When Louis Miller resigned six months ago as executive director of Tampa International, he had his eyes on a bigger job: running the world's busiest airport that's also home to the world's biggest airline.
Now, he's among three finalists to become the boss at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Monday he will name a new airport general manager by Sept. 3.
"I'd said I wanted to do something different, and Atlanta's airport is the largest in the world,'' Miller said Tuesday. "I knew this (job) is one I'd be pursuing.''
A nine-member search committee of Atlanta business heavyweights headed by Home Depot Chief Financial Officer Carol Tomé sent five names to Reed, who narrowed the list to three. Besides Miller they are:
• John D. Clark III, who has led the Indianapolis Airport Authority for about a year. Clark came from Jacksonville, where he ran Jacksonville International Airport for the past nine years.
• Lester Robinson, who held the top job at Detroit Metropolitan Airport from 1996 until three months ago.
Atlanta's airport is huge by any measure. More than 42 million passengers boarded planes there in 2009, the most of any airport in the world. Aircraft took off and landed more than 970,000 times last year, also the most of any other airport.
By comparison, Tampa International boarded 8.5 million travelers and had just under 200,000 aircraft movements in 2009.
The headquarters for Delta Air Lines, the world's largest airline, sits just outside the airport's fence. Atlanta serves as a fortress hub for Delta, as well as competitor AirTran Airways.
The new airport director will oversee a $6-milion-plus building program that includes a $2.4 billion international terminal scheduled to open in 2012.
Miller abruptly resigned after run-ins with board members over how he ran Tampa International.
They directed him to stop demolition of a vacant reservations center, later leased to Moffitt Cancer Center for a out-patient center.
They said his agency didn't follow state law in approving permits for tall structures near the airport.
But other directors sport scars, too.
The Wayne County (Mich.) Aviation didn't renew Robinson's contract in May over what board members described as a political battle. Atlanta's former airport boss, Ben DeCosta, resigned effective June 30 after butting heads with Delta executives.
Members of Tampa International's governing board should receive a list of finalists to replace Miller next week and could have a new executive director by November.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.