HOUSTON / ATLANTA / MONROVIA

One-on-One with Balram Bheodari

General Manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Conducted by Cynthia L. Blandford, Publisher

As the publisher of iF Magazine in Atlanta, Georgia, thank you for allowing us the time on your busy schedule to conduct this important interview. I am also pleased to congratulate you on being appointed by outgoing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as Atlanta Airport’s General Manager, better known as ATL. 

Hartsfield-Jackson is a global gateway, offering nonstop service to more than 150 domestic and 70 international destinations. These locales include major commercial centers in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, and South and Central America. ATL also holds the distinction of being the first airport in the world to serve more than 100 million passengers in a single year.

First, tell us about yourself and walk us through your background.

First, I want to thank iF Magazine for this interview opportunity and add my congratulations on the launch of iF Magazine here in Atlanta. I am delighted to be included in the inaugural edition of the magazine that will debut in January 2022. So thrilled to share highlights of my background. And feel free to call me “B.”  

I was born in Guyana, a country in South America. When I reached the age of 18, I moved to New York. I enlisted in the United States Army, and after a 22-year career, retired, after graduating from Troy University with a bachelor’s in aviation management. I was also fortunate to have completed an Executive Training Program at Emory University. After years of experience, I am also accredited as an airport professional. Validation of the work I put in is the honor of being recently appointed as the Airport General Manager by outgoing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. 

I am also immensely proud of my accomplishments since arriving at ATL in June 2000. In particular, the role

I played in the development of the consolidated rental car center and its associated ATL SkyTrain. It was exciting and vital to the growth and development of the airport. I am also proud of having a leadership role in the opening of the Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal (which, before the pandemic, accommodated more than 12 million international travelers each year).

As the State of  Georgia’s largest employer with more than 63,000 jobs on-site, what does the Managing Director of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) do in your capacity on a day-to-day basis? Your passion for serving is visible through your dedication to work. 

“Each day is different,” B said. “There are days when I review our airport strategy or capital program for the first half of the day. Then, there are days when I meet with airline representatives, or our stakeholders. Then there are those days when I talk to our community leadership or city mayors in the surrounding jurisdictions. I particularly enjoy spending time with the ATL employees celebrating their achievements or their accomplishments.”

Balram noted that every day the most important thing on his mind is the mental and physical wellness and safety of his employees, and “that’s all 63,000 employees that work here at the airport,” “B” shared with iF. “I want our employees to know that they are valued and appreciated, every day.  ATL is a 24/7 operation. Our peak hour of operation starts around 5:30 in the morning. That’s how I like to start my day.”

Blandford expressed that this type of leadership being demonstrated by GM Balram is what will keep ATL a leader in the airport industry. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the economic jewel of Georgia, generating a $34.8 billion economic impact for metro Atlanta.  

Now with ATL’s capital improvement plan ATLNext, a 20-year blueprint for growth, the airport is poised to modernize its Domestic Terminal, expand its cargo operations and concourses, replace two of its parking facilities, and pave the way for a hotel and mixed-use development that will further solidify Hartsfield-Jackson as a beacon of economic strength and customer service in Georgia – and beyond.

What are some past, present, and future goals of ATL? 

“B” shared with iF Magazine that from 2016 to 2021, Hartsfield Jackson completed $2.2 billion worth of construction work,  of which $1.7 Billion was eligible for female and minority business. Of that 33% of the $1.7 Billion was paid to female, minority, and disadvantage business in five years. 

With $63 Million in annual economic impact in the region, our ATL’s priorities are reviewing and implementing our 20-year strategic plan, identifying economic opportunities, servicing contracts, strengthening our airport concessions program, and ensuring that female and minority businesses enjoy the benefits of the ATL Next Program. Forecasting growth to meet capacity and demand, Corporate and Social Responsibility and are also key focus areas for ATL.  

Tell us what the Accredited Airport Executive (A.A.E.) designation means to you and the ATL?

A frequent recipient of awards of excellence, ATL is recognized for its leadership in concessions, operations, sustainability, architectural engineering, and construction. Congratulations to you on becoming an Accredited Airport Executive (A.A.E.). 

“We are excited to have received the National AAE (Accredited Airport Executive) designation. It is a designation to those that have demonstrated their ability to manage the responsibility of airport management, as well as IP (International Airport Professional) designation on the global stage. These two designations and honors are awarded only to individuals who are subject matter experts in all matters regarding Airport Governance,” the GM noted with pride. AAE designation commands profound respect in the airport industry. We are honored to have achieved this special acknowledgment, stated GM Balram.

ATL Airport Art integrates art into the daily fabric of the Atlanta Airport for the benefit of passengers and employees. With over 1,000 artworks in one of the largest public art sites in the Southeastern U.S., there are a few in particular I am extremely impressed with.  Tell us how ATL envisioned the idea of “Good Trouble,” A Tribute to former Congressman Honorable John Lewis, and how are passengers receiving the exhibit?

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting the late Honorable Congressman John Lewis. When we determined that we would display “Good Trouble,” A Tribute to the  Congressman, we included him in our planning and sought his opinion and input. We were focused on minorities and the broad shoulders that a John Lewis could draw to the exhibit. We were also sure that this exhibit would also be a great success. Words can’t express the impact that Congressman John Lewis had both here in Atlanta and worldwide.

The $250,000 installation along a walkway between the domestic terminal atrium and the arrivals hall includes artifacts, videos, and photos from the life of Lewis, a Freedom Rider who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, was beaten by police during the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and has been a Georgia congressman for more than 30 years.

The largest art exhibit in the City of Atlanta, I recently experienced this thought-provoking, mind-boggling piece of artwork that captured my immediate attention, and I found myself lost in its beauty, Publisher Blandford noted. It is amazing to learn that the Atlanta airport’s art program was launched in 1980 and is an enormous, multifaceted exhibition of artworks seen by some 270,000 people every day (as well as the 60,000 employees who work at the Atlanta airport). On behalf of iF Magazine Atlanta, congratulations on ATL’s outstanding vision!

As COVID-19 continues to evolve and with the new variants emerging as a potential public health risk, how have you prepared your employees, passengers, and partners to help manage and mitigate the spread of the virus at the ATL?

When I served as Deputy GM, I helped lead the airport through the thick of the COVID pandemic. That week in March of 2020, passenger traffic dropped by 97 percent within a week of the shutdown orders.  We followed the White House and Federal COVID-19 guidelines and protocols to help ensure that our staff and passengers remained safe during this challenging time. 

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport COVID-19 Rating

The Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport COVID-19 Rating is pending, evaluating the standards and effectiveness of hygiene processes and other preventative measures in place at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus. COVID-19 Airport Rating includes cleaning and disinfection procedures and consistency, social distancing policies and control, face mask usage, sanitizer availability, standard and use of PPE by staff in the airport, and other hygiene applications being used.

As we wrap-up our interview today, I want to say a heartfelt thanks and appreciation to you in particular and also to recognize your great staff that I work with on a regular basis including Alrene Richards Barr, Elliott Paige, Tim Turner and Myrna White. These individuals are outstanding individuals and ATL is fortunate to have them on board. I also appreciate Andrew Gobeil for helping to arrange for today’s interview. Special thanks to Simeon Nunnally of iF for his participation, as well.

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