The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) was created by a California state law in October 2001; this gave it the responsibility to establish and operate airports within San Diego...

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) was created by a California state

law in October 2001; this gave it the responsibility to establish and operate airports within San

Diego County. Most importantly, from Thella Bowens’s perspective, the law required the San

Diego Unified Port District (Port of San Diego) to transfer operation of San Diego’s international

airport to the SDCRAA by January 2003. Bowens was the current senior director of the Aviation

Division within the Port of San Diego that was responsible for operating the San Diego

International Airport. When the law was passed, she was named Interim Executive Director of

the SDCRAA, and assigned an interim advisory board to help manage the transition.

Bowens’s tenure with the organization gave her an important understanding of the

organization’s operations and its history. For example, the San Diego International Airport

accounted for about $4.3 billion or roughly 4% of San Diego’s regional economy. Forecasts

called for air travel to more than double to 35 million passengers by 2030, and contribute up to

$8 billion to the regional economy. In addition, Bowens had participated in the Aviation Division’s

strategic planning process in 2001. She was well positioned to lead this effort.

As she thought about managing the startup of the SDCRAA, two broad but interdependent

categories of initial activity emerged: developing the transition plan and dealing with the legal

and regulatory issues.


Bowens took the senior team from the old Aviation Division to an off-site workshop to discuss

the creation and management of an effective transition process. This group understood the

importance of SDCRAA quickly becoming a stand-alone agency and the need to be seen

differently in the marketplace. The group recommended revising the existing strategic plan, to

hire staff to research, discuss, and create a transition plan, and to conduct retreats with

employees from multiple organizational levels. In response, Bowens chartered the Airport

Transition Team to ensure the smooth and seamless transfer of operations and public services

provided by the airport without regard to which agency was responsible for their provision.

In May 2002, seven employees were handpicked from the Aviation Division to become

members of the Airport Transition Team and relieved of their day-to-day job responsibilities so

they could focus on the transition. The selection criteria included the ability to work within a

process yet think outside of the box, to communicate well with others in a team, and to influence

directors and managers without having formal authority. A one-and-a-half-day kick-off meeting

was held to set expectations, to communicate goals and responsibilities, and to initiate the

team. A “war room” was established for the team to keep records, hold meetings, and serve as

a communication hub. The team named themselves the “Metamorphs.”

Many Metamorph members came from different parts of the organization and, having never

worked together, needed to rely on each other to effectively design the transition process.

Senior team member Angela Shafer-Payne, then director of Airport Business and

Administration, worked closely with the Metamorphs and led formal team-building activities

throughout the year. Through their work together, the Metamorphs discovered how large and

daunting the organizational change was and yet appreciated the unique, once-in-a-lifetime

opportunity to make an impact. As one member put it, “How many times in your life can you say

that you helped put together a brand-new organization?”

The Metamorphs decided that to meet their charter, any transition plan had to be designed

specifically to minimize disruption to customers and service, minimize airport and non-airport

financial impacts, and properly address and resolve all legal and regulatory matters. These

criteria guided the creation of 12 functional teams (which expanded later to 19). Responsibility

for the teams was divided among the transition team members, and each team was composed

of employees from the old Aviation Division and other Port of San Diego departments. Their

mission was to collect data, establish new or parallel functions for the SDCRAA, and highlight

any issues related to the start-up of that particular function. Once the teams were in place, they

were given tools to use and questions that needed to be addressed. Each team set aside time
Sep 24, 2022

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