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Airport shares updates with Henry chamber

By Maria José Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

While Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has held the title of "world's busiest airport" since 1998, officials say they're are still looking over their shoulders at their Asian counterparts.

Hartsfield-Jackson's Robert Kennedy, assistant general manager for airport operations, maintenance and security, told Henry County business leaders Friday that airports such as Beijing Capital International Airport, and Tokyo International Airport, are continuing to increase their passenger flows.

During remarks to a lunchtime gathering of about 20 people at the chamber, Kennedy said he advises colleagues to, "enjoy our title as the world's busiest airport, while we have it."

He said Hartsfield-Jackson served more than 90 million passengers last year, and serves approximately 250,000 passengers daily. He said the airport operates nearly a million flights per year, and connects passengers to more than 155 cities in the United States, and more than 90 cities in 55 countries.

Hartsfield-Jackson served 9.2 million international passengers in 2008, an increase of 300,000 over 2007 figures, according to the airport's 2008 stakeholders report.

Kennedy said the airport has an economic impact of $23.5 billion on metro Atlanta. "It is the largest, single economic generator in the south side of the United States," he said.

"Every resident of metro Atlanta greatly benefits from the presence of this mega airport in our region," said Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce. "It not only connects us to the world, but it provides jobs, tax revenue, customers for our businesses and serves as one of our greatest achievements in the eyes of the world."

During his remarks, Kennedy highlighted some of the airport's ongoing projects aimed at keeping up with projected travel demand and boosting efficiency.

Kennedy said the Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., International Terminal, which is under construction, is on track for its grand opening in 2012. The 1.1 million-square-foot terminal, which has a projected construction cost of $1.35 billion, includes baggage claim and security checkpoint areas, 12 departure gates, and an array of stores and airline clubs.

Kennedy also noted the airport's 10-lane security checkpoint expansion, which was completed last October. The $26 million project added six security lanes in the north terminal, and four security lanes in the south terminal, and reduced average security wait times.

Another project airport officials hope will improve customer service is Hartsfield-Jackson's Rental Car Center, which is projected to open Nov. 10, along with an elevated ATL SkyTrain, which will ferry passengers from the airport terminal to the rental facility. The rental center will consolidate all of the rental car companies operating at Hartsfield-Jackson into one area, and relieve traffic congestion by taking rental agencies' shuttles out of airport ground transportation areas.

According to Kennedy, the world's busiest airport has been recognized for its efficiency by the Air Transport Research Society for the seventh year in a row. This year, Hartsfield-Jackson received the "Award of Excellence for Efficiency," for being the most efficient airport in North America.

"I am most proud of this [efficiency accolade] ... because this tells us how we manage our business," he said.