DENVER (CBS4) – In his first interview since being named the new CEO of Denver International Airport, Phil Washington outlined big changes for DIA.

“I see DEN becoming the best airport in the world,” he told CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd.

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While Washington believes the sky’s the limit for the airport, the Army veteran and transportation industry leader is also grounded in reality.

“There’s a lot of challenges. We know that,” he acknowledged.

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Challenges are nothing new for Washington, who headed RTD before becoming CEO of LA Metro, where he led the planning and initial construction of one of North America’s biggest rail projects.

“There’s a lot of transferrable lessons learned that I can bring here,” he said.

Under a previous developer, the Great Hall project was an estimated $311 million over budget and years behind schedule. DIA took over the project in November 2019 and officials say the project is now within budget.

Washington inherits the Great Hall Project debacle here. He says he doesn’t want to point fingers but does want to understand what went wrong.

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He talked about his priority for Phase 3 of construction. Washington said he’s confident that he can stop the bleeding and maybe even finish the job early by streamlining the permitting process.

“I think that the security piece of this, whether it’s the North or South, the security piece has to be taken care of,” he said. “I think there’s a possibility to accelerate projects before the deadline.”

In addition to new projects — including 39 new gates — Washington says DIA can do a better job of maintaining what it has.

“Escalators, elevators, all moving sidewalks, restrooms,” he said.

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The airport’s human capital needs attention, too, he says, with a shortage of pilots and TSA workers. In Los Angeles, he helped launch a high school for disadvantaged kids focused on transportation infrastructure. His goals here include making the workforce more diverse and the airport more environmentally friendly. Transportation, he noted, is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions. He launched an all-electric fleet of buses in LA.

“So, I think we can bring some of the same principles to aviation,” he said. “The potential and possibilities are incredible, and I look forward to leaving this place better than I found it.”

Washington is not without some controversy. He says a former employee he disciplined, for how she treated others, has filed complaints against him. He says the first complaint — for discrimination because she’s white — was dismissed. The second complaint — alleging impropriety in how a contract was awarded — has been under review for a year.

If his nomination is confirmed by city council, Washington will start in his new role in the middle of July.

Shaun Boyd