The City of Phoenix made a wise choice. It has selected James Bennett as the Airport Director of the City’s aviation assets: Sky Harbor International Airport, one of the ten busiest commercial airports in the country, Phoenix Deer Valley and Phoenix Goodyear. The jewel of that constellation of air facilities is PHX which has been a source of considerable local ire due to the FAA’s efforts, some would say flawed, to implement a Metroplex Airspace redesign occasioned by NextGen.
Before explaining the reasons why Jim is so well qualified for the Sky Harbor job, it is useful to review his road back to Arizona. As a teenager growing up in Alabama, Jim mowed the lawn at Birmingham Airport. As he is quoted as saying, “[I]t wasn’t that I wanted to be a pilot. It’s that I got addicted to the noise and excitement, and even the smell of jet fuel. I knew then that working around airports was what I wanted to do with my life.” His formal pursuit of aviation began with earning a degree in Aviation Management at Auburn. His ascendancy into management was marked with being named director of aeronautics for the City of Flint, Michigan and then director of the Shreveport Louisiana Airport Authority (pictured below). In the early 1990s, Jim moved to PHX where he was the assistant director.
The leadership at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates DCA and IAD, recognized his abilities and brought him to some of the most visible airports in the country. There he excelled in dealing with the public and based on that record he was eventually selected to be the President and CEO. Most notably, he sheparded the authorization, financing, construction and operation of the Silver Line out to Dulles. The lessons learned from that exercise earned him on-the-job PhD degree in community relations and politics (from the University of Phoenix). His time at Abu Dhabi was uneventful.
The Congress has authorized and the FAA is in the process of implementing a national upgrade to the national airspace, called NextGen. That system is intended to increase the capacity of airports, like PHX, to handle the future demand without pouring more concrete. The NextGen technology, in particular RNP, provides greater precision in the arrival and departure flight patterns. That “improvement” has the negative side consequences of concentrating the noise in certain areas. The FAA’s description of that phenomenon may not have been as articulate.
Unfortunately, the past of the PHX Metroplex ATC Implementation has devolved to a nasty conflict. The definition of win/win alternatives is not intuitive and the diving of solutions requires two talents.
First, there needs be a detailed knowledge of the technology, particularly the points at which it is flexible and inflexible. After hundreds of hours designing the new PHX ATC architecture, the FAA designers are not likely to volunteer for more work.
Second, someone, attempting to create a series of routes which maximize safety and efficiency while minimizing the impact on the ground, has to know the characteristics of what activities/sensibilities exist under these points.
The conjoining of these skills is less science than art. Mr. Bennett is well equipped to skillfully work with the FAA to find a set of air routes which will meet the FAA requirements while satisfying the community’s concerns.