Dec. 10--Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport general manager Louis Miller, who oversaw the opening of a $1.4 billion international terminal, is retiring from his post at the helm of the world's busiest airport -- just three years into the role.
Miller, 65, is leaving at a critical time for the Atlanta airport, as airport leadership develops a new master plan considering everything from a sixth runway to additional concourses, competing airports strive to displace Hartsfield as the world's busiest and a new lease will be negotiated with Delta Air Lines.
He will retire Jan. 3 as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's first term in office comes to a close, according to Reed's office in an announcement Monday evening.
Miller's tenure is considerably shorter than that of his predecessor Ben DeCosta, who led the airport for 11 years. But Miller also joined the airport when he was already 62 years old, with a promise to finish Reed's first term in office. Miller, the former head of the Tampa airport, was hired in 2010 for a $221,000 salary to lead Hartsfield-Jackson.
Miller said the mayor asked all of his cabinet members if they wanted to stay for a second term.
"I just think we've accomplished a lot in three years," Miller said. "I just kind of thought it was time. I've reached the point in my life where I'm looking forward to retirement." Miller plans to return to his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Miller's highest-profile accomplishment at the airport has been the opening of the international terminal in May 2012, a major expansion. He also put in a cellphone waiting lot by the domestic terminal, a popular amenity.
As airport manager, Miller oversees a variety of projects, from concourse expansions to escalator and elevator refurbishment to roadway construction. His role is both that of an executive overseeing a multibillion-dollar enterprise and a department head reporting directly to the mayor of Atlanta.
He has also been overseeing the airport's master plan work, which examines some touchy subjects, including a sixth runway, additional concourses and other expansions through 2030. The master plan will go through the potentially controversial public review under his successor.
When Reed hired Miller, the mayor emphasized interest in growing air cargo at the airport. That initiative has been challenging, however, as air cargo has taken a hit amid economic sluggishness in recent years.
But Reed praised Miller's service in a written statement Monday evening. Miller "made sure Hartsfield-Jackson has maintained its status not only as the busiest passenger airport in the world, but also as the center of economic activity in our region," Reed said.
It's unknown whether Reed will launch a national search for Miller's replacement.
Deputy general manager Miguel Southwell will serve as interim general manager, Reed's administration announced. Southwell was one of the potential candidates discussed for the Hartsfield-Jackson general manager role in 2010, before three finalists were announced and Miller was selected.
Southwell joined Hartsfield-Jackson earlier this year as deputy general manager for commercial development, after serving as a deputy director for Miami's airport system. At that time, he expressed interest in the top position as well. "As the deputy general manager, I certainly hope that would be a consideration should Mr. Miller ever decide to leave."
The change in leadership comes as other airports seek to expand in ways that could affect Hartsfield-Jackson's dominant role.
For one, airports in Beijing and Dubai are growing as major international hubs and have been eyeing the title of "world's busiest airport."
And in metro Atlanta, Paulding County's airport aims to become the second airport in the region with commercial airline service. The Paulding plan announced this fall immediately drew vehement opposition from Richard Anderson, chief executive of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines. Reed also backed Delta's position, saying he would not support the Paulding airport's plans.
The contract calls for DeCosta to get a base salary of $255,000 a year with a 4 percent annual increase through June 30, 2010.
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It is the second year in a row Hartsfield-Jackson has been dubbed the world's busiest airport in both number of passengers and number of flights.