DENVER (CBS4) – In his first interview since being named the new CEO of Denver International Airport, Phil Washington described the big changes for DIA. “I see DEN becoming the best airport in the world,” he told CBS4 political expert Shaun Boyd.

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While Washington thinks the sky is the limit for the airport, the military veteran and transportation industry leader is also grounded in reality.

“There are a lot of challenges. We know it, ”he admitted.

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The challenges are not new for Washington, which led RTD before becoming CEO of LA Metro, where he led the planning and initial construction of one of North America’s largest rail projects.

“There are a lot of transferable lessons learned that I can bring here,” he said.

Washington here inherits the Great Hall debacle. The project is now over budget by millions of dollars and years behind schedule. He says he doesn’t want to point fingers but wants to understand what went wrong.

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He spoke of his priority for phase three of construction: “I think the security room needs to be taken care of… needs to be moved. “

Washington said he’s confident he can stop the bleeding and maybe even finish the job sooner by streamlining the clearance process.

“I think the security part of that, whether it’s the north or the south, the security part has to be taken care of,” he said. “I think it is possible to speed up projects before the deadline.

In addition to new projects – including 39 new doors – Washington says the DIA can do a better job maintaining what it has.

“Escalators, elevators, all moving walks, toilets,” he said.

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The airport’s human capital also needs attention, he says, with a shortage of pilots and TSA employees. In Los Angeles, he helped start a high school for underprivileged children focused on transportation infrastructure. Its objectives here are to diversify the workforce and make the airport more environmentally friendly. Transport, he noted, is the main cause of greenhouse gas emissions. He launched a fleet of all-electric buses in Los Angeles.

“So I think we can bring some of the same principles to aviation,” he said. “The potential and the possibilities are incredible, and I can’t wait to leave this place better than I have found it.”

Washington is not without controversy. He says a former employee he sanctioned, for the way she treated others, filed complaints against him. He says the first complaint – of discrimination because she is white – was dismissed. The second complaint – alleging an irregularity in the way a contract was awarded – has been under investigation for a year.

If his appointment is confirmed by city council, Washington will take up his new post in mid-July.

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