Philly Chamber of Commerce selects PHL airport leader as new CEO

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The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday named Chellie Cameron, CEO of Philadelphia International Airport and Northeast Philadelphia Airport, as its new president and chief executive officer.

Nearly 21,000 people worked at PHL and Northeast Philadelphia Airport before the pandemic, and about 1,000 were city employees.

Cameron, 53, will succeed Rob Wonderling, a former Republican senator and chief software officer, who warned of the threat to economic growth from the city’s progressive wing. Wonderling has been leading the group since 2009.

Cameron will step down from his municipal position on June 24 and take over as Speaker of the House on July 11, 2022. Keith Brune, chief operating officer of the airport, will become acting CEO of airports, Mayor Kenney announced Thursday.

An Air Force veteran, Cameron became the CEO of Airports in 2016.

Cameron joined PHL in 2011, first as deputy director of aviation, finance and administration, then as chief operating officer.

When she became CEO, one of her goals was to “transform the customer experience”, a term that encompassed “my employees, other airport stakeholders and passengers”.

She also started a podcast to communicate with a wider audience. Cameron wanted a new avenue to communicate with a large workforce — beyond newsletters and town halls — and shine a light on the people who make the airport work.

“I have a background in finance, it’s numbers, and so it was a new part of thinking about airport management,” said Cameron, who has an MBA and CPA. “It’s about telling the story.”

Although she describes herself as “not a communications specialist,” Cameron is an empathetic interviewer. On Episode 4 of her podcast, she spoke with Liberty USO CEO Joseph Brooks about the new USO lounge at the airport for military members and their families.

Cameron recalled her first visit to a USO, to Philadelphia in the early 1990s, when she was sent to Turkey after the Gulf War. “I was really scared and not sure what to expect,” she said, but the USO “made her feel comfortable for the trip.”

She took on a new role as the travel industry grappled with the financial fallout from the pandemic. A leading trade group for US airports has elected Cameron as one of its top advocates to Congress and the Biden administration.

Cameron helped secure $17 billion in additional aid for commercial airports across the country, including PHL.

“At the end of the day, we think airports are important enough to communities to be able to justify spending the dollars,” she said at the time.

It costs almost a million dollars a day to operate the airport. PHL received $116 million under the CARES Act relief package passed by Congress, equivalent to approximately 3.5 months of operating costs. Airports across the country have received a total of $10 billion in CARES Act grants.

Under his leadership, PHL recorded record passenger volumes in 2019, with just over 33 million passengers entering and leaving the airport.

Since then, Cameron has overseen the airport’s recovery from the pandemic closures that began in the spring of 2020 and dealt a severe blow to the travel industry.

Passenger traffic is back to 75% of 2019 levels, Cameron told City Council last month during budget hearings. That’s up from traffic which was only 50% of 2019 levels a year ago.

Under Cameron, PHL has embarked on an ambitious freight services expansion program under Cameron which will see the development of over 1 million square feet of freight buildings in the coming years. Officials said the completed project could generate $1 billion in annual economic impact.

At PHL, Cameron’s team also works regularly with American Airlines, the city’s main airline and one of its largest private employers.

Writer Catherine Dunn contributed to this article.

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