The general manager of Atlanta’s airport commented on some hot issues – including a recent major power outage and the Amazon headquarters bid – during a stopover at a Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce lunch Jan. 25.
Roosevelt Council Jr. is marking his first anniversary as leader of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, though new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has a search underway for a new general manager. Council previously served the city of Atlanta in other roles, including interim chief financial officer and budget and fiscal policy chief.
Council’s appearance at the chamber luncheon, held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North hotel, focused on touting a $6 billion expansion and upgrade master plan intended to keep the airport competitive for 20 years. The airport is major economic driver for metro Atlanta and all of Georgia. Council said he expects the airport will mark its 20th consecutive year as the world’s busiest by passenger volume – more than 104 million flyers a year – once 2017 numbers are calculated.
The luncheon also marked the debut of Chip Collins, a business attorney and former Sandy Springs City Council member, as the chamber’s 2018 board chairman. Collins said he’ll expand the chamber’s slogan, “Promote. Preserve. Prosper” to include “Party” as Sandy Springs’ new arts-oriented civic center debuts this year.
“City Springs is going to be awesome and it’s going to be fun to be a part of it,” said Collins, whose mother Jan is on a foundation helping to fund and program the facility’s Performing Arts Center.
The following are Council’s comments on some topics during his speech or in a brief interview afterward.
A Dec. 17 power failure shut down much of the airport for 11 hours, a national embarrassment that cost millions of dollars in lost business. The outage involved a fire in an underground Georgia Power Co. facility that killed an electric system and its intended backup. Just hours before Council’s speech, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Georgia Power still has not determined the cause of the failure.
“I’ve become a whole lot more humorous since I had that power outage,” Council said in one of a few jokes about the failure during his speech.
Asked afterward for the serious response, Council said it is up to Georgia Power to figure out the outage’s cause. But, he added, “We’re also trying to ensure it doesn’t happen again” by finding a way to keep main and backup circuits separate. He said the outage was a “1 in a million thing,” but with major consequences the airport does not want to repeat.
Council also mentioned the power outage as part of the airport’s role in the Amazon headquarters bid. The Seattle-based corporation is auctioning the right for cities or regions to host a gigantic second headquarters, and earlier this month announced that Atlanta is a on a 20-city short list. A site in Dunwoody’s part of Perimeter Center may be part of Atlanta’s bid, but the state-submitted documents remain secret.
“Every time you say that, I think about the power outage again … That Georgia Power, I tell you,” Council said when an audience member asked about the airport’s role in an Amazon bid. “They’re strong partners of ours,” he quickly added about the power company.
Council said he assumes the airport’s massive cargo-handling capabilities are among the reasons Amazon is considering Atlanta’s bid, but not the only one.
“Nobody knows what Amazon is thinking about,” he said. “We made that [short] list … But I think it’s a whole lot of other things that come into play.”
Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance
In 2014, the airport, local cities and major businesses formed a nonprofit called the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance to plan economic development around Hartsfield-Jackson. It became the model for a similar organization around DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, joined by the cities of Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Doraville. Called the Peachtree Gateway Partnership, it has helped to spark regional transit discussions.
Asked how he feels the Atlanta airport nonprofit is working out, Council said, “It feels good.” He said it’s growing as more companies on board – they include Delta Air Lines and Porsche Cars North America – and that “surrounding communities are starting to embrace it.”
Another Atlanta airport
Talk of building a second major airport has been around for decades. The latest round culminated in the $6 billion Hartsfield-Jackson master plan and a long-term lease agreement with Delta that includes a promise that the city of Atlanta won’t run a second airport. But talk from other governments and businesses continues from time to time.
“We hope not,” Council said to laughter when an audience member asked about a possible second Atlanta airport.
“You can never stop the discussion,“ he said. “Twenty years from now, you can never say never … But as you project into the future, we think we can handle the load.” Even at the airport’s current capacity, he said, “We could land a whole lot more jets than we’re landing now.”