How little things have changed in 15 years

Many say the challenges facing aviation today are “unprecedented.” But while fuel has Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentreached price levels worthy of that word, the range of challenges are hardly “unprecedented.” Fifteen years ago this week, a blue ribbon presidential commission began 90 days of intense work (the problems were deemed so serious that work had to finish in 90 days — there was no time to lose). The commission was formed after a series of airline bankruptcies (Pan Am, Eastern and Braniff). Concern was deepened by, among other things, fear of terrorism (Pan Am 103, the bombing of the World Trade Center in February, fallout from a war in Iraq) and fuel prices that had spiked. Is this all starting to sound familiar?

Meetings were nearly all covered on C-SPAN. Membership was first rate: CEO’s of Southwest Airlines and United Technologies. Labor leaders. Felix Rohatyn, the financial wizard who saved New York City in the 70′s. Former high ranking government officials. Representatives from airports, cargo, general aviation and the financial world. It was called, hopefully, “The National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry.” I was Executive Director.

One thing we found was the industry has struggled constantly. President Truman formed a similar commission in 1947. There were others in the interim, and there have been others since. Most expected the panel to recommend government handouts. They were disappointed.

What was recommended? Air traffic control modernization, increased capacity on the ground and market expansion were the major recommendations. Others focused on the aviation workforce, federal tax and regulatory policies and issues such as bankruptcy law. But the major ones involved increased capacity in the air and on the ground, as well as market expansion.

There has been good progress on market expansion, but not nearly enough on capacity expansion. Airports have been in the forefront of all three issues for many years, even when others in the industry were less interested. We will continue to push proposals in all those areas because they will result in fewer delays and more opportunities for our passengers and for the airlines themselves. They remain the best road to a “Strong Competitive Airline Industry.”

Airports: The New Town Square

Greg Principato - ACI-NA PresidentThere are many reasons to be excited about, and proud of, working in the aviation industry. A holiday like Memorial Day brings many of those reasons to life.

Airports have become the new town square. People come from everywhere, mingle, eat, shop and grab their flight (hopefully on time) to see a loved one, attend an important event, or conclude a business deal. Those who run and staff our airports understand this new dynamic, and work hard to provide services and products to ease the travel experience. It used to be you could get whatever you wanted, as long as it was a hot dog, a slice of cold pizza or a really cheesy gift. Today, the choices are as wide as can be, and that certainly comes in handy when your flight is delayed by bad weather or other causes. Even in the best of circumstances, passengers are arriving earlier to ensure their checked baggage, which they now have to pay for, will make it on time. They are arriving earlier to be sure they make it through security with time to spare. This only adds to the town square feel of the airport, and to the need for airports to present an even more welcoming atmosphere.

There is one more, very important, point to make this Memorial Day season.

It is rare that I walk through an airport and do not see members of our armed forces in uniform. One never knows if they are headed home, or headed back to battle. Airports, airlines, concessionaires and many others have joined together to try to make that part of their experience an enjoyable one. USO’s arrange local volunteers to greet and applaud our returning heroes. Airports and airlines allow them the use of lounges and phones. These scenes are heartwarming — and occasionally heartbreaking. It is easy to notice and remember at a time like Memorial Day. But these scenes happen every day. I am as proud to be part of an industry that makes them possible as I am humbled to be in the presence of such heroes.