- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

James Wilding, the first and only director of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, is retiring tomorrow from an airport system stronger than when he started but still recovering from national disasters.
   He will be succeeded by James Bennett, the authority’s chief operating officer since 1996.
   Mr. Wilding started as the agency’s director in 1987, as operation of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport was turned over from federal to private control.
   He overcame skeptics to help turn the airports into engines of the local economy before they were battered during the past 19 months by the September 11 terrorist attacks, airline bankruptcies and war with Iraq.
   “His reputation in the aviation industry is well known, not only in the U.S. but around the world,” Tara Hamilton, airports authority spokeswoman, said about Mr. Wilding.
   Mr. Bennett is inheriting a 1,200-employee operation that must confront increased security demands and a weak economy while trying to keep air travel convenient to passengers.
   The authority board cited Mr. Bennett’s “leadership and management skills” in selecting him as airports director.
   “At our airports here in Washington, as with airports across the country, we have challenges ahead of us,” Mr. Bennett said.
   His experience with airport operations, business affairs and finance will be sorely needed.
   Airports are earning less revenue because of new security costs and reduced landing fees from fewer flights. Dulles and Reagan airports annually spend $4 million to $5 million more on security now than before September 11.
   As a result, projects such as new runways and terminals are being scaled back.
   A $4.1 billion expansion at Dulles, approved in part to accommodate bankrupt United Airlines, has been reduced to a $2.6 billion project.
   Airport officials say the improvements will be important if air traffic returns to levels of two years ago, when airports complained about congestion.
   At Dulles Airport, the construction includes work to give travelers quicker access. Two new parking garages have added more than 8,000 spaces to the 17,000 previously available. An underground train system is being built to replace the airport’s mobile lounges that shuttle travelers from the terminal to the gate.
   Before coming to Washington, Mr. Bennett served as assistant aviation director at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. He also has served as director of the Shreveport (La.) Airport Authority.
   “I’m very excited about the opportunity to lead the authority and at the same time very humbled by the task that is ahead of us, given the current environment in the aviation industry,” Mr. Bennett said.

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