Solution to ATL’s problems may not be more $ for the Director but may be an Authority

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City Hall troubles could hike cost to attract new airport leader

Recent Directors’ Departure may deter Candidates

Increase Salary Suggested

Restructure as Authority?


Kelly Yamanouchi of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has written a revealing series of articles about the mess at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport


Her most recent expose raises the possibility that the City will have to significantly raise the salary of the world’s busiest airport from its existing $221,000 to a larger number. Here are quotes which suggest that this increased salary of a contract may be required:

“People who are candidates who may want to come certainly are looking, I’m sure, at what’s going on in the city, and making decisions on whether they want to come to the city at at a challenging time like this,” said Atlanta City Council president Felicia Moore.

“It’s not just the day-to-day operations of the airport now. Now you’ve got the FAA investigating. You’ve got this whole cloud of corruption scandal going on,” Moore said.

City council transportation committee chair Andre Dickens said he thinks the city should consider hiring the airport manager with an employment contract so the person is not subject to “political whim.”

The manager of Hartsfield-Jackson had a a contract up until about eight years ago. But, when Kasim Reed took office as mayor, he did not grant employment contracts.

Dickens said a contract may keep an airport manager from being “under a particular administration’s thumb or a council’s thumb. [Instead], they do what the public asks and they do what’s in the best interest of airport and FAA rules and regulations and move us forward.”

Moore said an alternative may be to give city council a say over termination of the airport general manager, “so that the mayor doesn’t have that sole authority. That way, you have a balance. So if a mayor is pushing the general manager to do something that they don’t want to do, they can at least appeal to the council.”

The parade of ATL airport directors over the recent past would certainly cause a qualified candidate to pause before considering the Hartsfield vacancy even though the major airport should be a pinnacle of an airport executive’s career. Here’s the deterring list:

Balram Bheodari

Roosevelt Council

Miguel Southwell

Louis Miller

Ben DeCosta

An airport professional who has worked her/his way up the career ladder may look at that turnover and wonder if it is the structure of the Municipal Organization chart. It must be understood that this job requires an individual to command a number of disciplines: aviation safety, airport operations, DBE/MBE, hazardous materials, finance, rates and charges, vendor variety and selection, weather, engineering, construction, runway design and maintenance, tenant negotiations, environmental management, recruitment, construction, procurement, federal funding and on and on. Perhaps one of the most critical skills needed to be honed before reaching the top of the pyramid—dealing with the community and city/state/federal politics.


A Good Airport Manager Doggedly Promotes & Seeks Funds

LAWA Hires A Man Who Knows Airports

Jim Bennett’s wins Airports’ Highest Honor; should there be more for his profession?

O’Hare Airport loses a tremendously talented Commissioner; her able successor has big shoes to fill

Life of an exceptional Airport Director, Ray Bishop, merits Emulation

It’s OK for an Airport Director to extol the contributions of her/his airport like RNO

The above list of exemplary airport executives and their attributes suggests that the arcane set of talents may not be subject to the demands of political supervisors. There are many airports which are directly owned and operated by cities and states, like these:

Other airports have been insulated from direct political oversight and most are considered to be among the best managed

This is to suggest that rather than spend money on a headhunter and/or increasing the ATL Director’s salary, perhaps a better use of the city’s dollars is to move the legal structure from municipally owned to an independent airport authority. The Board typically reflects the community interests, provides advice on strategic direction, assists senior management with HR/Finance/development/etc. and a wide variety of other general management concerns. The Members frequently serve as a buffer on political issues and have been known to help in lobbying matters.

If structure is the problem, this one-time expenditure may reduce future headaches. Recent FAA activities have demonstrated that the old theory for why airports should be owned by municipal bodies; the notion that the airport funds were an attractive source of financial transfers. Revenue diversion is no longer a convenient way to leak money back to the cities.






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2 Comments on "Solution to ATL’s problems may not be more $ for the Director but may be an Authority"

  1. The ATL airport managers story caught my eye, including the name Louis Miller, who had been the SLC Director. Here is how that system works: They all insist on golden parachutes in their contracts, when one retires, they all move to another airport (like musical chairs), collect their golden payoff, then it starts all over again.

  2. Steve Van Beek | August 9, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Reply

    Not where there are authorities. Look at DFW, SAN or JAX for exemplary examples of professional executives and authorities.

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