Writing this on the way to Brussels, Belgium. I’m meeting with Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World and Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, along with members of their staffs. Two ACI-North America colleagues are coming with me, Debby McElroy, our Executive VP for Policy and Chris Bidwell, our VP for Security and Facilitation.
As we move into 2009, there are a number of important issues whose relevance does not stop at national borders. Airport economics, security, facilitation and environment will all see important activity in the coming year. It is important that the global airport community be on the same page and communicate a clear vision that will benefit the international air transportation system and, most importantly, our passengers.
While there, we will also meet with key staff from the European Commission. Daniel Calleja, who directs the commission’s aviation work, is someone I have known and counted as a friend for a number of years. There are few international civil servants more capable or dedicated. Together with the State Department’s John Byerly, Daniel negotiated the US-EU agreement in place now and is working on the next phase of the relationship. John Byerly also fits that description of a first class international civil servant.
I first met Daniel years ago when we were working on a dispute between the US and EU over aircraft noise standards. An issue for which there seemed no solution was finally settled thanks in no small measure to his work. We may also see some members and/or staff from the European Parliament.
We will also stop at the FAA Brussels office and the US Mission to the EU. I have been to Brussels a number of times on business, and always try to stop and see our dedicated diplomatic staffs, who work so hard on my behalf.
My first trip to Brussels was in 1989, when I helped organize a National Governors Association trip. Among the governors were then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who went on to larger things; and then-New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, more recently known for his outstanding work as co-chair of the 9/11 Commission.
At the time, we met with the Commission President Jacques Delors, then-NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner and other European leaders. This was July, 1989. The Polish government had recently been forced to accept the participation of Solidarity; the Hungarians had opened their border to East Germans seeking to go to the west. There was a lot going on, and it was an exciting time to be there. Of course, just a few months later, the Berlin Wall would be gone and the world changed forever. For me, I can’t think about those things without remembering that first trip to Brussels and all the discussions we had about the political earthquake happening around us.
Perhaps that is why Brussels is among my favorite cities, though the fact that the food is outstanding doesn’t hurt. The Grand Place is among the most beautiful places on earth, and the Sunday antique market in the Sablon is a lot of fun.
Of course, I won’t have a lot of time to enjoy those things as we have a great packed into our three days of meetings. I look forward to writing about those meetings, and maybe also about a few of the sites, including what I think is the world’s best chocolate shop!