In a controversial move that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms likened to “declaring war on the city,” the Georgia State Senate voted on March 7th to remove control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport from the city of Atlanta and place it with the state.
Weeks later, the Georgia House approved a heavily altered version of the bill, softening the state takeover into the creation of a state-run oversight committee.
Yet amid all the debate over who has the right to control and profit off of the busiest airport in the world, few are talking about passengers’ rights to a safe travel environment, or how to fix Hartsfield-Jackson’s ongoing failure to provide one.
The Record of City-Level Corruption Is Long and Indisputable
As one of the biggest economic assets in the state, Atlanta’s famous airport has featured prominently in the city’s recent corruption scandals, as city officials have routinely awarded sought-after contracts with the airport to friends, family, or anyone who offers a sufficient bribe.
A federal investigation into the problem began in 2016 under former mayor Kasim Reed, who did his best to hide that such an investigation was taking place, especially from City Council members who were about to vote on the dubious proposed contracts.
Shortly after the investigation began, Reed fired Hartsfield-Jackson’s general manager, Miguel Southwell, and the two of them publically hurled insults, threats, and accusations of corruption at each other before abruptly reconciling. Nearly two years after that incident, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered that Reed had secretly paid Southwell $147,000 right before they announced their truce.
Under Mayor Bottoms, Reed’s own preferred successor, things have been no cleaner. Just before the vote on the possible state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson, Lohrasb “Jeff” Jafari, whose company has done huge amounts of construction work at the airport, was indicted on 51 counts of bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, and witness tampering. This includes bribing Adam Smith, Atlanta’s former Chief Purchasing Officer, and then trying to intimidate him into keeping those bribes a secret. Smith himself is now in jail.
Following the indictment, Mayor Bottoms has been among those to return campaign donations received from Jafari.
Greedy Mismanagement Puts Passengers at Serious Risk
Critics of the push for state oversight argue that state-level politicians only want the airport for themselves and are just as likely to exploit it unethically.
Whether this is the case remains to be seen. What’s clear, however, is that efforts to maintain the airport’s busiest-in-the-world status, and then milk that status for personal gain, consistently lead to dangerous conditions for travelers.
Under the status-quo of favoring bribe-paying contractors above the most qualified or cost-effective ones, and putting expansion before maintenance, Hartsfield-Jackson has been the site of:
- A shuttle bus crash that injured 17 passengers.
- Severe escalator injuries, mainly of children.
- An escalator fire that injured two firefighters.
- An 11-hour power outage that trapped passengers in the Plane Train tunnels, perilously close to an electrical fire in progress.
This is by no means a complete list, yet none of the political posturing over control of Hartsfield-Jackson offers any promise of improved safety.
At The Stoddard Firm, we have a long history of bringing lawsuits against Hartsfield Jackson Airport and its contractors, when the negligence of these persons causes injuries to airport passengers. In fact, we have caught the airport management company mis-representing facts and hiding documents in lawsuits on more than one occasion. If you’ve been injured by the hazardous conditions at this airport, contact the premises liability lawyers at The Stoddard Firm for information on getting the compensation you deserve.