Reporting from Ghana II

Greetings again from Accra, Ghana. Yesterday, the afternoon ended with a very Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentinteresting CEO Forum. The discussion included CEO’s from Ghana, Togo, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt and was moderated by Jim Cherry, chair of ACI World and the airport CEO in Montréal. Jim is a great leader for the worldwide airport community and for the Montréal airport. He has earned great respect around the globe for his intelligence and commitment.

The CEO of Airport Company of South Africa, Mohnla Hlahla, is someone I have come to know over the past three years and for whom I have also developed great respect and admiration. Her passion for airports and for serving the traveling public of South Africa is evident in every word she speaks.

While I have only recently met the other CEOs on the panel, each of them brings that same commitment and passion to their work. It is interesting to note, by the way, that three of the CEOs are women.

What was most interesting were the topics covered: customer service, airport rates and charges, management of operations and the future of capital programs. This could have been the same exact agenda for a CEO Forum in North America!

Indeed, ACI-NA was holding a summit of airport Chief Financial Officers in Seattle at exactly the same time. I was exchanging text messages with ACI-NA staff in Seattle during our session in Accra. The discussions were almost exactly the same! Many revolved around current industry financial difficulties and the fact that airline problems have forced airports to take on more responsibility, which adds costs that cannot be passed along. Indeed, airport energy costs are going up just as the airlines’ costs are, but they cannot be passed along. Airport directors and financial managers on every continent have to be good managers of their businesses in such times; a fact not well enough appreciated. Indeed, after a 30 year career that has included experience in both federal and state government as well as the private sector, I can say that airport directors, as a group, are the best business people I have ever encountered

It was an interesting experience, sitting here and sending text messages to a colleague seven time zones away about the same topics being discussed by people in places that seem so very different.

Today, after a very impressive official ceremony that included the Minister of Defense, more attention was paid to subjects such as security and safety. Again, the concerns and topics discussed could easily have found their way into an ACI-NA conference. Once again, Kirk Shaffer of the FAA shared his views with the attendees, this time concerning what FAA is doing on Safety Management Systems. Attendees very much appreciate the fact that Kirk is here and has been so freely sharing his views and expertise, as well as that of the FAA.

I leave Ghana tomorrow with great affection for a most friendly people.

Reporting from Ghana

Greetings from Accra, Ghana. I arrived here Sunday for the annual ACI Africa meeting. Greg Principato - ACI-NA PresidentIn addition to speaking at the conference, I am also here to attend the first meeting of all ACI regional directors with the new ACI World Director General, Angela Gittens. We are also holding other ACI World committee meetings here.

After arrival on Sunday (and a very friendly greeting from the airport staff!), a number of us took a tour of Accra. We visited the Kwame Nkrumah memorial park and grave site (he is the first president of Ghana and is a father of post-colonial African independence.). We visited Independence Square, a market and also the national university.

On Monday after my remarks and a series of meetings; we were taken to a local restaurant for some traditional local food, which was excellent. Traveling so much is a great way to learn more about other cultures, break down barriers, and bring the world together.

Yesterday, Kirk Shaffer, Associate Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Airports, delivered remarks about many FAA initiatives on safety and environment that were of great interest to attendees. The FAA has made assistance to airports globally on issues such as safety a major priority and Kirk was able to provide some good information to attendees. I very much appreciate the fact that Kirk came here and that the FAA is so active in that area.

After Kirk spoke, the Chairman of ACI Africa, George Muhoho from Kenya stood to close the session. He pointed out that no matter whether your airport is large or small, in the U.S. or Africa; there are still certain issues everyone faces. Safety, security, environment, wildlife management and others. He talked about how important it is for airport professionals all over the world to work together to face these problems. He is right and that is why it is a privilege to work within the only global organization for airports.

The conference exhibition opens today and tonight the Aviation Minister will join us. Tomorrow, the Vice President of Ghana will be here. Many of the session revolve around the issue of safety, a subject taken very seriously here. Kirk will speak again in a panel on Safety Management Systems.

I look forward to these next two days and will report further on what I learn here.

On to Africa

I’m writing this at Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport on the Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentway to Accra, Ghana through JFK. I’ll be attending the ACI Africa annual meeting there. I will also be attending ACI World meetings that will occur there with my regional counterparts and ACI World’s new leader, Angela Gittens.

Angela once ran both the Atlanta and Miami airports. She is a true airport professional with worldwide respect. She took the job in April.

This will be the first time she will meet with the leaders of all 5 ACI regions. I am privileged to lead the North American (US and Canada) region. The other four are Africa, Europe, Latin America-Caribbean and Asia-Pacific.

It is a cliché that we work in a global industry but it is events like this that really show how global it is. All of our members are facing challenges caused by high fuel prices, airline finance issues and the like. We all face environmental issues, though the specific concerns might vary. Safety and security are paramount issues all around the world. Customer service is more important than ever, as airline financial and operational realities mean that airports must now tend to needs previously the province of airlines.

There are also challenges that carry costs for airlines and airports that cannot be deferred no matter how challenging the financial climate. Customer service is one. We must maintain our airfields and terminals, no matter how much service is cut. Security and safety, as already mentioned, are paramount.

I just attended the joint meeting we held with the Air Transport Association on deicing management. You can’t just deice some of the planes. And with new EPA rules on the way, this is a necessary cost that will rise (the fluid used is a petroleum based product, increasing the challenge). Airports all over the world are finding innovative ways to deal with all of these things.

I look forward to reporting in on our activities and the issues we face. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Ghana.

In the Long Term….

John Maynard Keynes, when asked about the long term economic impact of some idea Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentis said to have replied: “In the long term, we’re all dead.” For too long, Keynes’s formulation has guided leaders in business and in government. Fortunately for the traveling public, though, airport leaders have eschewed Keynes and focused on both the short- and long-term needs of their communities and the traveling public.

This was on vivid display yesterday during our annual legislative conference. The leaders of a number of large airports were on a panel talking about how high fuel prices and service cuts were impacting their communities. One had already experienced a 20 percent cut. Another had been through the take-down of a major hub even before all this happened. Still others had not yet seen large cuts, though there have been some. They were joined in the discussion by a number of airport directors in the crowd, many of whom run small airports.

Two things came through: all were focused on mitigating the short term effects of service cuts, real and rumored, on their communities. All were working with airlines to do everything they could to keep service in their communities. All understand we need a strong airline industry. Yet, all were also focused on the long-term. While some were deferring projects until the industry recovers, all remained focused on the need to serve the long-term needs of their communities.

Airport directors understand that the best way to deal with whatever short-term challenges circumstances might throw their way is to have crafted and implemented a long-term vision long before. If you always think about the short-term, then your short-terms are much more likely to be a challenging mess. The best way to deal with the short-term is to have had a long-term vision.

Which brings me to one last comment. I’ve written much on energy. I hear lots of ideas and I have no expertise that would allow me to judge whether Boone Pickens is right, or whether someone else has a better idea. As a nation, we ought to have that debate and make some decisions. What I do know, however, is that I am hearing far too many people respond to one idea or another with the comment: “that won’t bring the price at the pump down any time soon.” Yes, we need to find ways to do that. People are hurting. And certainly discussions about tightening regulation of speculators seems to have at least slowed the rise of the price of oil.

But it is certain that, as a country, we will have to do things that will not have immediate short-term impact but will put this country in a position to better face future “short-term” challenges. Just imagine if we had made a commitment to research and development of alternative energy sources, conservation and production a long time ago. What if the 1973 and 1979 fuel spikes had forced us into those commitments, and we hadn’t backed down when the price came down later. Imagine what things would look like today. Unlike Keynes, we’re still alive…and our short-term would be a lot brighter than it appears now.

Three Presidents, a Ballpark, and Some Perspective on Energy

Those who read the “About Greg” link know that I have a goal of seeing games in Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentevery big league ballpark and visiting the grave site of every president, in addition to visiting all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. I remain 5 short on states and 4 short on provinces, but made progress on the other two in the last few days.

While in Michigan visiting our son, we went to a game at Comerica Park in Detroit. It is a fabulous place to see a game, with a great view of the city skyline and lots of excellent food options. It’s the 28th park in which I’ve seen a regular season big league game; but 11 of the 28 no longer exist. So, I have 13 still to go; but that number will climb to 15 next year when the Yankees and Mets move into new stadiums.

I also took the time to visit the grave sites of 3 presidents: Hayes, McKinley and Ford. The Hayes site (Fremont, Ohio) is well worth it; nice museum, just off the road. The McKinley site (Canton, Ohio) was fine; the museum was a little underwhelming. The Gerald Ford Museum (Grand Rapids, MI) was terrific. Especially for someone like me of a certain age; it did a nice job of capturing the times and capturing President Ford.

Of particular interest was a small wall exhibit on airline deregulation. While President Carter gets the credit (or blame from some people) for deregulation, the proposal actually originated in the Ford Administration. There is a small exhibit there; including the Ford proposal and some material on his belief that it would help consumers and communities.

While I was reading all that, at the very same time, they were playing a tape of a speech President Ford gave on energy. He was talking about over-reliance on oil and that we had to pull together as a country to make a commitment to chart a new course. It was a good speech, and more than a little ironic that I was hearing it at the same moment as I was reading the exhibit on aviation.

The two issues are now thoroughly intertwined. As I said in my previous post, we may believe our implied national policy of energy procrastination paid off 10 years ago when the price was $11 per barrel, but all we did was delay the day of reckoning.

I hope the proposals to place reasonable regulations on speculators succeed, and I hope we can find more energy, that we can develop alternative fuels and conserve more. But it will take much more; a point that President Ford was making in the speech that was playing in his museum. Are we finally ready?

Energy Policy … my kingdom for an energy policy

Twenty-nine years ago, as a young senate staffer, I went to a press briefing Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentconducted by legendary Senator Scoop Jackson. Senator Jackson was chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and we were in the middle of a huge price spike, largely due to imperiled supplies.

Senator Jackson stated that by years end, the pump price would be a dollar. Gasps were heard (this was in the fall and prices were around 75 cents or so).

Jackson stated that we needed to get serious as a country about energy policy. Ideas were floated and headlines written. But, as a country, we settled into the mindset that it would all turn out ok. We procrastinated and little was done.

This “strategy” seemed to be bearing fruit in the late 90′s. Per barrel prices were in the teens or lower. Some U.S. oil executives even talked about pursuing a dumping petition, saying that foreign oil producers were selling their oil at too low a price!

So, here we are. I just finished a two-day drive to see my son at Michigan State University. There are noticeably fewer people driving on the interstate. Airlines are cutting capacity and communities are uncertain about their air service.

The airline business model has some challenges and I am not saying they are in trouble simply because of the price of oil. But it is undeniable that we are paying a price throughout the economy for the lack of an energy policy.

There are a lot of ideas out there and all have some merit. I am an optimist as I’ve said before. But if $140 per barrel oil can’t make us finally tackle this issue, then my optimism may run out.

Airports all over the continent are working with airlines to hold down costs, cut budgets and help the carriers run more efficiently. Hundreds of millions have already been saved through this collaboration with more to come. And airports are doing this even though their own costs are rising — one director of a smaller airport t told me his energy bill was 40 percent higher last month than the month before.

This is something that affects every American. It is not an aviation issue it is a national issue of overriding importance. This is one we all have to commit to put aside pre-conceived notions to tackle. All options must be explored. We’ve had 30 years of warning. There is no excuse for further inaction.

A Tale of Two Ricks

It was the best of times….it was the worst of times…actually, times are pretty Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentlousy, especially for aviation. But heartfelt thanks go to two guys named Rick to help put things in perspective.

You might notice that I haven’t posted for several days. That wasn’t just because I was enjoying some baseball, fireworks and hot dogs over the July 4th weekend. It was because I wanted to see how things developed in the aftermath of the irresponsible Business Travel Coalition release on communities losing air service and (because I do “believe in miracles,” with apologies to Al Michaels) I wanted to see if perhaps BTC might say or do something to make things right.

On that second score, alas, nothing happened. But on the first, I’d like to call attention to the reactions of Rick Piccolo, airport director in Sarasota, Florida and Rick Atkinson, airport director in Charleston, West Virginia.

Each of their cities was named by BTC. Each of them sent pointed, direct, letters back to BTC, asking to see the data and study methodology that led to BTC’s conclusions regarding their cities. Neither, of course, has gotten any satisfaction.

There was an account of Rick Piccolo’s reaction in Aviation Daily last week, and an account of Rick Atkinson’s on Mike Boyd‘s site. I highly recommend taking a look.

Air travel has been called by many, including me, the “lifeblood” of the global economy. This is serious business. When I worked in state government earlier in my career, businesses made it plain that their top priority was transportation links, especially by air. Businesses value transportation well above low taxes or state subsidies. It’s about air transportation.

The “Two Ricks,” both of whom I’ve known for a long time, understand this and stood up. So have their colleagues around the country whose communities’ well being was put at risk by the study.

This gets back to a point I often make. If air travel is the lifeblood of the global economy, then airports are at its heart. By definition, airlines come and go and their major asset flies 500 mph between cities. It is the airport that remains a part of the community and for whom the top priority is community benefit and economic growth. And that’s a darn good thing.

In closing, I don’t plan on writing about this so-called study any further. Winston Churchill once said a pessimist sees challenge in every opportunity and an optimist sees opportunity in every challenge. I like to think I am an optimist. So, I will be returning to more optimistic, upbeat, themes in the coming days. I’ll also be visiting another new ballpark (Comerica in Detroit) and a couple of presidential grave sites (Jerry Ford and Rutherford B. Hayes, here I come!) in the next week.

Beware the Experts – Part 2

A few days ago, I posted a commentary on a so-called “study” published by the Greg Principato - ACI-NA PresidentBusiness Travel Coalition (BTC). This “study” claimed to identify dozens of communities at risk of losing most or all of their air service. Naturally, the results of this “study” were sent out to those communities.

I have received a large number of comments. Some, including one from BTC, were in the form of comments left on the blog. Others were made directly to me; many from the directors of the airports named. Not all of those are printable.

A couple of directors, at least, have written BTC demanding to know the research methods and data used to reach their conclusions. I suspect they will not get an answer since no real research was done.

BTC’s answer to my commentary says that it was necessary to do something “blunt and direct” to get Congress’s attention about the impact of the fuel crisis. As if they have no idea. BTC incredibly goes on to take credit for the attention the fuel crisis is now getting. Perhaps the next release will be a detailed “study” on the daily rising of the sun

BTC states that it wants to keep and expand air service and I take them at their word. Unfortunately, what they have done is having the opposite effect. It is discouraging and distracting. People read stories based on this “study” and are less likely to travel, and perhaps less likely to believe they will have an airport. It is not forcing them to write their congressman, it is discouraging them from traveling.

Airport directors and their staffs are intensely focused on keeping and expanding service. They are doing all they can for their communities. Indeed, on the very day this “study” was released, hundreds of them were in Pittsburgh meeting with a number of airlines (800 meetings in all) at ACI-NA’s JumpStart Air Service Development event. I was there. The mood was one of realism, to be sure, but also one of determination to meet the challenge. In a way, this event was scheduled at the perfect time, as it has never been more important for airports and airlines to work together. In my three years in this job, I have rarely been so proud to be a part of this industry as I was last week. Yet, the release of this so-called “study” has eaten up the time of many of those participating in those meetings as they answer media and constituent (yes, airport directors have constituents — another word for them is customers, yet another is neighbors) questions generated by the BTC release.

But, BTC says in its post that “in retrospect” they regret not having alerted airport directors. Some comfort.

To recap: The BTC “study” is based on no real analysis. It was done, by their own admission, in a sort of blunt, crude way to get the attention of people already aware that we have a crisis. It was done with a stated intent to aid the expansion of air service; yet has distracted communities, companies and people who would prefer to put their entire energies into promoting air service to the point that it is actually a barrier to achieving BTC’s stated goal. They said they wanted to “catalyze action.” They have succeeded in exactly the opposite.