Phil Washington has been confirmed as the new CEO of the Denver International Airport after receiving unanimous approval from the Denver City Council on Monday.
Washington, who was nominated for the position by Mayor Michael Hancock, is the first mayoral appointee to be approved through a council hearing since voters granted the council confirmation authority in the November 2020 election.
Washington previously served as assistant general manager, general manager and CEO of Denver’s Regional Transportation District from 2000 to 2015. Most recently, he worked as CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, leaving after his contract ended in May.
“I believe that (DIA) has a rare opportunity to shape the transformation of our region's critical infrastructure," Washington said in his council hearing. “A chance to provide aviation leadership at this pivotal, historic time would be a great honor. I believe that (DIA) can be the best airport in the world.”
Washington said his plans for the airport include increasing safety and security, making DIA the most environmentally sustainable airport in the U.S., making DIA a top preferred airport partner for airlines and improving customer service through better wayfinding.
One of Washington’s biggest priorities is expanding the airport. During the hearing, he said DIA should build for its 50-year capacity today, including building two more runways on top of the current one under construction and building 50 to 75 additional gates.
Washington, who is DIA’s first Black CEO, also said he hopes to increase equity and diversity in the aviation industry by building an aviation training center at DIA and making the airport a destination where people come to hang out even when they aren’t traveling, similar to Denver’s Union Station.
“We’re very lucky to have someone with your background, the caliber of what you bring to the table,” said Councilman Jolon Clark during the hearing. “There are a million places you could go and a million things you could do. To bring everything you bring back home … that means a lot.”
Washington replaces retiring DIA CEO Kim Day, who served 13 years in the position.
On Monday, the council also unanimously passed a proclamation honoring Day for her years of service to the airport, during which time Day expressed her support for her replacement.
“I loved being steward of this amazing asset and I am so proud that, with the help of the amazing employees at (DIA) including my leadership team, that I am leaving this airport in a strong financial position,” Day said. “I wish Phil all of the success and I will be watching him.”
Despite Washington’s extensive local and industry experience, his confirmation comes after a month of controversy due to an investigation launched against his former company, LA Metro.
The investigation alleges improprieties against LA Metro’s contractor Peace Over Violence, which handled the authority's sexual harassment counseling hotline. Search warrants were served in February and March, one of which specifically named Washington, according to court documents.
The lawsuit was filed by self-described whistleblower Jennifer Loew, who LA Metro claims is disgruntled after being passed over for a promotion and being investigated herself. LA Metro and Peace Over Violence have denied any wrongdoing and Washington himself dismissed Loew’s claims as “baseless.”
There was also some conflict after it was revealed that Hancock nominated Washington for DIA CEO without searching for any other candidates; however, Hancock said he did it to save time and money since he was confident Washington was right for the position.
“(DIA) plays a critical role to our local economy and to our region. And the CEO of (DIA) is a critical leadership position, especially at this time,” Hancock said during the hearing. “I knew that Phil Washington was the guy and the type of person that I wanted to lead (DIA).”
As LA Metro’s CEO, Washington managed an $8 billion budget and oversaw $18 billion to $20 billion in capital projects. It has 11,000 employees and transports 1.2 million boarding passengers daily on 2,200 clean-air buses and six rail lines.
As general manager of RTD, Washington led and implemented the FasTracks program, one of the largest voter-approved transportation expansion programs in the country at the time. He also helped secure a public-private partnership to bring the University of Colorado A Line from Union Station to DIA.
Washington also served in the U.S. Army for over 24 years, reaching the rank of Command Sergeant Major, and was appointed to the federal Transportation Transition Agency Review Team by President Joe Biden’s administration.
Denver Gazette reporter Dennis Huspeni contributed to this report.