President of Delta Flight Products, Auburn Engineering graduate, spearheads life-changing responses to COVID-19

By Lauren Winton

Published: May 25, 2020 9:04:00 AM

Rick Salanitri Rick Salanitri

While Rick Salanitri wanted to stay somewhat close to home for his college education, his career has been devoted to improving the global travel industry. 

“I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. When it was time to decide where to go to college, I drew a circle within a certain radius away from home. Auburn was the perfect distance away and had a great engineering program,” said Salanitri.

A 1985 graduate of Auburn’s industrial engineering program, Salanitri set his sights high. Sky high. After graduation, he started his engineering career in depot-level maintenance on military aircraft, which ultimately led to the airline business. He’s worked in aircraft interiors, engineering and manufacturing roles, and today leads the Delta Air Lines subsidiary Delta Flight Products.

After 9/11, Salanitri was instrumental in developing ballistic proof flight deck doors to improve aircraft cabin safety. The 9/11 tragedy had a global impact on air travel, which Salanitri describes as having “similar circumstances to today.”  With the same urgency that Salanitri helped address the 9/11 crisis, he and his team at Delta Flight Products are working to develop innovative approaches to combat another global crisis: COVID-19.

As president of Delta Flight Products, Salanitri and his team are charged to design and deliver comfort and world-class entertainment for the Delta customer experience. But since the global pandemic outbreak in the U.S., they have transitioned their efforts and resources to help save lives.

Delta Flight Products partnered with the Atlanta-based Global Center for Medical Innovation to manufacture medical-grade face shields.

“We were honored to produce face shields to support frontline healthcare workers, and have supplied face shields to medical providers around the country, including Veterans Affairs facilities in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama,” said Salanitri.

In mid-April, Delta Flight Products was featured during a New York Stock Exchange opening bell ceremony as a company making significant contributions in the fight against COVID-19.

Shortly after the outbreak of the virus in the U.S., Delta Flight Products was also awarded a project to design and convert ISO cargo containers into medical isolation containment wards to transport COVID-19 infected U.S. military personnel onboard military aircraft. Physically modified in a Delta TechOps hangar in Atlanta, the containers are outfitted with seats, stretcher provisions and a HEPA filtration system designed to provide negative pressure to contain the virus.

“The prototype went from concept to reality in just under 3-weeks,” said Salanitri, “and wouldn’t have been possible without strong collaboration with the U.S. Air Force and the incredible culture of Delta people.”

Like so many Auburn people, Salanitri is inspired by the Auburn Creed. He encourages new graduates to especially heed the first line as they embark upon their next career steps: I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn.  

He said, “Since this pandemic broke and people are working from home, or worse, not working at all, I encourage folks to persevere. This IS a practical world, and you can always move forward, regardless of the circumstances. Hone your [engineering] skills. Maintain relationships. And be encouraged that this time of crisis will make us better.”

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

Recent Headlines