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Success: Airport CEO Giovanna Verrilli has a plan

On the job for a little more than a year, the head of the city’s airport is happy to return home to help breathe new life into the facility as it continues to rebound from the pandemic
Greater Sudbury Airport CEO Giovanna Verrilli, who was hired in August, 2022, says her goal at the city airport is to make the customer experience as warm and welcoming  — and easy — as possible.

In the not-so-distant past, a successful executive could look forward to two-hour lunches and a martini or two charged to a cushy expense account.

Fast-forward to 2023. Things have changed. Successful CEOs, such as Greater Sudbury Airport CEO Giovanna Verrilli, have become experts at multi-tasking and are more likely to be eating takeout lunches at their desks.

Luckily for her, there is a great little restaurant in her building.

The Fly Sudbury Café & Lounge opened last summer. Owned by Ranjodh Singh and Lakhvir Singh Mann, it offers Canadian food as well as Indian and Mexican dishes. 

The previous restaurant had closed during the pandemic.

Improved food service is just one of the ways Verrilli, who took over as CEO in August 2022, is working with staff and airport partners to improve the "dwell time" experience at Sudbury Airport. 

Dwell time is the time passengers spend at the airport before their flight departs.

"It is a good news story when we hear the dwell time is short at Sudbury Airport … that means their flight has taken off on time," says Verrilli. "But there are those days when passengers are spending a bit more time here … so how can we ensure the environment is as warm, comfortable and welcoming as possible."

She credits the staff at the airport, as well as security and airline agents, for their efforts to be friendly and helpful to passengers.

"That is the benefit of a small airport,” says Verrilli, who is warm and engaging, practicing what she preaches.

Another part of the effort to improve passenger service is partnering with Aaron Taxi to offer discounted rates and to meet the needs of passengers who do not have their own methods of transportation to and from the city.

Aaron Taxi has a kiosk at the airport and there are usually unreserved vehicles available at arrival times.

"One of our priorities is ground transportation. So we are working with our partners to look at public transportation and how to expand the GOVA service,” Verrilli said.

"There is a great deal of work being done on ground transportation, and we need to communicate well what is currently available and what we are doing in the future.”

Verrilli, the daughter of Italian immigrants, was born and raised in Sudbury and has a large extended family here.

She attended Marymount College and Lasalle Secondary School, then studied for her bachelor of commerce degree at Laurentian University. She worked on her MBA at LU while living in Toronto.

She worked for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority for 15 years where she was involved in improving passenger experience and strategic partnerships at Pearson International Airport.

Returning to Sudbury offered her "a chance to run an airport and hopefully have an impact in a role that is unique and exciting while coming back to my hometown … It felt like it was the right decision and the right time for the right role."

For the past year and a half, Verrilli commuted from Sudbury to Toronto on weekends to see her husband, Errol, and her two teenage sons. They have recently moved to Sudbury and are enjoying their new home, she said.

A busy airport is an important player in economic development. One of Verrilli's challenges is to work with airlines to increase the number of flights and routes offered. 

This year, Verrilli anticipates Sudbury Airport will assist about 130,000 passengers. In 2019, it served almost double that number.

On peak days, there are 11 scheduled flights departing from Sudbury via different carriers. In addition, there are numerous charter, private, medivac and cargo aircrafts that depart and arrive daily.

Last February, Sunwing cancelled its popular fights from Sudbury to destinations in the Caribbean.

"The demand for travel is probably as strong as it has ever been, but the challenge in our industry is that the resources to meet that demand are not where they were pre-pandemic," Verrilli said.

"The industry has a shortage of pilots and there are crew constraints, which means the number of flights are not where they were...and the regional airports are taking the brunt of that."

While the CEO of Greater Sudbury Airport can't control the weather, flight cancellations or lost luggage, Verrilli is proud there has been an improvement in airline on-time performance.

"Last year and the year before, because of a number of factors, there were a number of delays and cancellations, the highest they have ever been.

"Sudbury Airport has committed to meeting with our partners to make sure we articulate the needs of the community, and the impacts that the slow recovery is having.

"But our on-time performance has improved tremendously. There are parts of the year where there are more delays, but overall, our airline partners have worked with us to ensure the flights they are committed to are departing and returning within a reasonable range."

And that success is more satisfying to Verrilli than a long lunch.

"When we are able to deliver the success the community needs … making the airport a place people want to be at, then we are successful."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelancer writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.