It is no secret that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the most important assets to both the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia. As the busiest and most efficient airport in the world, it sees over 100 million people walk through its halls every year and drives billions of dollars of economic activity. By the most recent estimate, the airport generated more than $34 billion in direct business revenue to metro Atlanta alone.
That kind of success has naturally attracted a debate about who should have control of such a vital economic engine. The City of Atlanta has (mostly) controlled the airport since its inception, though not for lack of trying on the part of the state legislature. They have periodically attempted to take control of the airport, but have been met with opposition from not only the city in recent years, but Governor Nathan Deal himself.
As a result, Republicans in the legislature decided to take a different approach and appoint a study committee to determine whether or not the creation of an airport authority would be the best way to operate the airport. The reasoning is this – that the airport is too large and too important to the entire state to be managed singularly by the Atlanta mayor, whoever he or she may be.
That line of reasoning would make sense if the airport were in dire straits or being mismanaged – but neither of those scenarios are the reality. In reality, Hartsfield-Jackson is the most efficiently run airport in the country and has been for 15 years. In reality, it has become the busiest airport in the world under the steady management of the city. In reality, changing the authoritative structure is legally questionable, causes problems with the current lease agreement, and detract from long-term planning efforts, along with a litany of other issues that could disrupt the airport’s success for decades to come.
The elephant in the room, of course, has been the ethical transgressions on the part a few recent employees of the airport. However, the Mayor’s Office and City Council are already taking steps to ensure those mistakes are not allowed to be repeated in the future. The response from the city has been swift and thorough. Any argument that those isolated incidents are justification to ignore nearly a century of success are a smokescreen for longtime efforts to shift control of the airport to another, state-controlled entity.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport became what it is today thanks to the vision and guidance of city leaders like former Mayor William B. Hartsfield and former Mayor Maynard H. Jackson. For the sake of its continued success and growth, it must remain in City of Atlanta hands.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.