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NEWS Last modified on May 5, 2015

CNN panel takes centre stage at SMART Airports & Regions Conference

An aviation leaders panel chaired by CNN news anchor and chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, helped draw a bumper crowd of close to 500 delegates to the opening sessions of the SMART Airports & Regions Conference & Exhibition in Atlanta.

Romans, a well-known face in the US, moderated a panel that contained Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s Miguel Southwell; Vancouver International Airport’s Craig Richmond; Miami’s Emilio Gonzalez; Philadelphia International Airport’s Mark Gale and Delta’s Holden Shannon.

Southwell, Hartsfield-Jackson’s aviation general manager, noted that the role of an airport is to serve as a city or region’s chief tool for economic development and driving jobs.

A key member of the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, Southwell noted that co-operating, collaborating and working with the City of Atlanta and the many different jurisdictions and municipalities surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson alone took up around 40% of his time.


Richmond, president and CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority, outlined some of the reasons behind the popularity and success of YVR, believing that they include its ‘sense of place’ artwork and facilities, reputation for delivering top quality customer service, retail innovation, growing route network and investment in new technology such as its Border Express kiosks, which it has since exported to a number of US airports.

“Route development is good for the economy. We plan to add five million more passengers per annum by 2020 and that equates to between 5,000 and 7,000 new jobs for the region,” stated Richmond.

Gonzalez noted that MIA was the biggest economic engine in Florida by generating $33.7 billion in economic impact each year and employing a quarter of the population of southern Florida.


“If an airport is not breathing life into the economy, there is something wrong,” he said, revealing that this importance to the social and economic prosperity of communities came with its own pressures as making mistakes could have huge ramifications for a lot of people.

“I don’t want to be the one that screws things up,” he joked.

Philadelphia International Airport CEO, Mark Gale, admitted that creating an aerotropolis at his airport would be difficult as most of the real estate around the gateway had been developed, some of it on land sold by previous airport administrations.

In answering a question about what one piece of regulation he would change to improve the industry, Gale stated that he believed the current US legislation for funding and promoting airport development needed an overhaul as it “shackled” many gateways.


Delta Air Line’s senior vice president for corporate real estate, Shannon, talked about the airline’s game changing move to Hartsfield-Jackson from Monroe, Louisianna, in 1941 and the importance of collaboration between different stakeholders in the industry.

“Atlanta’s success didn't happen by chance and has been driven by several key factors that include a strong airport-airline partnership, a competitive airport cost structure and a single, well-positioned airport,” he said.

All took star billing in The CNN SMART 360 Debate, which was filmed by CNN, with edited highlights due to be broadcast at a later date.


The conference opened with welcome addresses by Cesar Mitchell, president of Atlanta City Council and the mayor of College Park, Jack Longino.

Mitchell praised the regional leadership of Folz and the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance and work and vision of Southwell in his second stint as Hartsfield-Jackson after working for the gateway earlier his career.

He noted that airports had become central to people’s everyday lives and business, calling them “places of connectivity, innovation, culture, economic delivery and gateways to the world.”

“Our airport is great, and if we work on our strengths we will continue to be great, but if we want to get even better the way forward is to work on improving our weaknesses.”

Southwell and other key members of hosts, the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), also delivered welcoming addresses.

During his presentation, Southwell reiterated his belief that airports are a key economic tool for cities and regions and places where people can work, rest and play.


Meanwhile, Joe Folz, chairman of the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance and vice president and general counsel and secretary of Porsche Cars North America – which relocated its North American HQ to Atlanta because of the existence of Hartsfield-Jackson, said he was proud that the company’s new $120 million facility was just a 10 minutes’ drive from the conference venue, the Georgia International Convention Center (GICC).

“Being located here was perfect for Porsche as it makes visiting us and our Experience Centre, the first outside of Europe, within a day’s reach of 80% of the population of the USA.”


The driving force behind the formation of the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), reminded delegates about the Atlanta region’s many business, commercial and sporting attractions.

“There are tens of thousands of people living in this area and the more jobs we can bring to the region the better,” noted Hooker.

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