Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Interview by: Cynthia L. Blandford
I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing my good friend and colleague Mr. Elliott Paige, Airport Director, Air Service Department at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport who I have a great deal of respect and admiration. He is a true leader in his field and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is fortunate to have him on their team. Elliott Paige also happens to be the first interview I conducted as Publisher on behalf of iF Inaugural Magazine and I am honored that he took the time out of his busy schedule to give me this interview.
First, tell us about yourself and walk us through your background
My name is Elliott Paige, and I am the Airport Director for Air Service Development at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I have been in Atlanta for seven years now after a varied career across the world. I am Antiguan by birth, and I hold fast to my Caribbean heritage because I believe that rich culture helps me understand the world better and keeps me grounded in my identity. I worked for an airline in Antigua, for the government of Antigua as a senior economist and trade policy expert, and served as a diplomat in Geneva, Switzerland, representing several small island states in the United Nations Office in Geneva and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In Geneva, I established the first embassy to handle global trade policy for six Caribbean countries. I later worked on development issues with the WTO Secretariat covering African, the Caribbean, and Latin American countries. I started as a consultant promoting Caribbean export and then came to Atlanta to foster passenger and cargo growth. I received my bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management from the Barbados’ University of the West Indies, and my master’s in economic policy from the University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I have executive training and certifications related to international affairs, trade policy, and aviation leadership. As a result of living in Santo Domingo and Geneva, I also speak Spanish and French.
What does the Airport Director of Air Services do in your capacity?
I am mainly responsible for maintaining and growing air service in both cargo and passenger in my current role. I often travel to visit other airports and airlines internationally to encourage increased air service to Atlanta to improve the diversity of routes. We know that new direct air service attracts new investment on both city peers. New air service allows for a more significant contribution to the region’s economic development. I am also involved in guiding infrastructural development. This development is mainly in the cargo arena, given my previous work’s expertise in trade and air cargo. That consists of writing proposals for private sector partnerships and developing innovations and facilities that promote efficiency, save costs, and increase revenue for the Airport. As this is a relationship business, much like when I was a diplomat, I build and nurture collaboration with agencies such as Metro Atlanta Chamber, Georgia Department of Economic Development, Invest Atlanta, Diplomatic Corps, Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, and many other associations.
What services do you provide both domestically and internationally?
Atlanta is connected to over 170 Cities domestically and over 70 internationally in 45 countries. My aim is always to increase our connectivity, where it makes business sense. My team conducts studies to determine where we have unserved markets and present these business cases to airlines we target as best fit to serve that route. We also peer with other airports, either informally at conferences or through formal agreements such as our Sister Airport Program, to promote a mutually beneficial route collectively.
What are some past, present, and future goals of the Air Service Development Department?
Our goals have been the same since I arrived in Atlanta — we want to increase air service in unserved markets and improve efficiency to make our facilities a marketing beacon on their own due to superior global reputation. We recently achieved a new air service with Panama City via Copa Airlines on December 12, 2021. They offer onward connection to over 22 cities across South and Central American, most of which we had no prior connectivity. We hope to replicate the same with Israel, India, and Morocco, three destinations that remain unserved, the last one being mainly from markets beyond Casablanca.
Presently, the air service unit has had staff that moved as they continued to grow their careers. I am pleased to mentor people to improve their lives and move on to better heights using what I taught them. However, that means I must seek new people to mentor. I am now working on rebuilding the team with fun, professional, energizing people who want to be ambassadors to Atlanta and learn and grow in their craft.
Tell us about your perspective on international trade and development.
In the short to medium term, international trade has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Why? We always forget that the most crucial component in a supply chain is the people – not just the consumers but also the producers, and distributors. The pandemic showed us that we have masses of people in factories, farms, and the logistics industries that we depend on to make our systems function. We call them essential workers. Yet, the system treats them as dispensable. As a result, many have been quitting their jobs – some 4.4 million in September 2021 alone, according to a CNBC report. I operate on one of the late General Colin Powell’s advice that we should “take care of the troops, and the rest will take care of itself.” Many are leaving their jobs due to poor pay and working conditions. The culture of treating staff as disposable utensils must end.
Long-term development is impacted by social blights like racism and environmental degradation. Multilateral trade policy must allow for more intermediary and final goods produced in the African continent and other raw materials. We must eradicate tariff escalation and peaks – policies by developed countries that use tariffs to exploit poorer developing countries that export raw materials. Due care of the planet can only happen if we can live and work together rather than living in segregated communities. People that do not care for each other will not care about environmental degradation. Without a connection to diverse people, the belief will remain that mega-floods, fires, storms, and droughts only affect “others.” As protestors demonstrated in the COP26 United Nations Climate Change conference, such carelessness will continue to erode a planet’s viability to sustain life safely.
I do my part. At the Airport, I promote new air service to encourage more trade and travel among diverse countries. The competition allows more people to travel and meet and trade goods from their culture. Travelling promotes knowledge and understanding that we are not that different across the planet. We bring friends, families, and businesses together, allow new friendships and expand diverse families and businesses with more air service.
For my voluntary work, I write a blog to share ideas that I hope help some people, and I work for the Museum of Diversity, an online virtual museum that promotes ancient history and education. I also speak at high schools, universities, and any forum, on these ideas.
What are some significant picture issues facing air services today?
There is COVID-19 travel which has changed how we behave and move around the world. Airlines and airports must adapt to show due care for their market, or they could go bankrupt due to their lack of maintenance. Aircraft are getting smaller and more fuel and noise efficient which will be a requirement towards moving to emission neutrality. People in Europe have already set their targets in motion ahead of the USA. We won’t stop traveling because trade among people of ideas, and goods will continue as they have for hundreds of thousands of years. It is vital to the planet that we learn to do so more efficiently and with less harm to the Earth.
What would you consider the biggest challenge you are facing in air services today and the greatest opportunity?
Its labor shortage, fuel price hikes, and maneuvering in a global pandemic are my immediate short to medium term challenges. These are all fixable, so, I am not worried. Fuel prices will level out as economies get back on track and investors catch-up on their pre-COVID capital gains expectations. A more economically rational immigration policy, public and private sector moving to adopt more wholesome and respectful working conditions, and technological innovations will help to reduce the labor shortage. Getting most of the population vaccinated will allow us to function in a global pandemic. So will having reliable rapid tests readily available for everyone and either free or low cost. Like I mentioned, I am rebuilding my team. This restructuring, too, is a short to medium-term challenge. The opportunity is to get a new team eager to help rebuild our air service to pre-COVID and surpass that. I am excited to be part of that future team of enthusiastic achievers. We now have an opportunity to forge new relationships with new and diverse destinations that are desperate to restart their economic engines.
What Sister Airport Agreements are you currently working on and what do you see as most promising in air cargo services moving forward?
There is a list of countries and regions we have in our target. However, I don’t want to steal the thunder of my colleague in International Affairs and prefer she share the exciting news.
Is there anything we have not discussed that you would like to mention?
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us to care for our people because they are our most incredible resource. It also taught us that not caring for others is equivalent to not caring for ourselves. If we let the virus spread among populations we don’t care about, we are, as humans, interdependent, so what affects a few affects all. We learn that resiliency comes from working together as a team and recognizing that everyone has value in their ideas and labor. Many are still resisting these notions of humanity. Unfortunately, they will not last. There is much opportunity in all these challenges to rise with even more strength and determination towards success in our families, careers, and life.