John Selden was invited to visit the cockpit of a Bermuda-bound flight when he was five years old. He sat on the co-pilot’s lap and even got to hold the control yoke for a bit. That started his lifelong love of all things related to aircraft, the new general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport explained during a June 27 Buckhead Business Association breakfast. He took his position last October after serving in a similar role at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Calling the new post “the pinnacle of my career,” Selden said, “Atlanta hospitality has been very nice, totally different from the one I came from in New York. People smiling… I have had a very warm reception since I arrived.”

John Selden, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Selden touted Hartsfield-Jackson’s position as the world’s busiest airport, with an average of 2,750 daily flights, but his goal is to increase that number eventually to 3,400. A sixth runway is in the planning stages, as well as more buildings.

“We have the capacity to grow,” he said.

“The infrastructure has to keep up with the growth,” Selden said. “We cannot turn into [New York’s secondary airport] LaGuardia. My goal and my team’s goal is to do everything we can to work with everybody that we need to [in order to] ensure that Hartsfield-Jackson is not a limiting factor on the growth of the Atlanta region.”

A massive new parking garage will be built in College Park, between the rental car center and the airport, becoming the first stop on the Skytrain. West of that, a five-star hotel will be erected, as will a 50,000-square-foot office building.

“We are building pedestrian walkways,” Selden added. “Somehow you all believe you can come out of the terminal, looking at your phones, and texting, without getting hit. Three people have been hit since I’ve been here.”

Additionally, traffic lights will be installed outside the terminals “where they scream at you ‘don’t walk’ because everybody’s got their headphones on.”

Another potential area of growth is cargo and the possibility of Atlanta as a hub for e-commerce. “It’s coming. Cargo creates tons of jobs,” he said, noting that too many planes are flying with cargo holds that are practically empty.

Referring to Hartsfield-Jackson as a “competitive machine,” Selden announced at the meeting that requests for proposals were recently issued for development of roughly 800 acres of land owned by the airport on its periphery.

Selden credited part of the airport’s success to its landing fees, some of the lowest in the country. He cited Delta Air Lines’ 80 million annual passengers as well, and said Hartsfield-Jackson is the largest employer in the state with 63,000 jobs.

“We generate $52 billion in revenues in Atlanta metro. The rest of Georgia is another 15,” he said. “There is $83 billion worth of economic activity in the region — a huge economic impact. Concessions were $1.1 billion gross last year.”

But not everything runs as smoothly as Selden would like. On arrival at the breakfast, Selden took a call regarding the attempted kidnapping of a child in the airport’s atrium that had just been defused by Atlanta police.

He also has to maintain a working relationship with the City of Atlanta, which owns the airport. The city is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration for possible misuse of airport funds, and the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into the handling of an FAA subpoena of airport records. Hartsfield-Jackson is one of several airports picked for a financial compliance review, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

“The procurement process is run by city hall and is different from the operation of the airport,” Selden told the Reporter after his presentation. “My goal is to monitor where the money and the funds are spent. I can’t speak of the past, only going forward, and we haven’t misused any funds.”

“Mayor [Keisha] Lance Bottoms has a task force; she is leading the charge to reform the city to ensure that all these alleged corruption scandals are mitigated, procedures are put in place and she is moving the city forward,” he said. “She called it a cloud over the city.”

–Kevin C. Madigan