Denver City Council committee advances nomination of Phil Washington for airport CEO

A Denver City Council committee advanced Mayor Michael Hancock's nominee for CEO of Denver International Airport on Wednesday after he discussed his plans and addressed questions about his past transportation roles.

Denver City Council committee advances nomination of Phil Washington for airport CEO

A Denver City Council committee advanced Mayor Michael Hancock’s nominee for CEO of Denver International Airport on Wednesday after he discussed his plans and addressed questions about his past transportation roles.

Phil Washington is expected to receive a final vote July 12 after the business and aviation services committee voted 6-0 to advance his nomination to the full council. Retiring CEO Kim Day will step down July 16.

Council members asked questions spurred by Washington’s atypical background for an airport leader given it would be the first airport job. He spent more than two decades in the U.S. Army and then 21 years at two public transportation agencies — metro Denver’s Regional Transportation District and, until this spring, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or L.A. Metro. He spent six years leading each agency as CEO.

They also focused on Washington’s initial plans for the airport, including reviewing DIA’s terminal renovation project, during a stint that could end when Denver’s next mayor is elected in two years.

He said construction has made it even tougher for travelers to navigate the terminal, and he wants to form a task force charged with enhancing the customer experience.

Councilman Chris Herndon, also an Army veteran, underlined Washington’s ascension to command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank. “They do not just give those out,” Herndon said. “What Phil has done — 24 years (in the military) demonstrated that he is truly a leader, and that cannot be understated.”

Washington also faced brief questions about an L.A. Metro employee’s pending allegations of corruption and improper contracting that spurred search warrants this year from sheriff’s deputies seeking records and communications. Washington and L.A. Metro officials have portrayed the employee’s claims as unfounded and the warrants as politically motivated.

“I know that they are all baseless, and I think they will be adjudicated in due course,” Washington told council members.

They appeared willing to set the issue aside.

“I will just say, any large organization has litigation,” Councilwoman Robin Kniech said. “The city of Denver has litigation on a constant basis. … I have considered those things and I do not find them to be a barrier to this candidate’s qualifications and the role (Washington is) taking on.”

On Wednesday, the airport announced that it was forecasting nearly 1.3 million travelers will pass through DIA between July 1 and July 6, which would be a 2% increase over traffic during the Fourth of July holiday period in 2019. Those numbers show a quick recovery for leisure traffic from pandemic lows, but Washington said lagging business travel numbers remain a concern.

“I think business travel will be what makes or breaks the aviation industry … and it needs to come back very quickly,” Washington said.