Aviation leader to run L.A. airports

Times Staff Writers

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today will announce the appointment of a nationally recognized aviation industry insider as executive director of Los Angeles’ airports agency, The Times has learned.

Gina Marie Lindsey, who guided a controversial $4.1-billion expansion at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, will take the reins at a pivotal moment in the history of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX and airports in Van Nuys, Ontario and Palmdale.

Villaraigosa has scheduled a news conference at Los Angeles International Airport today to introduce his choice, although he stopped short of disclosing her name. The Airport Commission is scheduled to meet with Lindsey today.


The agency is embroiled in litigation with airlines at LAX, which claim it violated the terms of their leases when it raised terminal fees earlier this year. The dispute is creating animosity at a time when officials need carriers’ support to move forward on crucial construction projects.

Also at stake is the future of a 15-year effort to fix the world’s fifth-busiest airport, known among travelers for outdated terminals that are cramped, unkempt and difficult to navigate. After spending about $150 million to devise several plans, the city still has not figured out a way to revamp LAX’s outdated infrastructure.

Lindsey is the former aviation director for the Seattle-Tacoma airport, where she pushed through an effort to build a third runway and expand the facility. She played such a pivotal role in shepherding the renovation that officials named part of a terminal concourse after her: the Gina Marie Lindsey International Arrivals Hall.

She also helped transform Alaska’s Anchorage International Airport from a refueling stop into an international cargo hub when she was director there.

She’s currently an executive vice president at McBee Strategic Consulting in Washington.

“She’s certainly seen in the industry as someone who is both a thinker and a doer -- a rare combination,” said Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International-North America, a national trade group. Lindsey was chairwoman of the organization for 2003 -- the first woman to hold the job.

Assuming her appointment is approved by the City Council, as expected, Lindsey will replace Lydia Kennard, who resigned Jan. 31 from her second stint as the agency’s executive director.

Lindsey was chosen after a nationwide search turned up more than 70 candidates, sources say. The list of applicants was narrowed to six, each of whom was interviewed by two search panels. Three finalists were forwarded to the mayor.

Officials ultimately settled on Lindsey because of her strong leadership abilities. Like Kennard, she’s known in the industry as a trailblazer, becoming one of the first women to head an airport when she became director of the Alaska International Airport System in 1989.

In L.A., Lindsey must immediately address conflicting demands from multiple constituencies, including outspoken residents, as well as local, state and federal officials.

“There’s reason to be concerned about this woman because she presided over an expansion at Seattle, but that’s a different job at a different time,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), adding that she doesn’t know Lindsey. Harman, a vocal opponent of expanding LAX, said she expected Lindsey to work with community representatives to craft a modernization plan that holds LAX to 78 million annual passengers.

City officials expect her to focus on passenger safety, spreading air traffic out among the region’s airports and preparations for new jumbo jets such as the Airbus A380.

Local leaders applauded Lindsey’s selection, saying her expansive knowledge of airport operations will be a plus.

“I think that she was an excellent choice and will bring an experience to LAWA that we need,” said Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. “Airline representatives who know her feel very comfortable with her ability to negotiate leases and work with the airlines.”

During her 11 years at Seattle-Tacoma, Lindsey faced obstacles similar to those she will confront at LAX. There, Lindsey changed the way airlines paid to use the airport -- something the L.A. agency is trying to do.

She also successfully battled vocal community opposition to build a third runway, now scheduled to open late next year. Calling her a gifted airport executive who knows how to collaborate, Lindsey’s former boss in Seattle, Mic Dinsmore, said she was able to push through the new runway despite concerns that it would affect sensitive wetlands.

“She doesn’t mince words,” said Dinsmore, the former chief executive of the Port of Seattle, which administers the Seattle-Tacoma airport. “She’s a tremendous motivator, an extraordinary communicator.”