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.

Day 2 in Brussels – serious talk and serious food

We’ve spent a couple of very productive days in Brussels, with one more day of meetings to follow

 

We arrived Sunday, which was a clear, sunny, beautiful day. Chris Bidwell (our VP Security) went to Bruges, which is one of the most beautiful small European towns you will ever see (it was featured in a recent movie, In Bruges — the town is much better than the movie!). I had already been there Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidenttwice so didn’t go there.

 

Instead, Debby McElroy (our EVP for Policy) and I walked around Brussels. Debby had never been here, so she made sure she visited the Sablon, Grand Place and Manneken Pis. For those who don’t know, Manneken Pis is a statue of a little boy urinating. It is one of the symbols of Brussels. The story goes that a rich man lost his little boy and promised to build a statue of him if he was found. The boy was found relieving himself so that is the statue that was built. Sometime, he is dressed in traditional garb from any of a number of countries.

 

On Monday we visited our colleagues at the ACI Europe office. Olivier Jankovec has put together an incredible team there and we spent time with them. Chris stayed behind to meet with his counterpart and Debby and I met at the US Embassy with the FAA office here. Tony Fazio and Christopher Barks are really dedicated professionals and represent the agency and their country well. Last night, we had dinner with several of Olivier’s team as well as Angela Gittens (Director General of ACI World) and Craig Bradbrook (who handles security and facilitation for ACI World). They flew up from Geneva the previous day. The restaurant was on Avenue Louise, a truly great urban boulevard.

 

We spent the entire day Tuesday meeting with our Europe and World colleagues discussing a number of important economic, environmental, security and facilitation related issues. The more I work on these, and other issues, the more I am convinced that airports operate as the real focal point of the public interest, caring for passengers, ensuring price and service competition and choice, looking after the community’s environment and serving as the public face of aviation.

 

We finished the day at a restaurant I last visited 8 years ago, Poivre & Sel (pepper and salt in French). I remembered it as an outstanding restaurant and our meal tonight brought that memory to life. Service is friendly and quick and the food is outstanding. It is one of those places that opens up to the kitchen, adding to the atmosphere. I highly recommend it if you are in Brussels. It is at Rue du Panasse 2; very near the European Parliament.

 

Tomorrow we have lunch with key officials from the European Commission and then meet with the US Mission to the EU. I have been visiting the Mission since that first trip with the Governors I wrote about last time. I always think it is a good idea to stop by and share impressions.

 

First, I will purchase some chocolates for my office and my family. Normally, I go to a place called Mary Chocolatier. I first learned about it on that first trip to Brussels 19 years ago and have always gone there. The chocolate is just great and the place is featured in that book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

 

But Olivier has convinced me I need to try another place on the Sablon, so I will give it a shot and let you know. It will have a long way to go to beat Mary!

 

On the road to Brussels and diplomatic visits

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 Greg Principato - ACI-NA Presidentstop 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!