John Selden

The general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is departing after just over two years in the post to take the reins at the airport in Saudi Arabia‘s newest showpiece city.

John Selden will become CEO of the airport development company at Neom, a so-called “future city” being built from scratch on the Red Sea in the northwestern part of the country, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported

Mr. Selden visited Saudi Arabia in December 2019 on a mission led by the U.S.-Saudi Business Council, joining his counterparts from Dallas and Seattle for seminars on airport management and construction. 

About a year and a half into Mr. Selden’s tenure at Hartsfield-Jackson, the pandemic struck, driving a 97 percent drop in traffic at the world’s busiest airport within a matter of weeks. 

Mr. Selden said in June 2020 that the crisis had at least offered some downtime that helped accelerate construction on some parts of the airport’s $6 billion capital improvement plant without scheduled closures. 

In Neom, Mr. Selden will be operating from a clean slate in partnership with experts recruited from all over the world. The city is to feature the latest innovations in urban design, mobility and sustainability and aims to become both the Middle Eastern nation’s technology hub and a global standard-bearer for innovation and smart-city implementation. It is a key modernization project driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who some say is the de facto ruler, handling day to day operations of the government of his father, King Salman. MBS, as he is known, has been tasked with diversifying Saudi Arabia’s largely oil-based economy. 

The development’s website says Neom will “embody an international ethos and embrace a culture of exploration, risk-taking and diversity — all supported by a progressive law compatible with international norms and conducive to economic growth.”

Mr. Selden came to Atlanta in October 2018 after a stint as deputy general manager at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. He has more than 30 years of aviation experience including time as a Navy commander and a commercial pilot. 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Mr. Selden helped the airport prepare for recovery from the unforeseen crisis while keeping staff focused on the construction plan that will drive the next 20 years. 

“We are sad to see him go, but very happy for him and his future endeavors,” the mayor said. 

Mr. Selden’s replacement has not been announced. It’s unclear whether there will be a national search like the one that brought him to Atlanta, or whether the airport will promote from within. Mr. Selden told the AJC that the airport has ample expertise in its ranks, with multiple deputy general managers who are equipped to step into the role. 

“Coming to Atlanta is one of the best career decisions I’ve made,” Mr. Selden said in a news release from the city. “It has been an honor to serve with Mayor Bottoms and to lead such an exceptional group of people who help make the Atlanta airport one of the very best in the world.”

Hartsfield-Jackson is consistently named the world’s busiest airport, though 2020 changed that as the pandemic battered demand in the U.S. Traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson dropped by 60 percent for the year. The airport was named the world’s most efficient in 2020 by the Air Transport Research Society. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...