Beware the Experts

Whenever something happens that generates a lot of attention, you can Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentcount on a lot of expert commentary. In some cases, the expert really merits the label and is worth a listen. But most so-called experts fit into one of two other categories.

First is the instant expert who knows little but has a lot to say. All those water cooler experts on gymnastics and diving who will comment during the Olympics are the best example of this.

The second, and more insidious kind, are those who seek to take advantage of a difficult situation by fanning flames of fear, seeking to draw attention to themselves. An example of this kind of expert is the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) which is trying to use the current aviation industry crisis caused by high fuel prices to breed fear in communities around the country and make a name for themselves in the process.

The BTC has conducted a study, which is what this kind of “expert” usually does. They have decided to list dozens of airports they say will be losing their service. They call this effort “Save My Airport.”

I just returned from a meeting with dozens of airport directors, most in smaller communities that are at risk. Indeed, all have lost some service. But all of them, and their communities, together with their airline partners, are working hard to keep their communities linked to the air travel system. They all know, as do their constituents, that there is a fuel crisis, that times have changed, and that innovative action is called for. They are working to protect their communities and their economic growth.

What they don’t need is an organization a thousand miles away jumping in and fanning into fear their community’s legitimate concerns about air service. What they don’t need is an organization looking for attention, and revenue, by taking advantage of a crisis.

I went to their web site. It includes an ominous heading: “Airports at Risk.” It has a list of 50. I have spoken to some of those airport directors and they are outraged by what BTC is doing. BTC has no idea what is going on in their communities, and is hampering their efforts to meet the challenges they face. All BTC has are some criteria they made up in their ivory tower and a study that results from putting those criteria into a computer and pushing a button. They have no idea what is going on in those communities.

That is also obvious when you click on some of the links under the ominous headlines that predict the demise of this or that airport. The actual news items they are linked to tell stories of communities working hard. In at least one case, the link takes you to a story featuring an airport director saying the BTC is wrong. But you have to dig deep to find this. What they want you to do is read their headlines, get scared, and send an email and “sign up.” Must be time for a BTC membership drive.

Someone once said that an expert is someone more than 50 miles from home. I guess by that definition the BTC qualifies. But by no other.

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9 thoughts on “Beware the Experts

  1. Greg: Good to see you commenting on this “expert”. His analysis was irresponsible and has caused a great deal of anst in our community based upon a “study” that appears to have been thought up at his kitchen table. This does nothing to help the challenges we face in this fuel environment and only serves to falsely alarm communities across the country.

  2. Great comments. If you look at their criteria for making their assertions you’ll note they considered whether a community has a low cost carrier (which we do) and business travel (our market is 50% business). This supports your comments about ‘experts” and fanning flames for personal agendas.

  3. Greg,

    I have tremendous respect for you, ACI and its member airports. It was not BTC’s intention to upset airport managers with our airline-crisis-awareness-campaign, and for those who were, I sincerely apologize.

    BTC doesn’t want any local airports shut down – to the contrary, it wants to do all it can to keep and expand air service. We can assure you that there will be no joy for BTC if any of our dire projections come true. Our motivation is to catalyze action that will make our predictions wrong and obsolete.

    To get the attention of a sometimes lethargic Congress, it’s often necessary to be very blunt and direct about what’s at stake, particularly at the local level. And judging by the attention that the fuel crisis and its impact on U.S. airlines are currently receiving, some of it as a result of BTC’s advocacy, it seems as though our alerts are having an impact.

    The New York Times Front Page story Saturday states: “I implore American Airlines, as well as the other carriers considering various cost-saving scenarios, to take into account more than profit when they evaluate routes,” Gov. David A. Paterson of New York said this week after American announced a series of cuts affecting La Guardia and other state airports.”… “By year’s end, roughly 100 American communities will be left without regular commercial air service, and that number may double next year, according to the Air Transport Association, the industry trade group.” (FULL NYT STORY:

    BTC only said last week that 150 communities are AT RISK of losing SOME or ALL service if oil stays at $130/barrel (Friday’s price: $140). The ATA projection is FAR MORE specific and ominous, yet like BTC’s alert, it is not accompanied, at least publically, by detailed analysis at the local airport-market level. BTC’s 150 communities and ATA’s 200 are no doubt 90% the same. Time is of-the-essence to get the word out about this crisis.

    Huge fees to airport consulting firms to perform time-consuming studies would only be a delay, and only validate the obvious, at a time of great peril for the airline industry and the airports that millions of high-growth, small and mid-size enterprises depend upon for connectivity to important business centers in the U.S. and around the world.

    In retrospect, BTC regrets not having alerted local airport managers in advance of this campaign. We’d like to work together toward a common goal of helping to stabilize an industry that’s in extreme distress as a result of fuel prices. Indeed, many airport executives have indicated to BTC that they are eager to join the campaign. Unity and collaboration is the only way we know how to do this – and despite the false-start with some of your members, I hope we can begin again down the same path, and toward the same goal. Now is the time to engage Congress, because Members are home for their 4th of July break.

    More complete information regarding BTC’s outreach campaign can be accessed at

    Kevin Mitchell
    Business Travel Coalition

  4. I agree with Mr. Mitchell that only through collaborative efforts of the entire aviation community can we overcome this newest challenge to the industry. Howver, Mr. Mitchell’s “ends justifies the means” argument was reckless and irresponsible. The ATA press relase he refers to stated, “…already 100 communities have lost scheduled air service.” ATA was stating facts and it was an action that had already occurred. ATA also wanted Congressional action but did not use hyperbole and scare tactics in an effort to do that. Mr. Mitchell purposely tried to scare individual communities. He did not send out a release stating more communities could lose some or all of their air service, he sent specific releases out naming specific communities in an effort to scare the community and create urgency in hopes of getting Congress to act at the very time Congress was already holding hearings.

    The criteria listed in his study appear to be pulled out of thin air. Where is the statistical analysis? Where is the data that validates his conclusions. Everyone has their 1st Amendment right to free speech but you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater and you cannot yell the sky is falling about a communities economic lifeblood without providing the facts.

    If BTC really has regrets they should either publish specific data for each community to show the data supports their rhetoric or issue a press release aplogizing for their actions.

  5. Greg, your comments are spot on. It is indeed a shame that a self serving lobbyist group has chosen to do harm to communities by overstating their case and causing fear in the minds of the traveling public.

    I asked for the specific data used by this group upon which they made the conclusions they shared with media outlets around the nation and I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. It is interesting to note that they admit to timing the release of their press release to coincide with the return of members of Congress to their home districts for the July 4th break. Their admission that the press release was part of a cheap political stunt tells me all I need to know about their credibility.

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