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EXECUTIVE STAFF

Brian D. Ryks, A.A.E.
Executive Director

Brian D. Ryks, A.A.E. is the Executive Director for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, MI.  He is responsible for the overall administration, financing, operations, maintenance, and development of the international airport. 

Before arriving in Grand Rapids, he held a similar position as Executive Director of the Duluth Airport Authority overseeing the Duluth International Airport and Sky Harbor, a general aviation airport. During his ten years there, Mr. Ryks oversaw the completion of $135 million in airport improvements, culminating with a $77 million new terminal project. Prior to arriving in Duluth, Mr. Ryks was employed for five years as the Airport Director at the St. Cloud Regional Airport where he spent much of his time positioning the airport for major growth and expansion through a master planning effort completed in January 2000 and a 17 million dollar reconstruction and expansion of the airports’ airfield. Prior to arriving in St. Cloud, he was employed for approximately 2 years as the Airport Director in Aberdeen South Dakota where he completed over $13 million worth of airport capital improvements, ranging from major upgrades in airport equipment to a 7.7 million dollar reconstruction of the airports primary runway. Before Aberdeen, Mr. Ryks spent six years in Denver where he was the Director of Noise Abatement at Stapleton and Denver International Airports. He was also Project Manager for the development and installation of a $2.1 million dollar noise and operations monitoring system which tracks every aircraft flying into the new Denver International Airport. Before moving to Denver, Mr. Ryks held positions in the Airport Directors and Noise Abatement Offices of the Metropolitan Airports Commission at MSP.

Mr. Ryks holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Cloud State University.  He is a licensed private pilot with instrument flight certificate.

Mr. Ryks is an Accredited Airport Executive with the American Association of Airport Executives (A.A.A.E.).  He also holds a professional affiliation with the Great Lakes Chapter of AAAE (GL-AAAE) and is Past President of GL-AAE. Mr. Ryks is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Safety Counselor and a Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA).  He was awarded a TSA Partnership Award in 2006 for completion of in-line baggage screening system, a Patriot Award in 2008 from the Employee Support of National Guard & Reserve (ESGR), a 2009 Award of Excellence for Outstanding Promotion of Aviation, and a 2012 Minnesota Council of Airports Distinguished Service Award. Mr. Ryks currently serves on the Board of Directors for Experience Grand Rapids.

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Phillip E. Johnson, A.A.E.
Deputy Executive Director

Phillip E. Johnson, A.A.E. is the Deputy Executive Director for the Kent County Department of Aeronautics, Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA). He is responsible for assisting the Executive Director and managing the day-to-day operations of the airport.

Prior to assuming his current duties in October 1994, he was Superintendent - Airport Operations at Long Beach Airport, Long Beach, California. He managed the day-to-day airport operations at Long Beach, which is an airport of similar size and staff to GFIA. Mr. Johnson also served as an Operations Coordinator at Los Angeles International Airport. In this capacity, he coordinated all airport operational duties at this major international air carrier airport. Mr. Johnson has held a number of aviation related positions prior to beginning his airport management career in 1989. These included: Systems Engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company - designing air defense and air traffic control systems; Air Traffic Control Specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration - controlling air traffic at Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center; and Manager, Aircraft Ground Services for National Air Enterprises - managing aircraft line service functions at a Fixed Base Operator (FBO). Mr. Johnson has over 30 years experience in aviation based industries.

Mr. Johnson holds a Master of Science degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Azusa Pacific University, and an Associate of Science degree in Air Traffic Management from Mount San Antonio College. Mr. Johnson is a current pilot holding a commercial pilot license with instrument and multi-engine ratings. He has been flying for 35 years and has owned three aircraft during that period.

Mr. Johnson is an Accredited Airport Executive with the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).  He also holds professional affiliations with the Great Lakes Chapter of AAAE (GL-AAAE) and the Michigan Association of Airport Executives (MAAE).  Mr. Johnson served as President of MAAE for 2002/2003.  Mr. Johnson served as President of the GL-AAAE for 2008/2009.  Mr. Johnson chaired the National Air Service Conference, an annual conference sponsored jointly by AAAE and the Great Lakes Chapter of AAAE for 2005 and 2006.  Mr. Johnson served on the AAAE Board of Directors from 2011 - 2013 and as Chair of the AAAE Airline Economics and Air Service Committee from 2011 - 2014.  Mr. Johnson served on the Board of Directors for Experience Grand Rapids, the local convention and visitor’s bureau from 2011 - 2013.  Mr. Johnson currently serves on the Michigan Aeronautics Commission’s Commercial Air Service Committee.

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Brian Picardat, A.A.E.
Finance & Administration Director

Brian Picardat is the Finance and Administration Director for the Kent County Department of Aeronautics. He is responsible for the financial operations of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He oversees the Accounting Department consisting of a Financial Supervisor and two Account Clerks, an Administrative staff of three, the Information Technology function, the Parking and Ground Transportation function and the Property Administrator. Mr. Picardat is also the Department’s liaison with the County on human resources matters and is the Department’s FOIA Coordinator.

Prior to assuming his present duties in July 1989, he was a Fiscal Officer for Kent County Community Mental Health. In this position, he was responsible for oversight of approximately 35 contract agencies' expenditures of allocated funds from the Department of Mental Health.

From 1984 - 1987, he was Business Manager for Salvation Army Substance Abuse. As Business Manager, he was the only financial person handling all financial aspects of an agency with a budget of $1,000,000 annually.

Mr. Picardat is a graduate of Ferris State University where he received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting. Prior to receiving his Bachelor's Degree, Mr. Picardat received his Associates Degree in Accounting from Davenport University. Mr. Picardat received his Airport Executive accreditation from the American Association of Airport Executives in September 2000.

Current professional affiliations include: Government Finance Officers Association, American Association of Airport Executives where he is a member of the Finance and Administration Committee and Audit Committee, and Michigan Association of Airport Executives, where he served on the Board as President in 2009-2010.

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Robert W. Benstein, A.A.E.
Public Safety & Operations Director

Robert W. Benstein is the Public Safety & Operations Director for the Kent County Department of Aeronautics.  Through a staff of 47 employees, he manages the airfield operations, law enforcement and aircraft rescue/fire fighting functions at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA).  Mr. Benstein has 28 years of airport management experience.  He assumed his current position in August of 1998.

Prior to coming to GFIA, Mr. Benstein was the Operations Manager at San Jose International Airport in San Jose, California.  Mr. Benstein also held positions at Central Wisconsin Airport and Midland (Texas) International Airport.

Mr. Benstein earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation Management from Southern Illinois University.  He is also an FAA licensed aircraft dispatcher and a private pilot with airplane and glider ratings.

Mr. Benstein has earned Accredited Airport Executive (A.A.E.) status from the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).  He is also a member of the Great Lakes Chapter of the AAAE and the Michigan Association of Airport Executives.  Mr. Benstein is the immediate past chair of the Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) Public Safety & Security Committee.

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Thomas R. Ecklund, P.E.
Facilities Management Director

Thomas R. Ecklund is the Facilities Director for the Kent County Department of Aeronautics. He is responsible for organizing and administering the design, construction, operation, maintenance and repair of Airport facilities at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, including airfield pavements and lighting systems, terminal building, roads, parking lots, utility systems, and other Airport owned buildings. He oversees these activities through the Engineering/Planning Division, Field Maintenance Division, and Building Maintenance Division, and various service contracts.

Prior to assuming his current position in March 2003 he managed engineering, survey, and planning staff for private sector engineering firms in West Michigan. He was responsible for daily operations including profit and loss, project schedules, budgets, Quality Assurance/Quality Control, technical oversight, and staff development.

From 1986 – 1994 Mr. Ecklund was the Assistant City Manager/Public Works for the City of Grand Rapids overseeing a staff of 550 and a budget of $50 million; and from 1972 – 1986 he held various positions with the City of Flint, including the position of City Engineer, where we was the project manager on numerous projects at Bishop International Airport.

Mr. Ecklund holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Michigan State University. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in Michigan.

Professional affiliations include Airports Council International (ACI) as a member of the Environmental Affairs Committee, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), the Great Lakes Chapter of AAAE, Michigan Association of Airport Executives, and Michigan and National Society of Professional Engineers.

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Tara M. Hernandez
Marketing & Communications Manager

Tara M. Hernandez is the Marketing and Communications Manager at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  She is responsible for airport marketing, public relations and media communication as well as event planning, community outreach and customer service.

Tara joined the airport on May 28, 2013 after spending the last decade in the media as a sports anchor and reporter.  She worked locally in Grand Rapids at WXMI-FOX 17 for over five years where she managed the sports department and served as a sports anchor/reporter for nightly newscasts.  In her time in Grand Rapids, Tara covered the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, the Stanley Cup playoffs, three NCAA Final Fours/National Championships as well as countless human interest stories.  She won MAB (Michigan Association of Broadcasters) awards for Best Feature Reporting and was a three-time winner for Best Special Show Broadcast for “The Blitz” – FOX’s high school football show. Prior to Grand Rapids, Tara worked as a sports anchor/reporter for WJBF News Channel Six in Augusta, Georgia.  In Augusta, Tara covered the famous Masters Golf Tournament interviewing legends like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  She won GAB (Georgia Association of Broadcasters) awards for Feature Reporting as well as for her work on “Football Friday Night,” a local high school football show.

Mrs. Hernandez graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism.  She also minored in Spanish & received a CLACS (Certification in Latin American & Caribbean Studies).

In her time in at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Mrs. Hernandez has launched GFIA: Gentle Fur in Action – a therapy dog program to help relieve stresses associated with travel.  In addition, she has increased the airport’s social media following and organized contests & special events for passengers.

 

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