Left to right: Claire McLeveighn, director of international affairs and engagement for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Zhang Dawei, vice governor of Henan province, China; Warren Jones, aviation development manager for the airport.

A regional airport in a central Chinese provincial capital is looking to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for advice on how to manage future expansion projects.

Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport in Henan province is considering signing a memorandum of understanding with the Atlanta airport that would commit both sides to exploring chances for collaboration, according to Claire McLeveighn, Hartsfield’s director of international affairs and engagement.

Zhengzhou, a city of about 7 million people, is the political capital and economic center of Henan, which has a population of nearly 100 million.

A 13-person Henan delegation headlined by Vice Governor Zhang Dawei and Zhengzhou airport General Manager Yue Wenhai visited Atlanta July 19-20 to tour local attractions and to visit the world’s busiest airport.

“The rapid development of the city of Atlanta and its airport has greatly impressed us, so we just want to learn from this experience,” Mr. Zhang told GlobalAtlanta through a translator in an interview after the delegation’s Hartsfield tour.

The Zhengzhou airport will consider sending personnel to share practices on construction and expansion projects as it continues a quest to become a regional air hub, Mr. Zhang said.

Atlanta’s airport is in a unique position to offer advice on how to become a connecting point, said Warren Jones, Hartsfield’s aviation development manager. About 64 percent of the 90 million passengers who landed at the world’s busiest airport last year were connecting to other destinations.

Briefing the delegates on the morning of July 20, Mr. Jones described projects like the nearly $1.4 billion international terminal under construction and the new Consolidated Car Rental Facility set to open in November. The facility is connected to the airport by an automated-people-mover train.

Mr. Jones also outlined factors that play into Hartsfield’s success, stressing that the layout of the airport’s runways is the secret to its efficiency. All five run parallel to each other, minimizing wait times for takeoffs and landings.

“It’s easy to get planes in and out of this airport, and that’s one of the success stories of AirTran and Delta Air Lines,” the airport’s two largest tenants, occupying 20 and 70 percent of its capacity respectively, Mr. Jones said.

Later, Mr. Jones and Ms. McLeveighn took the delegates to “Radar Hill,” where an orange ground radar antenna twirls in constant motion, sending out signals that help air traffic controllers determine the location of planes in the sky. The elevated position offers views of the runways and terminals as well as a nice backdrop for delegations to take photos commemorating their tours.

Mr. Jones pointed to the Delta and AirTran planes systematically swooping in for landings and accelerating for takeoff as proof of the efficiency he had described in the briefing. While Hartsfield has employed the parallel design since the early 1970s, newer airports in places like Incheon, South Korea, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, are emulating the model, Mr. Jones said.

After taking in the view, Vice Governor Zhang was treated to a ride in a “Striker,” a massive yellow fire truck optimized for airport use. The $750,000 vehicle travels at speeds up to 70 mph and shoots water from joystick-controlled cannons on its bumper and roof. Mr. Zhang was impressed with the vehicle and requested information on Oshkosh Corp., the company that makes them, Mr. Jones said.

As the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger volume and operations, groups from around the world often want to tour Hartsfield to learn from its expertise. Mr. Jones said a collaborative attitude is necessary in an intertwined global industry where one player’s success or failure invariably affects another.

“We’re a very close, small industry, and if we can share best practices, it doesn’t just benefit our airport, it benefits the whole system,” he said.

Ms. McLeveighn, the international affairs director, said the airport has hosted many delegations during the year since she transferred there from a similar position at the mayor’s office. She gave the last tour about a month ago, but the requests tend to come in waves, she said.

Judging by their questions, the Henan delegates seemed most interested in the airport’s authority and funding structures. Hartsfield is a public entity owned by the City of Atlanta (the airport’s employees technically work for Mayor Shirley Franklin), but all its expenditures come from a separate enterprise fund that is not tied to property tax revenues or other city assistance. In 2007, the airport’s revenues from landing fees, concessions, parking and property rentals topped $350 million. Nearly a third of that came from parking fees.

The self-sustaining system gives the airport flexibility and independence in its budget. By cutting expenditures in each department, General Manager Ben DeCosta has been able to avoid laying off any of the airport’s workers during the current recession, Mr. Jones explained to the Chinese group.

The delegates visited the CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park after flying into Atlanta on Sunday, July 19, from Biloxi, Miss., where they attended the annual National Governors Association conference. The delegation toured Hartsfield the next morning just before boarding a plane to Chicago, where they planned to meet with officials at O’Hare International Airport.

Atlanta has been the world’s busiest airport by passenger volume since 1997, but it wasn’t until a few years ago the airport edged out O’Hare to become the busiest by takeoffs and landings as well.

For more information, visit www.atlanta-airport.com

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...