In 1945, after having secured victory in WWII, Winston Churchill was defeated in his bid for re-election. Mrs. Churchill is reported to have said: “perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.”. Sir Winston responded: “It’s a pretty damn effective disguise.”
While no one would describe today’s aviation challenges as a “blessing” many believe that opportunities and future growth do lie behind the “disguise.” This attitude was very much in evidence during ACI-NA’s annual Marketing and Communications Conference in the wonderful city of Pittsburgh. The Tuesday social event allowed me to visit yet another ballpark I had not previously seen as we attended a game at the beautiful PNC Park.
The conference drew approximately 400 attendees. Most were professionals in airport public relations and/or air service marketing. There were a large number of airport directors there, with many representing small airports. There were also several airline representatives and others. The conference is held in conjunction with our annual JumpStart event, which features a day-long series of airport-airline meetings. In normal times these meetings focus on the possibility of new air service. Attendees came from all over the United States and Canada.
Many of the conference presentations discussed fuel price spikes and other challenges facing the industry. But in contrast to the doom and gloom some might have expected, there was a palpable sense of energy throughout the meeting.
I think this comes from a realization that aviation is among the most resilient industries we have. I have written previously about the fact that presidents dating back to Truman have worried about the future of commercial aviation. There have been dire predictions before. But while the airline industry’s fortunes resemble a roller coaster, passenger travel has always grown, over time.
There is no indication that people in North America have lost the inclination to travel or ship by air. There will be growth again, at some point. Times are tough now, and some of the airport directors I met these past few days lost all their service. Almost all have lost something in recent weeks. But they had come to Pittsburgh to begin that process of looking to the future, of lifting the veil of that “damn effective disguise” and trying to create opportunity for their airports and communties.