SAN DIEGO – December 2, 2016 – After almost 21 years at the helm of San Diego International Airport, with the last 15 years as President/CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, Thella F. Bowens will retire on March 31, 2017. Bowens was the first and only person to hold the top executive position at the Airport Authority, owner and operator of the airport. Upon retirement, she will return “home” to Texas, where she once worked and where many members of her family reside.
The Airport Authority is governed by a nine-member Board whose next step will be to find a replacement for Bowens.
“I have passionately enjoyed my time here, and I am so very proud of our exemplary organization and high-performing team,” said Bowens. “As I move on to the next stage of my life, I do so knowing that the Board and staff will continue to operate a world-class airport for the 21st century.”
“We are extraordinarily fortunate to have had someone of Thella’s impeccable character and steady hand guide the airport – and the Authority – through so very much,” said Airport Authority Board Chairman April Boling. “From the launch of the Authority in 2003, to a successful pivot after the defeat of the 2006 ballot measure, to the expansion of Terminal 2 and construction of the Rental Car Center, to adding significant new domestic and international nonstop routes, to exemplary financial growth and stewardship, to making the airport a model of sustainability, her accomplishments comprise a stunning legacy.”
SAN is the busiest single-runway airport in the United States and last year served 20 million passengers, a record. Bowens oversaw the airport’s establishment as a true international gateway – today it offers nonstop service to the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada and Mexico, and next year will add nonstop service to Germany and Switzerland.
Under Bowens’ leadership, Authority assets have grown from $473 million to $2.217 billion, and annual operating revenue has increased from $97 million to $234 million. SAN adopted one of the first sustainability policies for a major U.S. airport and was the first to publish a sustainability report based on Global Reporting Initiative standards. SAN recently published its fourth sustainability report, available at sustain.san.org.
From 1996 to 2003, when the Port of San Diego operated the airport, Bowens was the Senior Director of Aviation. From September 2001 through December 2002, simultaneous with her position at the Port, she served as Interim Executive Director/President of the new Airport Authority and performed the monumental task of planning and implementing the transfer of the airport to its role as an independent entity.
Prior to coming to San Diego, Bowens served as the Deputy Executive Director of Kansas City’s Aviation Department. She previously served as Budget Administrator for the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport.
With a total of 26 years in aviation, she has long been recognized as an industry leader. This past June, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce appointed her to the Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. In 2014, she chaired the California Airports Council and in 2011-2012, chaired Airports Council International-North America.
In 2010, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation appointed Bowens to the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee. She is a member of World Governing Board of Airports Council International and a board member of the American Association of Airport Executives Policy Review Committee. Bowens holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College of Columbia University and has done graduate work at the University of North Texas and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
She is also a graduate of the Executive Leadership Institute sponsored by the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.
“As the Airport Authority’s first and only President/CEO, Thella has been part visionary, part innovator, and part pioneer,” said Boling. “Her first order of business, and one of her proudest accomplishments, was to build an agile, high-performing team. That team is now tasked with building on her impressive record of achievement.”