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New York JFK airport exec chosen to head Hartsfield-Jackson

An airport executive from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport has been named general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced John Selden, deputy general manager at JFK, will take the helm of the world’s busiest airport.

Selden is a former Navy pilot who served at the Pentagon and in Puerto Rico, and was a commercial pilot. He started out his career in airport management at New York’s Republic Airport, and joined JFK in 2008, being named deputy general manager in 2014.

“He has very diverse experience,” Bottoms said after a press conference at Hartsfield-Jackson on Tuesday morning.

Selden would step into the role at a challenging time for the airport and for the city, amid a federal investigation into corruption at Atlanta City Hall including a subpoena for airport records, an FAA probe into possible misuse of airport revenue and following an ethics investigation into a former deputy general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson who was subsequently fired.

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Hartsfield-Jackson is also facing an effort by the state of Georgia to study a potential takeover of the Atlanta airport from the city. A state Senate study committee is holding meetings on the issue.

Meanwhile, with more than 100 million passengers coming through the airport a year, Hartsfield-Jackson management face the challenge of how to manage the growing congestion.

Selden also will oversee the airport’s $6 billion expansion and modernization program, which includes construction of massive canopies outside the domestic terminal, gate expansion and eventually a sixth runway.

Turnover at the top

Earlier this year, a city audit of contracting for the airport expansion found the city’s contracting processes triggered “red flags” that indicate an elevated risk of fraud. The city’s former procurement chief Adam Smith, who managed contracting for the airport and other city departments, was sentenced to prison earlier this year after admitting to taking at least $4,000 in bribes from a city vendor in exchange for helping the vendor win contracts.

This position has seen major turnover in recent years, with five permanent or interim managers since early 2010.

Pending Atlanta City Council confirmation, Selden on Oct. 1. would replace interim general manager Balram Bheodari. Bheodari was named interim after previous Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council was moved to City Hall to become Atlanta’s chief financial officer.

“It’ll be good to have someone who has a view from a different airport,” said Andre Dickens, the city council transportation committee chairman. “He sounds like a pretty solid person who has seen aviation from behind the cockpit and in leadership of airports.”

The mayor said her priorities for Selden will be to continue to improve Hartsfield-Jackson’s performance.

“We are always looking for opportunities to increase our revenue streams,” Bottoms said. “We remain the busiest and most efficient airport in the world and look forward to him even helping to improve on all of our numbers.”

Selden, like other Hartsfield-Jackson managers over the last eight years, will not have an employment contract, according to the mayor’s office.

Bheodari said he will return to his previous role as deputy general manager overseeing operations. On Tuesday, Bheodari said his top priority will be to prepare for the transition.

“You have to keep your eye on the operations,” he said.

Working with Delta

The search for an airport manager has taken nearly eight months since it was announced in January. Selden was one of five finalists selected by a search committee led by UPS CEO David Abney and Home Depot CFO Carol Tome, and was the only person offered the job, according to Bottoms.

Selden’s responsibilities at JFK have included overseeing customer service, rail access, security, maintenance, finance, commercial development and physical infrastructure investment.

One of the key roles of managing Hartsfield-Jackson is working with Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at the airport. New York airport officials are familiar with the Atlanta-based carrier, since Delta operates an international hub at JFK.

While Atlanta is a “fortress hub” for Delta, JFK has other airlines with a strong presence and Delta is not as dominant in New York as it is at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The position of airport manager of Hartsfield-Jackson has long paid $221,000 and some have expressed concerns about challenges in attracting a top airport official at that level of pay, since some other major airports pay their top executive more.

The CEO of Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport, for example, got a base salary of $496,186 with a $171,285 bonus last year.

However, Selden, a deputy general manager, has had an annual salary of $192,738, according to New York airport pay records.

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