Rocket Man

Diego Rincón never thought that keeping his focus on technology would provide him a cosmopolitan experience, but the deputy director of aviation for the Philadelphia International Airport has enjoyed a career that has been distinctly international

Rincón’s current project at the Philadelphia International Airport involves terminal, airside, and landside improvements to the existing facility. Projects specifics include a new runway, a new tower, a runway extension, new terminals, an automated people mover, and a consolidated rental-car facility.

In flight school, all Diego Rincón ever wanted to be was a pilot. The high-flying, continent-hopping life would suit him, he thought. Then fiscal realities crept in. He didn’t feel the economic outlook for the profession was where he wanted it to be. As much as aviation was in his blood, the thought of becoming a pilot was more for sport rather than profession.

Rincón instead embraced his knack for tech and started to focus more on airport design in college. He studied simulation technologies, three-dimensional modeling, computer-aided design, and drafting.

“I guess I went from the glamour of wanting to be pilot and seeing the world to a more of a geek or  nerd on the technical side and working with more esoteric divisions of software, design, and laying out airports,” Rincón says.

Diego Rincón is the deputy director of aviation capital development for the Philadelphia International Airport

The change in focus helped Rincón land his first job in the industry; airport planner at an engineering company, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport was one of the firm’s clients. From there, he became an airport simulation and capacity expert.
“That was where the technical background really kicked in, so it was a good choice to switch from the piloting to the technical aspect. That’s how I found my focus in simulation technology,” Rincón explains.

After Minneapolis, Rincón’s technical expertise would land him in fascinating roles all over the country and the globe. He couldn’t have imagined how captivating working in technology could be until he helped design new configurations for airborne operations at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The project was held to NATO standards, and Rincón found himself building airfields for Blackhawk helicopter training operations.

Another project Rincón remembers especially fondly was in Argentina. He worked on master-plan studies for 16 airports as part of a privatization deal. He and his team had their own plane and flew from city to city for three and a half months doing work for their client.

“That was just a fantastic assignment because we got to see a lot of Argentina— more than a lot of Argentines get to see in their lifetime,” Rincón says.

This was just the beginning for Rincón. Over his 22-year career, he’s also had assignments in El Salvador, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Spain, Hungary, Germany, London, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico and served as the director of planning, design, and construction for Dallas Love Field in Texas and Mumbai International Airport in India.

Rincón thought he was through with cross-continental moves when the India opportunity came up.  He had a solid, stable consulting job with an international consulting firm when he was giving a presentation on airport development and infrastructure in Rome. A former client of his bumped into him and asked him to go to India to work on a project.
“I shook my head,” Rincón says. “I was working at a great company. I had a good contract and good career path. Why would I give this up and go to India?”

Rincón’s former client didn’t give up on him. He persuaded Rincón to travel to India for three days, and, though he was still on the fence when he left, Rincón ultimately took a leap of faith and took the job. He hasn’t regretted it for a moment.

“I think that was a launching point,” he says in 20/20 hindsight. “Actually going to India and moving my family halfway around the world was a great move, and it was a turning point that kind of catapulted me to where I am now.”
Rincón is now at the Philadelphia International Airport, where he works as deputy director of aviation. In this role, Rincón leads the airport’s planning, environmental, and construction efforts.

“At the point of being deputy director, you start being a jack-of-all-trades,” Rincón says. “But my focal point is in planning, design, and construction of the airport. I kind of built a niche in coming into difficult projects that require a lot of phasing and are in very active airports with very large budgets and difficult environments. That’s kind of what I’ve built my career around.”

Settling into his work at Philadelphia International Airport, Rincón approaches it from a worldly perspective shaped by 43 countries and 33 US states. Even having seen so many places, he says he is taken aback by how different Philadelphia is from anywhere else he has visited.

“People ask me, ‘how’s Philly?’ And I say that it’s like another country. I find that Philly has its own city identity. It’s an eastern seaboard by all standards, but Philly is unique, and I like that,” he says.

Rincón has always welcomed opportunities to work with people from different walks of life. “Coming into projects, I like to learn how to work with new people,” he says. Challenges like meeting collaborators from different cultures and navigating airports with foreign policies have never fazed Rincón. “In spite of all of the challenges that all of these projects have—such as funding, politics, airlines, and construction changes­, all while keeping an airport running—I find that I really like what I do. I just love airports. I’m an airport geek.”

Like any true “airport geek,” Rincón has seen the world from much more than just its airports.

A Través de los Años

A chronicle of global stints throughout Diego Rincón’s career

1993: Rincón takes on his first foreign airport planning assignment at New International Airport for Mexico City

1998: Rincón takes on his first airport privatization assignment in Honduras

1999: Rincón takes on his first military facility airport development project in Fort Campbell, Kentucky

2000: Rincón takes on a role as project manager with Aeropuertos Argentina

2001: Rincón joins the Program Management Team at MWAA (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

2005: Rincón joins the Airports Integrated Development Team at the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) in Washington, DC

2007: Rincón moves to Mumbai, India, to work as director of the Mumbai International Airport

2013: Rincón moves to Philadelphia to take on the role of deputy director of aviation capital development, Philadelphia International Airport

2014: Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport of Mumbai, India, and Dallas’s Love Field Terminals are inaugurated