By Maria Jose Subiria
In a move that caught airport employees and many in the news media by surprise, Ben DeCosta -- the aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for more than 11 years -- said on Monday that he was stepping down, effective June 30.
After a newspaper reporter began making inquiries of officials about a possible departure by DeCosta, the reporter was told that DeCosta was "at that moment" sending an e-mail statement to Department of Aviation employees, advising them that he had decided to leave Hartsfield-Jackson when his current contract ends.
He said he had notified Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the city's chief operations officer, Peter Aman, of his decision Monday morning.
In his note to employees, he said, "This early decision will afford the mayor more time to decide how best to fill this critical position."
A short time later, he told a TV news reporter, who had asked if he was forced out, that this was his own decision. He reiterated what he had told employees in his letter to them, when he said, "This decision was not made easily. After discussing it with my wife, we decided it was time for a change in direction.
"The time feels right to now move on to new challenges and pass the torch to someone else," he wrote.
DeCosta promised in his written statement that, "Between now and my departure, it will be business as usual. I am confident that the team we've put in place will ensure the continued success of this world-class facility."
He told the employees that he had "enjoyed my tenure at the airport, and it has been a privilege to have been part of such a collaborative, dynamic team." He pointed to successes he said had been accomplished under his watch:
"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 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 airport is currently in the process of adding the 1.2 million-square-foot Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., International Terminal, anticipated to open in the spring of 2012.
According to airport officials, the current international concourse, Concourse E, opened on Sept. 21, 1994, and about 3 million passengers walked through the concourse that year. The number of international passengers has increased to more than 9 million since then.
Also under DeCosta's guidance, the world's busiest airport changed the face of its concessions market, adding an array of service, food and shopping choices for visitors, including Minute Suites, a compact, short-term "hotel," XpresSpa and Cafe Intermezzo, to name a few.
The airport's Concessions Unit has opened more than 70 new stores, and won a variety of awards, including Best Convenience Retail Program in the large airport category, from Airports Council International-North America, in 2009.
According to the City of Atlanta's web site, www.atlantaga.gov, DeCosta assumed his position in June of 1998. Under his leadership, the airport has remained Georgia's powerful economic engine, generating more than $23.5 billion annually.
According to a WSB-TV news account, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he would soon begin a national search to find a replacement for DeCosta.