Though he's only a few weeks into the job, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport's new boss is working in familiar territory.
"I'm a native New Orleanian," Aviation Director Kevin Dolliole told a packed room Thursday at a breakfast briefing hosted by the Bureau of Governmental Research. "I think I've honed my skills moving around to different facilities in the country, so I've touched and run different airports. I've been a consultant."
In May, the New Orleans Aviation Board picked Dolliole, the former director of aviation at airports in St. Louis and San Antonio, to run the local airport.
It's actually Dolliole's third stint at the airport.
As a student at Xavier University, Dolliole worked part time as a gate agent for Eastern Airlines. He spent about 13 years with the airline, including a few here before he was transferred to Atlanta. He left the company before Eastern went out of business in 1991.
At that point, Dolliole came back to New Orleans to hold several positions at the local airport, including a run as acting director.
This year, Dolliole replaced Mark Reis, who served as interim director at Armstrong after Iftikar Ahmad left last year to lead Rhode Island's airport system.
A lot has changed since Dolliole's last stint, though.
More than 11.1 million passengers — counting both arrivals and departures — went through the New Orleans airport in 2016, the highest number in its seven-decade history.
By early 2019, the airport is slated to open its new North Terminal, being built at a cost of almost $1 billion. The 35-gate, roughly 972,000-square-foot terminal is larger than was initially envisioned in order to accommodate the city's growing tourism market, officials say.
By the time it's open, the airport expects the number of passengers flying out of New Orleans will be about 18 percent higher than was expected for that year in 2013.
"The opportunity to come home and deliver this type of project to your hometown airport, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Dolliole said.
Not surprisingly, many of the questions from those in the audience focused on new destinations that may be in the offing. The New Orleans airport offers nonstop service to 59 cities, which Dolliole said is "not a bad number" for a facility its size.
"We're in a constant mode of identifying potential or untapped demand out of the market, and then bringing business cases to the air carriers to convince the proper carrier, that we know has the equipment to do it, to service an underserved route," he said. "That's an ongoing effort all the time."
The airport is served by 15 airlines — or "15½," he said, acknowledging that New Orleans-based regional carrier GLO Airlines recently suspended service as it searches for a new operator for its planes.
Pressed about what new routes may be added in the near future, Dolliole offered few clues. "There's an international destination, which I prefer not to speak to it, not name it," he said. "There is an international destination ... we think we can potentially have the opportunity to attract service to."
Asked about Cuba, he said flights to the island nation are not in the cards at the moment.
Positioning New Orleans as a hub for flights to Latin America? "That's not the type of effort that's in the works now," he said.
How about adding flights to Mexico City? "It's a hub to many destinations as you're moving south," he said, "so I think if you're planning to grow south, it's a market that has to be looked at."
Dolliole said New Orleans is "a growing market" that experienced the second-fastest growth among the nation's top 60 airports over the past eight years.
During that time, the number of passengers grew by 41 percent, he said, and the number of nonstop destinations served by the airport grew by 32 percent.
"The market is strong and is growing," he added.
The new terminal is slated to feature a host of local restaurants, including ventures backed by well-known chefs Susan Spicer and Emeril Lagasse.
"There's going to be a big improvement in the concessions program moving into the new facility," Dolliole said. "Different food offerings that really bring a taste of New Orleans into the facility, but also mixed in with some standard offerings you might expect to see."