FAA regional administrator enjoying 40-year career

Photo by Maria-Jose Subiria
Douglas Murphy, the Southern Region regional administrator for the FAA, works near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He has been with the FAA since 1970, when he started out as an air traffic controller.

Photo by Maria-Jose Subiria Douglas Murphy, the Southern Region regional administrator for the FAA, works near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He has been with the FAA since 1970, when he started out as an air traffic controller.

By Maria-Jose Subiria


In charge of 8,000 employees across eight states and beyond, Douglas Murphy, Southern Region regional administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration, works at the FAA Southern Regional Office in College Park, within sight of the world's busiest airport.

"I provide overall leadership for basically everything that we do in aviation in this part of the country, with 8,000 employees," Murphy said. "You can't do that by yourself, so we have a rather significant organizational structure to do that, but the regional administrator, in many ways, is sort of the eyes and ears of the FAA administrators in this part of the country."

Murphy said the FAA's Southern Region is comprised of eight states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The region also includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, he said.

Murphy explained that he mainly operates from his office, though his position demands frequent travel.

"The Southern Region is the FAA's largest region in terms of people -- 8,000 employees," Murphy said. "This part of the country is the busiest district corridor in the world for aviation."

According to Murphy, he is also responsible for the Southern Region's $1 billion-plus budget.

From Murphy's office windows, one is able to see Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and the FAA control tower.

"What we do is we support airports to improve the infrastructure, the runway, taxiway, terminal buildings, fire and rescue, navigation ... we help them [Hartsfield-Jackson] with federal grants ... although the majority of it will be funded by the airport and the city," he explained.

"We are always looking at Hartsfield-Jackson to make sure that they comply with all the federal air regulations, to make sure the airport is a safe operation," he added. "We don't only look at the airport, we look at the people flying in and out of it. We provide the aircraft control services."

He said the FAA has recently provided Atlanta's airport with $900,000 to conduct a research study regarding the need for a second passenger airport in the Atlanta area, 60 years in the future.

"The airport is still working that," he said. "We haven't seen the results of it yet."

Murphy explained that within the Southern Region there are 606 airports, and that 88 of those are commercial airports which provide scheduled air service.

The Southern Region regional administrator noted that the acquisition by Southwest Airlines of AirTran Airways, which has its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson, will have a significant impact on Atlanta's airport.

The FAA's Southwest Region will work with Southwest Airlines as the merger unfolds because the airline was incorporated in Texas and has its headquarters in Dallas, according to Murphy. "I think we are going to see a very different environment at the world's busiest airport after that merger... We will be involved as far as making sure all of the safety and everything is done correctly," he said.

Murphy said a typical day for him would start off with a manager-team meeting. He said he usually discusses what occurred in the Southern Region the week before, and the happenings that will occur during the current week.

"That's a group of about 23 to 26 individual senior leaders," he said of those involved in the meetings.

He said he also discusses with staff members in New York and Boston, every Monday morning, items like runway safety.

He said the FAA Southern Region is currently working on approving a new regional headquarters building, which will be larger than the one in College Park, and will better accommodate the large number of employees.

"We are in a process of trying to finalize approval for a new regional headquarters building," said Murphy.

He said the Southern Region recently opened new runways at airports in Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., as well as in Panama City, Fla.

Murphy said his job is exciting because he never knows what to expect the next day.

"Probably the thing that makes it easiest is simply that every day, I get to work with a great group of people that are very dedicated with what they do," said Murphy.

Murphy said he was born in 1946, in Hutchinson, Kansas. He said Hutchinson is 50 miles northwest of Wichita, which is nicknamed the Air Capital of the World because of the numerous aircraft corporations there.

"Those were good years," said Murphy.

"I worked for Cessna Aircraft [Company] ... and that kind of wet my appetite for aviation," he said.

He said he was hired as an air traffic controller for the FAA in 1970.

"Air traffic controllers make, on average, between 700 and 1,000 life and death decisions every day ... You have to do a very important job in an almost impersonal way," he said.

FAA Spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said Murphy eventually became the regional administrator for the FAA's Northwest Mountain Region in October 2003, and transferred as regional administrator for the Southern Region in October 2006.

Murphy said that though he is eligible to retire, he is not considering retirement anytime soon.

"Forty years -- I am thinking about making it a career," he joked.