Reflections from Pearl Harbor

I’m writing at LAX waiting for our connection home after having just finished up a family vacation to Hawaii. 

pear harborOn our last day we visited Pearl Harbor. Before getting on the boat out to the Arizona Memorial you see a gripping film about the events that led up to the attack and, of course, the attack itself. It was compelling and even though you know how it turns out, you find yourself hoping for a different outcome. 

The trip to the Arizona Memorial is one I will never forget. There are 1,100 men entombed there, in their ship and you can never forget that. 

In the past year, I have visited Normandy, Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor, each for the first time. It gives you a sense of the sacrifices that have been made by so many to give us the freedoms we (too often) take for granted (if you doubt that, try this:  what would the world be like if things had turned out differently in World War II or the Civil War. Hmmm.)

Thoughts from Maui on the FAA and freedoms

Aloha from Maui. We are here with our sons on a long-planned graduation trip. It really is a beautiful place. 

I’ve been to Maui once before, as part of a program of The Atlantic Council of the United States that was aimed at young leaders (I was 35 at the time). I stood on the same beach I am looking at right now as part of that meeting and spoke with a fellow name Jaroslaw Guzy from Poland. Guzy had been the leader of the student version of Solidarity in Poland during the ’80’s. We were on that beach when he told me about being arrested in the middle of the night in order to silence him. It was on this beach, that day in 1992, that I came to fully understand the most important aspect of our U.S. constitution. You see, Poland’s constitution provided for many of the same rights we have here, but it did NOT protect against being arrested without cause. It was here when I came to more fully understand our own constitution. 

maui0019_lWe flew over here with honeymooning couples, some residents returning home, a lot of vacationers and, somewhat surprisingly (to me) a lot of families. There were a large number of small children on the plane. 

Of course there is no way to get here quickly but by plane, so this is a place that really depends on aviation. 

I thought about that earlier today when I heard the House passed its version of the FAA reauthorization bill. The bill includes provisions that will result in a larger number of runways, taxiways and terminals being built to help move passengers along. They will also ensure that the benefits of air traffic control modernization will be fully realized. 

I also thought about all that when I saw all those families on the airplane. Most of them checked bags, and had to pay fees for those (50 bucks for 2 bags probably, each way, each person). I bet many of them called to make their reservation (another fee). Perhaps in a few cases one of those kids, or their parents, got sick and had to change their reservation (150 bucks). 

That came to mind because airlines were opposed to an extra $2.50 added to the limit on the fee airports can charge for runways, taxiways and terminals to help get those families safely and effectively on their way. 

Even in the tranquility of Hawaii, it is hard to wrap my mind around that irony.

Another Graduation . . . this time with Handshakes!

UVA graduation

The Principato twins - UVA's Luke and MSU's Brian.

I’m writing from Charlottesville, Virginia, where my son graduated yesterday from the University of Virginia. The convocation occurred on the UVA lawn, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson as the core of his “academical village.” You might know that the founding of UVA is one of three accomplishments Jefferson requested be listed on his tombstone

The weather wasn’t good, but the university made clear the ceremony would be held outside unless there was a hurricane or something like that. You don’t turn your back on Jefferson’s creation without good reason! 

After the big ceremony we went to Memorial Gym for the diploma ceremony (this one was for the Woodrow Wilson Politics School). Unlike last week at Michigan State, there was no sign asking people not to shake hands so every graduate got a hardy handshake. We never heard the words swine flu. 

We were very lucky to see both our sons graduate, and both ceremonies were filled with others equally fortunate. While we drove to both, alot of folks flew. It really is at times like that I find myself proudest to be part of an industry that makes such moments possible. 

We will take a short family vacation, but there is alot going on in Washington this week. A hearing for the new FAA Administrator and consideration of an FAA reauthorization on the House floor are just two highlights of the week to come. We will be all over these issues and I will be commenting on them.

The President and Notre Dame

President Obama is getting a lot of attention this week for the commencement addresses he will make. 

He spoke last night at Arizona State, which famously declined to give him an honorary degree saying his body of work is not complete yet (do only dead people get honorary degrees there?)  He turned it into a joke, promising never again to pick against ASU in his NCAA hoops bracket. 

The university's Golden Dome.

The university's Golden Dome.

Most of the attention, though, is directed at my alma mater, Notre Dame.  A front page story in the Washington Post yesterday really got my attention. It talked about all sorts of protestors coming out of the woodwork to protest and disrupt graduation ceremonies this weekend. This is also a sore subject with me since I am spending much of this month at my own sons’ graduations and know how special these occasions are. 

Every U.S. president since Gerald Ford has received an honorary degree from Notre Dame. (There is a neat video montage of these speeches on the ND website.) Presidents like going there, for obvious reasons, and the students there benefit by hearing from presidents.  I was privileged to be in the audience as a student in the mid-70s when President Ford received his honorary degree and spoke (it was on a St. Patrick’s Day as I recall).  President Carter spoke to the graduating class right before mine; our speaker the following year was William F. Buckley who delivered a rebuttal to Carter’s speech (Carter’s Notre Dame speech was the famous “inordinate fear of communism” speech).  Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush have all spoken there.  Of those previous six, three were pro-life and three were pro-choice.  

We are talking about the president of the United States.  Any university would be privileged to have a president speak and no university worthy of being called a university would sort through presidents using some sort of scorecard.  And I am not a religious scholar, but I do recall that Jesus honored people from all walks of life and with all kinds of issues in their past. 

I am as honored that the president is speaking at my alma mater (and I have felt the same about ALL of the previous six) as I am appalled that so many are using my alma mater as a whipping post for their political agenda. 

I said before that I am not a religious scholar, but allow me to quote from someone who is:  my old classmate, roommate and friend, R. Scott Appleby, a professor at Notre Dame:  “People are weary of it,” Scott said.  “I certainly feel this is not the best way to respect life.  It makes the cause a circus.” 

That sums it up.  Regardless of how you feel about abortion, or stem cell research or any other issue, reasonable people have different views and a university is a good place to discuss and debate them.  But hijacking a graduation and turning it into a circus is not the way to go.

A Graduation . . . and a Few Signs of the Times

We drove up to East Lansing last week for the graduation of our son from Michigan State University (that’s him in the cap and gown with his twin brother who graduates from the University of Virginiathis coming weekend).  MSU has 46,000 students, so graduation is spread over a whole weekend. 

UVA's Luke and MSU's Brian Principato.

The Principato twins - UVA's Luke and MSU's Brian.

It began with a convocation keynoted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  It is rare to be in the presence of someone who changed the world by risking his life to stand up to powerful oppressors, but that fairly describes Archbishop Tutu.  He was quite something.  

That was followed by Brian’s college graduation, and all 1,000 graduates from Communication Arts were called to the stage, including Goran Suton, named to the all-tournament team for this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.  There are few moments in a parents life that compare to seeing your child graduate college! 

A sign of the times,  message was put on the Jumbotron at the Breslin Center that said, “because of recent events we will not engage in hand shaking.” Fist bumps replaced the congratulatory hand shake.

On the way out, we passed by the huge General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio.  Only a small fraction of the spaces in its enormous employee parking lot were filled.  Those empty places signify a lot of stress and uncertainty for many families in these tough economic times. 

A little further along the Ohio Turnpike, we passed the large Chrysler plant just east of Toledo.  It is shut down for now, and there were only 3-5 cars in the lot (maintenance folks, I presume).  Again, those empty spaces spell a lot of pain. 

I bought a lot of gas along the way, and the price has now crept past $2.25 a gallon for regular.  It is hard to believe it won’t pass back into the $3-plus range this summer.  I wonder if that will re-kindle all that interest in a forward looking energy policy that we hear last year at $4 a gallon.  We’ll see.

Dinning at the Embassy

Every now and then, working here in Washington, D.C., you get an invitation that serves as a reminder that this place is really unlike any other.  So it was when I recently received an invitation from Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the British Ambassador to the United States, for a dinner at his residence on Tuesday, May 5. 

Backside of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Backside of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The dinner was in honor of the visit of Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Transportation and a member of the British Parliament.  A small group of aviation leaders were invited to attend, as well as a couple of journalists, some U.S. government officials and officials from the Embassy and from the Transport Ministry. 


Congressman James Oberstar was also there with his lovely wife, Jean. 

There was much lively conversation throughout the evening, both during the reception and throughout dinner.  I wondered a few times during the evening how different discussion of trans-Atlantic aviation issues must be from the discussions Secretary Hoon must have held at similar functions in Washington as Defense Minister during two wars. 

The Ambassador was a most gracious host, and Secretary Hoon was open to discussion on a variety of topics.  And, the fact that he has family living in my home state of New Jersey also endeared him to me. 

And, in case you are wondering, yes, the ambassador’s residence looks about like what you would expect.

Random refelections on the flu, baseball and Canada

Friday night I was sitting at home part-listening to the national news when I heard the anchor say this:  “A United Airlines flight from Munich to Washington was diverted when a passenger complained of a runny nose.”

I had to wonder whether this was the news or a Saturday Night Live skit. A runny nose? 

Ill passenger removed from United flight at Logan in Boston.

Ill passenger removed from United flight at Logan in Boston.

Don’t get me wrong, potential pandemics must be taken seriously and ACI-NA has been working overtime on this one, with Debby McElroy and Lydia Kellogg leading the way. But a runny nose? 

Perhaps this was a result of the Vice President‘s ill-considered comments the other day on plane travel or not. On the whole, most utterances on this topic from the U.S. government have been reasonable and President Obama has handled it very well. The media?  Not so much in my view. 

By the way, the folks at Baltimore’s BWI airport handled their own swine flu situation with great skill last week. Turned out it was a couple of passengers who couldn’t handle their liquor, but an emergency had been declared and the BWI staff went into action. This is emblematic of the proactive steps being taken by airports, a fact recognized by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke‘s invitation to ACI-NA to join an industry roundtable on the topic. 

Also last week, I heard a speech by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The first words out of his mouth were:  “Flying is safe, flying is healthy.” He is right and deserved the response those words received. 

He also announced he was appointing Jane Garvey to oversee a mediation effort designed to resolve contract issues between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the air traffic controllers union. I view this as a positive step and truly hope that this will result in a resolution of these matters so that the FAA and the controllers can turn full attention on making NextGen a reality. My best wishes go to Jane and her team. 

I spent a couple of days at the Canadian Airports Council meeting in Ottawa. There is a lot of concern there over comments made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about the “dangers” posed by our northern border and comparing them to those faced along the southern border. These comments were wrong and harmful. There is a lot of good work we ought to be doing with Canada on security, leading some day to a single perimeter around the two countries. Such an effort would enhance security for everyone. Such comments put achievement of that vision much further off into the future. 

Before I got to Ottawa I visited the “new” Comiskey Park in Chicago, also known as Cellular One Field. It was my first visit. It does not have the charm of “old” Comiskey, but was better than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised I must say.