What Aviation Really Means

Sometimes we who work in aviation lose sight of the real purpose of our industry. I had a real life reminder this week. 

On Tuesday, I was close to the end of a business trip when I got a call from my sister-in-law that my father-in-law had been admitted to the hospital and was not expected to survive. He was in Champaign, Illinois. I was in San Diego, my wife in Virginia and my brother-in-law in Florida. 

In just over 7 hours, all three of us were together at Chicago O’Hare. We met a niece who lives there and got down to Champaign. The next few days are precious memories none of us will ever forget. 

This was made possible by aviation. It was made easier by the people who took care of my schedule changes at United, the San Diego Westin and Hertz. Also by the taxi driver who got my wife to Dulles in time and the entire great airport staff at O’Hare, who helped my wife when she was trying to locate my gate and her brothers. And, by the folks at USA3000 and also the Southwest Florida International Airport in Ft Myers who got my brother-in-law’s changes taken care of.

Those of us who work in aviation make such moments possible every day and we should remember that. 

Allow a personal indulgence while I say a word about my father-in-law. His name was Elmer Lukeman and he was one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met. 

He never bragged about anything even though he was in two sports halls of fame, served in the Army during WWII, owned a successful business for nearly five decades and always beat me at golf. He was president of almost every civic group in his hometown of Jacksonville, Illinois, and worked hard to bring new business to the area. 

I’m an Italian-Irish kid from Jersey and he grew up in the Illinois cornfields — we didn’t have folks named Elmer in New Jersey. We had little in common and we had everything in common. He showed me a lot about how to be a husband and father, and also taught me to stay away from airline and “dot com” stocks. He taught me how to re-invest dividends thereby making possible my sons’ educations. He taught me how to pick up the check. He taught my sons incalculable lessons about life. And, he raised me a helluva wife. 

He wasn’t famous by conventional standards, but everyone who ever made his acquaintance would smile at the mention of his name. 

We can use a lot more people like that in today’s world.

 He did so much for so many and I am proud to be part of an industry that made possible our being with him, and that makes such stories possible for others every day. 

Elmer Lukeman. RIP.

Baseball, Nixon and Reagan

I’m writing this from Petco Park in San Diego where Cuba and Japan are about to square off in the World Baseball Classic. For a baseball fan like me it hardly ever gets better than that. 

As you know from “About Greg” I have a goal of seeing every major league park. I’d never been to Petco so this adds to my list. It is a very nice ballpark and the atmosphere is electric. I’m sitting with a large group of Japanese fans. Having once seen a game in the Tokyo Dome, I know how enthusiastic they are. 

Yesterday I accomplished another “About Greg” goal by visiting the Richard M. Nixon Museum/Birthplace/gravesite and the Ronald W. Reagan Museum/Library/Gravesite. The Reagan facility is stunning, set on a hillside in Simi Valley. I enjoyed the

The Reagan facility is stunning, set on a hillside.

The Reagan facility is stunning, set on a hillside.

museum very much though being in a museum dedicated partly to things that I worked on, or saw, was a little weird. They have a retired Air Force One there, which for any aviation enthusiast is quite something. If you watched the Republican candidates’ debate at the library last year you saw it in the background. 

The Nixon museum was an emotional experience.

The Nixon museum was an emotional experience.

The Nixon museum was an emotional experience; I couldn’t help feel all the anger about what happened during Watergate bubble up. Nixon was a brilliant guy and had many accomplishments (the exhibit on environmental accomplishments is especially interesting, people forget about that). I found the museum to have an edge to it, unsurprising since it was first developed and opened privately. But the exhibits are quite good, overall, and it is worth your time. 

I am here for our Public Safety/Security and Operations and Technical Affairs conferences. I will be writing about the many issues that will be discussed here over the next few days.

Ducks, Cargo and NextGen

I’m here in Memphis for the ACI-NA Cargo Conference

The march of the Peabody Ducks.

The march of the Peabody Ducks.

 The meeting is being held in the historic Peabody Hotel, which features its famous ducks that come down the elevator at 11 a.m.; swim around in the lobby fountain and then go back up to their suite.  Today, the mascot of the Marshall University Thundering Herd basketball team served as the ducks’ escort; they are in town for the Conference USA Basketball Tournament. 

Much of today’s discussion centered on the economic challenges we face.  The mayor of Memphis began by reminding us that we have come out of every economic challenge we’ve faced thus far, and so we will again.  But in the hours that followed, it was hard to avoid coming back to the impact a recession has on cargo. 

I thought it was interesting, too, that a couple of other subjects kept coming up, namely the need to modernize air traffic control by moving forward with NextGen, the need to ensure adequate ground infrastructure, and the need to deal with environmental issues, especially those surrounding climate change.  This came up in the panel I moderated on regulatory and legislative challenges (nearly the entire session was focused on the economy), as well as in the keynote speech by FedEx Chief Operating Officer Bill Logue

In other words:  We cannot allow the economic slump to divert our attention away from these important issues that will have a critical impact on our business for a long time to come.  Truer words have never been spoken. 

P.S. If you are concerned about congested skies and the future of air traffic control, then join the new National Alliance to Advance NextGen.

Detouring through Charlotte onto Memphis

When I woke up this morning my plan was to fly to the ACI-NA Air Cargo Conference in Memphis. My ticket says I was to get there through Chicago. 

When I saw the weather map in the morning paper, I figured the chances of that happening without incident were low.

Indeed, I got a robo call from United on the drive to Dulles saying my flight had been cancelled. I called the United Premier Executive line and they did a great job re-booking me to Memphis through Charlotte on US Airways. The woman on the phone couldn’t have been more helpful or pleasant. 

I had the same experience at the US Airways counter at Dulles, at the Harry’s Tap Room restaurant there, at the gate and on the flight. 

NASCAR vehicle on display at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

NASCAR vehicle on display at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Speaking of the flight, US Airways finally made the right decision and stopped charging for drinks so I had a tomato juice. The flight attendant admitted that it had been pretty boring when they were charging; almost no one bought a drink, but there were certainly a lot of stern stares. 

So I am here at Charlotte, amid all the NASCAR memorabilia, eating a slice of Sbarro’s pizza. Soon I will be on the way to Memphis, where I plan to try some BBQ tonight – I’ve never been to Memphis but I LOVE BBQ. 

All through this day, I have run into courteous, hard working people whether they work for the airport, airline, TSA, the restaurants or some other entity. The day has not turned out like I planned, but some times those days are best. Oh, and I became a Great Uncle today for the third time too!

Wetlands, Birds and Planes Often Must Coexist

I have a couple of things on my mind today. 

Last week, the House Aviation Subcommittee held an important hearing on wildlife management.  The impetus for the hearing was the bird strike that caused US Airways flight 1549 to land in the Hudson.  Indeed, the entire crew was present for the hearing.  Also testifying was Mark Reis, the airport director in Seattle and an expert on wildlife mitigation issues. 

US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.

US Airways Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.

A few days before the hearing, I received a call from an airport director.  The flight 1549 First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles, was going to be visiting him at the airport that day for a tour and to help in preparation for his appearance at the hearing.  He showed First Officer Skiles around the airport and airfield.  Part of the tour involved showing him the wetland the airport needed to build as a mitigation measure when they extended the runway.  The wetland is not very far from the runway.  Wetlands are critically important environmental resources, as I learned from my work in my previous job on Chesapeake Bay issues.  But wetlands also attract birds and other wildlife, which as we all know now don’t go so well with air travel

First Officer Skiles related that story to the subcommittee; reinforcing the testimony by Mr. Reis that policies at all levels need to be better coordinated to avoid such instances and to ensure that responsible environmental stewardship co-exists with responsible airport management.  Such VIP tours are an important way for airport professionals to educate opinion shapers about the issues and challenges they face, and we encourage all airport leaders to make the most of such opportunities. 

I also wanted to mention the retirement of Mary Maxwell as director of the airport in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of this country’s most livable cities, and the airport there is one that travelers enjoy using.  Mary did a great job as director there, running an airport that represents the best of her community while performing at a high level for the traveling public day in and day out.  She is replaced by Steve Schreiber.  I wish Mary all the best.

A Confused Forbes Got It Wrong

There are certain media outlets one thinks provide good information, well documented and presented.  Forbes magazine is normally one of them. 

Wrong!

Wrong!

Just recently, though, they produced an ill-informed piece, actually blaming airports for high air fares.  As if airports set the fare.  Ridiculous.  It is just terrible, completely misses the mark.  We wrote a response to it, which is posted on the Forbes site and on ours

This wouldn’t be so bad in and of itself if Forbes wasn’t a publication that so many people rely upon for good information.  Indeed, some newspapers around the country have taken the article and made it the basis of pieces on their own community’s airports, exacerbating the problem and spreading misinformation. 

This reminds me of a similarly misinformed, misguided, effort by the Business Travel Coalition last year during the height of the fuel crisis.  I wrote about that report on this blog at the time, and many newspapers picked up on BTC’s predictions of communities losing all their air service (most of which were about as accurate as my prediction of the Tampa Rays winning the World Series). 

It is incumbent on those in whom the public places trust to get their facts right.  We have reached out to the authors of the article to try to educate them, but in the meantime, a number of communities around the country have begun reacting to the article in predictable ways.  Airport managers in those communities are working to set the record straight. 

It is frustrating to see so much misinformation out there, but we at ACI-NA will continue to work to combat it.