Hartsfield-Jackson manager Ben DeCosta says “It’s time to try something else.”

By Maria Saporta

It just was time for him to move on.

That’s how Benjamin DeCosta, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, explains why he would not be seeking to renew his contract when it runs out at the end of June. DeCosta sent a letter to the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Kasim Reed on Monday to let them know of his decision.

DeCosta has been general manager of the Atlanta airport since June, 1998. Before coming to Atlanta, DeCosta worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and he served as general manager of the Newark International Airport.

“I’ve been at this as CEO of large airports for 16 years,” DeCosta said in a phone conversation Monday evening. “It’s time to try something else.”

During DeCosta’s tenure in Atlanta, he has been overseeing a $6 billion capital improvement program that includes the fifth runway, the Maynard Holbrook Jackson International Terminal, a new rental car complex connected by a people mover, plus several other improvements to the existing terminal.

At the end of last year, the city approved a new master lease agreement with its largest partner — Delta Air Lines. That agreement largely was reached between Delta executives and then Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and her top deputy, Chief Operating Officer Greg Giornelli.

Some national observers said the city could have negotiated better terms with Delta, particularly in gaining greater control and flexibility in the leasing of the airport’s gates.

DeCosta has become a national leader in the industry, serving on the boards of the American Association of Airport Executives as well as Airports Council International.

DeCosta said he was stepping down five months before the end of his contract so he could give the city ample time to select his successor.

Meanwhile, DeCosta has expressed confidence in the team he has built at Hartsfield-Jackson, including Mario Diaz, deputy general manager of the airport since January, 1999.

Reed reportedly has said he would conduct a national search for DeCosta’s replacement.

Meanwhile, DeCosta had not decided what his next career move will be.
DeCosta is a native New Yorker. He graduated from New York Law School in 1975. In 1984, he participated in a program for senior executives in state and local government at the Kennedy School of Public Administration at Harvard University.

Despite his ties to the Northeast, DeCosta may not be changing his address.

“I like Atlanta,” DeCosta said. “I plan to stay.”

Here is Ben DeCosta’s letter to City Council:

Atlanta City Councilmembers,

After more than 11 years of serving the City of Atlanta as General Manager for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I have decided not to seek renewal of my contract, which expires on June 30, 2010.

I have enjoyed my tenure at the Airport, and it has been a privilege to have been part of such a collaborative, dynamic team. Our work has left the airport – now the world’s busiest — in much better shape than when I arrived:

For example, we built a fifth runway — “the most important runway in America”, successfully created an airport-wide focus on customer service, developed an off-airport rental car center and train system – the first in the nation to connect a major convention center to a major airport by train, enhanced the security checkpoint to significantly reduce wait times, and we continue to positively impact our region’s economy.

The time feels right to now move on to new challenges and pass the torch to someone else. This decision was not made easily. After discussing it with my wife, we decided it was time for a change in direction.

I notified Mayor Reed and COO Peter Aman this morning of my decision. This early decision will afford the Mayor more time to decide how best to fill this critical position.

I am confident that the team we’ve put in place will ensure the continued success of this world-class facility.

Sincerely,

Ben

About Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.
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