Two of the most important institutions in the Washington area for lawmakers on Capitol Hill are Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport.
"These two airports are the nation's airports, and many members of Congress travel through them on a weekly basis," said James E. Bennett, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority until the end of last week.
The authority has been overseeing operations at the two airports since it was created by Congress in 1987, when the federal government turned over ownership to a compact led by Virginia and Washington, D.C. Bennett came on board in 1996 as chief operating officer, and became CEO in 2003.
This spring he was recruited by the Abu Dhabi Airports Company to take over operations at the United Arab Emirates' capital airport, which is undergoing a major expansion. Bennett starts June 1.
Airport expansions are Bennett's business, having been involved in two at MWAA. Reagan National has seen $3 billion in improvements, including the terminal that opened a year after Bennett joined the authority.
Dulles -- "the growth airport for the region," Bennett said -- is only part-way through a series of projects that have included the AeroTrain system and a new air traffic control tower. Still to come are a new concourse and a fifth runway, and work began last year on an extension of Metrorail along the Dulles access road.
"Jim has done an outstanding job," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., whose district includes Dulles. "The MWAA board has a daunting task finding his replacement."
E. Lynn Hampton, the authority's chief financial officer, took over as acting president and CEO on Sunday while the board searches for a permanent replacement.
Bennett fell in love with airports as a teenager working a summer job mowing grass at the Birmingham, Ala., airport. "It was fascinating to work around all those airplanes," he told Auburn magazine, published by his university's alumni association.
After graduation, he landed a job with the Airport Operators Council International, then had management positions at airports in Shreveport, La.; Flint, Mich.; and Phoenix before moving to MWAA.
"Whether one is a visitor to either of these world-class airports or watching the construction of the Metrorail line, it is not difficult to appreciate the bold vision and many accomplishments of Jim Bennett," said House Majority Leader Hoyer.
This article appears in the May 15, 2010 edition of NJ Daily.