling together, and working to help each other as we explore this unknown path.
I think the companies that are able to hold the fort down and focus some energy on innovation and investing in future solutions and designs that can really help the industry as a whole are the companies that are going to come out of this strong.
CAT Editors: As you know, we are in a very interesting time for the industry. What does the road to recovery look like from your perspective?
Belliotti: We’ve got to get people feeling comfortable at the airport again. That’s the first step toward recovery. So, the changes we make at the airport have to be meaningful and effective. I think the passengers appreciate the substantive safety and health measures that SAN has implemented throughout the terminals. They see that we’re going the extra mile for their safety, and that puts them at ease. I think that honest and transparent efforts in this direction are going to be extremely important in the road to recovery.
CAT Editors: What’s one thing we should know about you that we wouldn’t get from your LinkedIn Profile or bio?
Belliotti: I do a lot of off roading. I really enjoy taking paths that are otherwise not traveled. And I think that mentality is important for the future of our industry. We’re crawling over large boulders and obstacles that we’ve never really seen before. We have to get out of the vehicle and inspect the obstacle and look to someone that can spot us to get over that obstacle. As industry participants, we have the forum to support each other and figure out what will work and where there are gaps. That dialogue will help us all get to get through this time together. This road is not a freeway; it’s not one that you can take by yourself. It’s really one that we have to navigate together as an industry. Because my airport doesn’t succeed without at least one other airport out there. Our success and recovery is dependent on each other.