Committing to a New Energy Policy

fuelIt looks like 2008 will end with our country in a recession and, surprisingly given how things looked in the summer, with our country further away than ever to coming to grips with the need for a real energy policy.

While in New Jersey visiting family earlier this week, I purchased gas (full serve too — remember this was in Jersey) for $1.39 a gallon. 

As my father reminded me, this is good news for many folks struggling in the recession to make ends meet and who had trouble affording gas to go to work or to job interviews. And he is undoubtedly right.

But surely, in this country in which anything is possible, we can figure out a way to harness the commitment to a new energy policy that was present when gas was $147 a barrel (more than $4 a gallon), while ensuring that people who need help getting by can receive it.

I saw this morning that oil is around $37 a barrel, making good on a prediction this past fall by analyst Peter Beutel that oil would go at least this low. His prediction came in the form of a warning:  that oil would go to 37 and maybe lower, that we as a country would lose our will on energy policy and do nothing, and that the next time we have a spike it will go twice or three times as high as in the summer and we’d be in real trouble.

The aviation community came together as one in the summer on this issue and few industries are as impacted by energy spikes as we are. We need to maintain our focus and encourage our new president to maintain his, as he promised he would in his 60 Minutes interview.

For Your Dedicated Service: Thank You

On Sunday, I flew home from Indianapolis. You might remember last week I wrote about the new terminal. The return trip, from dropping off the rental car to getting on the plane, was quite pleasant.

Brian Eckstein is the Indianapolis Guest Services Manager.

Brian Eckstein is the Indianapolis Guest Services Manager.

Indeed, I spent a lot of the time thinking about all the people who make the airport run.

At Indy, we came into contact with the guy who accepted my rental car return at Hertz, several airport employees and volunteers, who were there to ensure everyone found their way through the terminal.

We encountered TSA employees at the checkpoint, as well as a waitress and employees at Wolfgang Pucks. We met a supervisor from HMS Host which runs the food concession. We also talked to the gate agent and flight crew, flight attendants and pilots.

While eating lunch we watched the people out on the ramp servicing the planes and keeping things moving. They were doing all this in temperatures that hovered around 10 degrees.

Most of these people don’t actually work for the airport, but all of them work to make the travel experience a good one. All of them (they, themselves or colleagues) will be working on Christmas, New Years and every other holiday.

They include people you hope never to see including the firefighters, who answered the call in Denver the other day, and the airport and airline employees who help and comfort passengers and families at times like that.

I am grateful to all of them for all they do to keep our system operating. This is my holiday “Thank You” note to those that work at airports.

The new Indy Airport and Ray LaHood

I’m writing this from Champaign, Illinois where I am visiting family. We flew to Indianapolis (the closest non-stop destination from Washington) and drove in.

The Civic Plaza in the new Indianapolis International Airport.

The Civic Plaza in the new Indianapolis International Airport.

We saw the new terminal in Indianapolis. Just beautiful. No, there is no marble, no expensive shiny stuff that airlines like to claim we put in terminals (they always talk about “Taj Mahal” terminals. Anyone out there ever see an airport that looks remotely like the Taj Mahal?  Anyone know whether the Taj Mahal looks like an airport?)

Anyway, it is bright and comfortable, very passenger friendly.

As you can imagine lots of people in Illinois are talking about the nomination of Rep. Ray LaHood to be Transportation Secretary.

As I mentioned in my statement, our issues cry out for the kind of bipartisan action and leadership that Congressman LaHood has pursued throughout his career. I am very encouraged by this pick.

I might also mention that he represents my wife’s hometown (Jacksonville, Illinois) in Congress. We’ve had friends who have worked there and we’ve had a few opportunities to cross paths. He is a genuinely good person; the kind of person whom one colleague once said the founders must have imagined would serve in Congress. And he, more than anyone in Congress these past two decades, tried to bring people together across the aisle to get things done. In this, he learned from his predecessor and former boss, Bob Michel, who was once Republican leader of the House and a very impressive gentleman.

I congratulate Rep. LaHood on his nomination and look forward to working with him and his team.

The next stop: The North Pole

I read a very nice article in Sunday’s Washington Post about a trip a number of

United Airlines flight attendants Noelle Steele, center, and Nadine DuVal greet Dalia Kennedy and son Wyatt, 10 months, aboard a Boeing 777 decorated for the trip to see Santa Claus. (Tracy A Woodward - The Washington Post)

United Airlines flight attendants Noelle Steele, center, and Nadine DuVal greet Dalia Kennedy and son Wyatt, 10 months, aboard a Boeing 777 decorated for the trip to see Santa Claus. (Tracy A Woodward - The Washington Post)

children “took” to the North Pole out of Washington Dulles Airport recently.  Many of the children suffer from severe illnesses.  They boarded a United Airlines 777 and the flight attendants wore Christmas hats.  When they “arrived” at the North Pole, they got off the plane into a terminal that had been decorated as Santa’s workshop.  It is really a great story.

A number of airports and airlines work together each year to make these magical flights possible for children. Here are a few others from this year’s flight log: San Antonio; LaGuardia; Westchester County; Cleveland; Phoenix; and Detroit.

The Post account was noted in another aviation blog, FlyerTalk.

 These are just more examples of aviation improving the lives of people.  I read a lot of history and have often wondered how different things would have been for people through time if they’d had access to air transportation.  I think of all the events that were missed through time, especially when I read about someone receiving a letter informing them of the death of a loved one; a month after the fact.  We are so fortunate to have the ability to travel anywhere we need to go in a relatively short time, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

My musings have expanded to the National Journal

Recently, I have been invited to join a group of transportation experts who are blogging at NationalJournal.com. My first post was last week on the topic: How Should the Infrastructure screen-shot1Stimulus Be Spent?

As I have suggested in this space, Congress should consider setting aside some of the proposed economic stimulus funds for airport infrastructure. Check out my post in the National Journal’s blog.

 I also used the opportunity to make the industry’s case for changing the tax laws so that airport private bond issues will not be subject to the alternate minimum tax. Since September not a single bond issue has come to market because of the investment community’s fear these bonds will be subject to the AMT.

The Belgian Chocolate Debate and DEMS

brussels

The sign explaining the DEMS.

A quick update on the Belgian chocolate question:  I have now tasted Pierre Marcolini.  It is absolutely outstanding.  I had a piece of their dark chocolate bar, and then a piece of candy from their collection.  I must admit that I like Mary Chocolatier‘s at least as well and will probably go back there because the Mary’s shop is more comfortable; Pierre Marcolini’s looks and feels like a jewelry store.  But is it absolutely outstanding and if you are in Brussels and go to the Sablon, I recommend stopping in to Marcolini.

One more thing on Brussels.  Debby, Chris and I went down to the Grand Place on our last night.  There was a Christmas Market nearby that we browsed, and at which we all had a cup of mulled Gluhwein.  The Grand Place was all lit up and just beautiful.  There was a display there explaining how it was lit up and how environmentally responsible the lighting was.

As a way of illustrating that, the display pointed out that the Grand Place was lit by as much (or as little, more to the point) energy as it would take to run “three domestic espresso machines.”  We decided right there that the “domestic espresso machine” or “DEM” would be the new unit of measurement.  No more watts or volts or BTU’s.  From now on, DEM’s.  As in “How many DEM’s does it take to light your house, or power your airport, or light your sports stadium?”

This just might catch on . . .

Brussels: Day 3 and coming home

I’m in the taxi on the way home from Dulles after a substantive several days in theGreg Principato - ACI-NA President capital of Europe.

Yesterday, we had an animated and enjoyable lunch with Daniel Calleja, the EU’s chief aviation official, and Ekhard Seebohm, who handles aviation security for the European Commission. As I’ve said previously, I’ve known both gentlemen for some time. Indeed, I first met Ehhard when he was involved in helping run a European blue ribbon panel in 1993-94, which examined the causes of the aviation industry’s financial and other woes. (As readers know, I was executive director of a similar panel here).

The European version was called the Comite des Sages (Committee of Wise Men — yes they were all men and most often wise, though it is a more politically incorrect name than we would ever use here).

The lunch featured a wide ranging discussion on environmental issues, especially emissions, the US-EU aviation relationship, including foreign investment issues, security (including the use of body scanners and the controversy now brewing in Europe over that) and a host of other topics. Rarely has 2 1/2 hours gone so fast. As I wrote last time, Daniel is a good friend and someone the industry is lucky to have in his post. I hope the election of a new European Parliament and selection of a new European Commission in 2009 won’t result in any changes in his duties.

Following lunch, we went to the US Mission to the EU where we meet with Economics Minister Counselor Peter Chase, Peg Caton, who handles transportation and environment, and Kathleen Conway, who represents Customs and Border Protection. We spent nearly two hours with them covering a range of topics. When I was in college I had wanted to join the Foreign Service. My language skills and a failing score on the exam kept that from happening, but I will say I am always so impressed by the caliber of people representing our country abroad.

While we were in Brussels the EU and Canada concluded an air service agreement , which is of great interest to our Canadian members. In a previous life, I helped write articles on the vision of an EU-NAFTA open aviation area. Maybe some day!

If you recall from my last posting, I decided to be adventuresome and try a different Belgium chocolate maker. Normally, I go to Mary Chocolatier, which I first tried19 years ago. Instead, I went to Pierre Marcolini. I have not sampled these chocolates and I will do so tonight. Stay tuned for the taste-test results!

One final word. We were in Brussels when the sordid, disgusting, story of the Illinois governor essentially trying to sell President-elect Obama’s Senate seat broke. The story was much discussed over there. When someone does something like that I guess it is too much to hope they will consider what it does to the image of their country in the world, but this guy has really done some damage in that area. What a shame.