Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was already six years into its massive modernization program, scheduled to culminate in 2023, when Deborah Flint was named executive director of the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) in June 2015.
Flint was well suited and highly qualified for the position at LAX, the second largest airport in the U.S., following her 18 years of finance responsibilities and 5 years as aviation director of the Port of Oakland, which oversees the Oakland seaport and Oakland International Airport (OAK), California’s fourth largest airport.
While in that position, Flint delivered the $480-million BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Airport Rail project after years of effort and challenges. She executed strategies to stabilize and reverse passenger traffic decline in a difficult market environment; redesigned OAK’s customer experience to make the airport more competitive; and marketed, developed and negotiated numerous development and investment transactions in terminal renovation and hanger development.
Many facets of Flint’s life drew her to the aviation industry. Her background as the daughter of two immigrants clearly made an impact and involved “moving and flying to different parts of the world to pursue opportunity,” she said. “Those early experiences with aviation and airports made a lasting impression.”
With a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from San Jose State University, her work in the airport/aviation industry commenced straight out of college. “My career path allowed me to have leadership roles in numerous and differing airport responsibilities,” Flint said, “which fueled my passion for the airport industry and prepared me well.”
Her leadership style is based on collaboration. “I’m excited about the team I’m leading at Los Angeles World Airports,” Flint said, “and I love what I do because I’m part of a dynamic global industry.”
“My team often hears me say ‘keep it real and make it happen’. We have to get an incredible amount of work done in a fast moving environment. On any day an issue from across the world will bring change to our operations. But how we go about that work — our values and approach are so important. I respect the role we have and our responsibility for the people that work at this airport, the travelers, and our stakeholders, who depend on us.”
The aviation industry continually evolves in a rapidly changing world. Flint sees the expectations of service delivery by airports will continue to intensify. “Passengers have made a cultural shift in their expectations of the airport experience,” she said. “These shifts involve the use of technology and person to person interaction. Communities expect more transparency and partnerships from airports. Our business, construction and development partners expect modern business and project management tools and practices.”
Her enthusiasm for the aviation industry and the progression of her career in the field has been fueled by the acute advice from mentors. “I’ve been told to be bold and be your best self and work really hard at it,” Flint notes. “For people that are breaking ground in industries where people may not look like them, either race, gender, or age, it’s tempting to believe that success is being like those people. But pioneers are pattern breakers, an essential ingredient to the innovation we need today and into the future.”
Flint views LAX as the front door to the City of Los Angeles. She said, “The awe of visiting L.A. must begin and end at LAX. We are putting L.A. back in to LAX.”
As major U.S. airlines at LAX invest more than $1 billion combined to renovate terminals in order to cater to the smart and savvy travelers, Flint adds, “we are on a new trajectory; we have transformed the guest experience at LAX.”
By Patricia M. Szpekowski, APR