Contract puts airport director in the green

Recently signed three-year agreement makes Iftikhar Ahmad one of highest paid airport directors in country


On Nov. 16, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation renewed a three-year agreement valued at $575,791 annually with president and CEO Iftikhar Ahmad, making him one of the highest-paid state employees, yet a far cry from URI men's basketball coach Ryan "Archie" Miller, who is paid $1,405,000.05 according to a Channel 12 report.

Under the agreement approved by the board, Ahmad's base salary is $483,267.76, which makes him one of the higher-paid airport CEOs in the country.

However, Ahmad can expect to make at least an additional $200,000 a year based on the value of his pay package for the past two years. When his base salary, performance bonus of up to 20 percent of his base pay and "other" are calculated, he made $699,937.44 in 2022 and $793,506.34 in 2023. "Other" is considered contributions to his retirement plan, deferred compensation plan and a lump sum annual payment of $150,000 which is described as an annuity.

The Beacon was not successful in contacting RIAC board chair Jon Savage; however, later on Monday, the paper received a statement attributed to the RIAC board. It cited the growth of air service since Ahmad was hired in 2016 from seven airlines and 17 direct flights to nine airlines with 34 direct flights, saying "his leadership has been superb and his compensation reflects his performance. We believe we have one of the best airport leaders in the country and we want to make sure we do everything in our power to ensure Iftikhar stays at the helm of RIAC."

Money and benefits look to be the means to keep Ahmad in Rhode Island, even though some find his compensation extraordinary.

Ahmad's pay came to light during city efforts to reach a memorandum of understanding (MOU) over RIAC plans to build a $100 million air cargo hub south of the terminal. Mayor Frank Picozzi sought written guarantees that air cargo traffic would not use local roads by accessing the Airport Connector to Route 95 and for RIAC to build a noise and visual barrier to shield the neighboring residential community from the planned cargo facility. RIAC provided an MOU saying it would route traffic to the Airport Connector and build the barrier if it had the funds.

Picozzi called the document "a joke." A meeting with the governor and state leaders was scheduled; however, shortly before the meeting, RIAC canceled. Picozzi was outraged, and questioned how Ahmad could turn his back on the governor, claiming that Ahmad is paid more than the CEO of Los Angeles International Airport. LAX is ranked the country's fifth busiest airport with a total of 32.5 million passengers in 2022. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with 45.4 million boarding passengers is ranked first, according to the travel magazine AFAR. By comparison, Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport recorded 2.3 million passengers for the 2021 calendar year. 

Picozzi said he'd been told Ahmad was paid more than the LAX CEO, although he didn't know what either CEO is paid.

Turns out, Picozzi is right.

According to, the Los Angeles CEO was paid $385,000 in 2021, the most recent data they had available. 

A total remuneration comparison to 18 authority-operated airports across the country provided by RIAC ranks Ahmad's compensation package 8th, or close to the middle of the group. Ahmad's package includes 28 vacation days of which Ahmad may request to cash out up to two weeks of unused vacation time, 192.4 hours of sick leave, eight personal days and a car with all operating and maintenance costs. In addition, RIAC will set up an executive compensation plan to capture any employer match on the 414 (h) plan. Also, RIAC will pay $140,000 annually into a  deferred compensation plan and gives an annuity after retirement providing Ahmad with a net payment of approximately $150,000.

In an email, RIAC spokesman John Goodman writes "I believe it is integral that you let your readers know that no Rhode Island taxpayer funds are used to support RIAC salaries or our operations and of course that means no Warwick taxpayer funds are used to support RIAC operations and salaries either."

The statement reads "a well-run airport benefits the city in the form of beverage taxes, hotel taxes and parking fees, which are estimated to benefit the city $5 million annually." The statement says RIAC has an impact of $2.78 billion with 19,000 jobs for the Rhode Island economy.

Rep. Joseph McNamara said Tuesday he had no knowledge of Ahmad’s contract or what he is paid. “This is another reason why the mayor of Warwick should have a voice on the board,” he said.

Last week, after playing a role in attempting to bring the state, city and RIAC together over the air cargo issues, McNamara introduced legislation to give the mayor of Warwick one of the seven appointments (now all made by the governor) to the RIAC board. McNamara questioned what data RIAC used to support the contract and pay. He said he is suspect of the “mysterious (FAA) audit” that directed RIAC to cease paying the city $500,000 annually in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) when RIAC has been doing that for years.

He called the relationship between the city and RIAC an “important partnership,” saying lines of communication need to be opened. Referring to Ahmad, he said, “he’s not exactly the great communicator.”"

CORRECTION: It was incorrectly reported that Iftikhar Ahmad failed to attend a meeting with the governor and legislative leaders. In fact, as Mayor Frank Picozzi clarified Jan. 11, he called and set up a meeting with Ahmad, which  Ahmad canceled shortly beforethey were scheduled to meet.

John Howell

Ahmad, airport, salary


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