Los Angeles airport chief quits to take job in Saudi Arabia

Justin Erbacci, head of Los Angeles World Airports has announced he is leaving to run NEOM Airports, a regional airport being developed in northwest Saudi Arabia.

The city airport department is in the midst of a massive $12 billion capital improvement program underway to make Los Angeles International Airport accessible to public transportation and improve the user experience for travelers ahead of the city hosting the Olympics in 2028.

“I want to thank Justin Erbacci for his seven years of service to LAWA, during which he oversaw major new projects and guided the airport through the pandemic when most travel ceased,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement.

The Theme Building reflected in a window at Los Angeles International Airport, where CEO Justin Erbacci is leaving in the midst of $12 billion of capital projects.

Bloomberg News

Bass named Beatrice Hsu, president emeritus and a 10-year veteran of the Board of Airport Commissioners, to serve as interim CEO “to ensure day-to-day operations and major projects continue uninterrupted,” while the airport conducts a search for Erbacci’s replacement.

Erbacci’s last day will be Oct. 6, according to a LAWA spokesperson.

LAWA governs LAX, the nation’s sixth-busiest airport with 42.9 million passengers year-to-date in July, and Van Nuys Airport, a general aviation facility in the San Fernando Valley.

Erbacci, who joined LAWA in 2016, took over as interim chief executive during the first six months of 2020 before being named to the head slot.

“I am thankful for the incredible work that the Los Angeles World Airports team does to keep our airports running safely and efficiently. The work we are doing at LAWA is truly transformative for our airports and our city, and I am proud to have been a part of the effort,” Erbacci said in a prepared statement provided to The Bond Buyer.

This is the second loss of LAWA’s chief to another country. Erbacci was named by former Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2020 to replace Deborah Flint, who left in December to run Toronto’s airport authority.

The airport has experienced some executive-level turnover. Tatiana Starostina replaced Ryan Yakubik as chief financial officer in 2020, taking charge of the airport’s massive debt program.

Erbacci also leaves at a time when the airport is embroiled in a dispute with LINXS, the P3 developer of its people mover project.

Airport officials balked when the developer asked for millions more and an additional time extension. The issue is currently being worked through in mediation.

The dispute landed the $1.2 billion of private activity bonds issued for the automated people mover a rating watch negative from Fitch Ratings in early August. The BBB-minus rated senior revenue bonds were issued in 2018 through the California Municipal Finance Authority on behalf of LAX Integrated Express Solutions, LLC. The debt issued for that project won The Bond Buyer’s Far West Deal of the Year award in 2018.

Bass described the next few years for the airport “as an exciting new chapter at LAWA” that has been moving ahead with its multi-billion dollar in projects to prepare the city for a series of international events.

“We will welcome the FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, two of the largest events in the world, and we will also see many exciting projects to modernize LAX completed, including the Automated People Mover, a Consolidated Rent-A-Car Facility, and over two million square feet of terminal space being added within the airport’s existing footprint with the construction of Concourse 0 and Terminal 9,” Bass said. “I look forward to ensuring that LAWA has the leadership needed to navigate this important time.”

Erbacci said he has “confidence in incoming interim CEO Beatrice Hsu and her ability to lead the LAWA team during this transition and executive search process.”