Atlanta’s mayor’s office has confirmed that the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been fired. Mayor Kasim Reed thanked Miguel Southwell for his service in a statement to the press and indicated that he was committed to achieving “maximum operational efficiencies and the highest level of customer service possible” in the facility. The exact cause for Southwell’s dismissal was not made known, but Roosevelt Council has been appointed as interim aviation general manager.
Local station 11 Alive News reported Mayor Reed’s full confirmation statement in regards to the firing.
“I want to thank Mr. Southwell for his service to the City of Atlanta and the travelers at the world’s busiest passenger airport. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport serves as our city’s and region’s dominant economic generator, and as such, I am committed to achieving maximum operational efficiencies and the highest level of customer service possible. I wish Mr. Southwell the best in the next chapter of his career.”
Southwell initially entered the position with over 30-years of experience in the aviation industry. During his time at Hartsfield-Jackson he oversaw an annual budget of approximately $1 billion. In addition to this, he led a 20-year projected plan for $6 billion in additional airport construction and development. This development project includes updating the domestic terminals and concourses, adding a sixth runway, and adding a hotel. Parking decks and passenger gates will also be updated.
Speculation has ensued that the firing was a result of the continued long Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lines that have now become a hallmark of traveling through Hartsfield-Jackson. The 11 Alive report also indicated that the lines can back up for an hour or more as passengers are processed during security check-ins. On many occasions, the lines have backed up as far as the baggage claim area, and some passengers have been forced to stand in the lines for hours in order to complete their security checks. Many passengers report having missed their flights due to the long processing times.
One passenger, Katie Pugh, expressed her frustration about the long lines.
“You would think they would get a better handle on that being it’s the biggest airport in the country.”
Mayor Reed has expressed his own frustrations in the past about the ongoing passenger delays, even going so far as to threaten that if the situation did not improve that he would consider looking into a private security company to facilitate the check-ins. He said that he considered the long lines “unacceptable.”
Channel 2 News writes that Southwell was appointed to his position in 2014. He began his career at Hartsfield-Jackson as deputy general manager of commercial operations at a starting salary of $221,000 a year. Previous to that, he was employed at the airport from 1990 until 2001.
Council, the interim general manager, was formerly Hartsfield’s aviation deputy general manager/chief financial officer and had held that position since 2012. In his prior role, he was responsible for the airport’s treasury operations, procurement, accounting, budgeting, financial analysis, and forecasting.
Passenger Katie Pugh also offered her thoughts on the firing.
“Obviously a new GM; sounds like the other one wasn’t getting it done. They probably need a team of people just working on that and a bigger team of people working on the ongoing problems.”
Other passengers just indicated that they want whoever fills the position to fix the continuing problem of the long lines.
In February, Channel 2 News reported that Southwell attempted to correct the problem of the long lines by writing a terse letter to the TSA advising them that they had 60 days to correct the inadequate staffing issues that contributed to the delays or he would fire them and bring in private contractors to solve the problem. Although the TSA did increase staffing, the problems of the long lines continued.
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