Balram Bheodari was named interim airport general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in June 2018. As the leader of the world’s busiest airport, Bheodari oversees airport operations and a multi-billion-dollar capital improvement program that will pave the way for growth over the next 20 years.
Previously, Bheodari was the airport deputy general manager and, prior to that, served in various roles at both ATL and George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH).
AXN’s Carol Ward spoke with Bheodari shortly after his appointment. He says is is “thrilled and humbled at the trust the mayor has placed in me.” He also discussed his vision for ATL.
Ward: As you move into the GM role, can you discuss your broad-based vision for ATL?
Bheodari: There are two components of my vision. One is at the tactical level and one at the strategic level. On the tactical level, the summer is upon us and it’s a very, very busy travel season for us. We are in middle of tweaking our preparation and execution of our summer travel operations plan. I want to continue honing the skills and engaging our employees in a number of different initiatives. From a strategic point of view, I will continue our strong partnerships with our stakeholders, because our success is co-dependent on each other. We also have some long-term contracting in place to continue the development of this airport and prepare to meet its future growth, along with showing we can maintain our financial strength and our funding viability to support the growth of this airport.
Ward: ATL has a massive capital program underway in ATLNext. Can you offer an update on where you are in that program?
Bheodari: We have a number of different elements underway. First and foremost is our airside modernization. We have completed a large part of that construction program where we are modernizing the gate hold area, bringing more light into the concourses. Our second major program is a canopy. We expect to complete the north canopy by September of this year, and in late August [or] early September, we will begin construction on the south side canopy. The next major element we have under construction is a west side parking deck. We have started site preparation and pylons for that deck, and we are also doing site preparation for [new cargo facilities] to expand our cargo capability here at the airport.
Ward: As you move forward through the ATLNext program, what is your vision for in-terminal concessions?
Bheodari: We have a number of concessions that are either coming up for renewal or are expiring and are coming up for procurement. We are evaluating the entire program, and we do have some additional space that we’re going to procure for a number of different concepts. We’re working on putting a plan together, and I should have it ready in a couple of weeks. We want to maximize our space earmarked for concessions, and we want to ensure we have a wide offering for the traveling public. I don’t want to put a timeline on it, but the industry can expect that we will be coming out with additional Requests for Proposals.
Ward: There have been recent allegations of cronyism in hiring of concessionaires. How are you addressing the current issue, and how will things change to avoid future problems?
Bheodari: Our mayor came out and publicly stated that her administration is going to be totally transparent. I am going to be totally transparent in alignment with what the mayor is doing to ensure that we serve our constituents and there is no inkling of [cronyism]. It’s a transparent process, and everything is going to be aboveboard. Also, the mayor is actively recruiting to bring on board a chief procurement officer that will oversee the entire procurement process for the city.