Airport security: A committed group of leaders

This past week, ACI-NA held its semi-annual Public Safety and Security Conference in Arlington, Va. Session and discussion topics included the normal types of security issues, of course. They also covered airfield safety, law enforcement, firefighting, pandemic planning, irregular operations and so many others. greg-blog-photo

Over all or part of four days, 150 people — airport professionals, government officials, experts and others — gathered to examine the latest trends, share best practices and help to better ensure they are well-prepared for emergencies. 

Indeed, preparedness was the theme of the conference. Bill Parcells liked to say that the better prepared he was, the better his team played.  Perhaps after he is done with football he can come to work in our industry because airport safety and security professionals live by that same motto every day. 

The people who gathered last week in Arlington are dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of the traveling public and the air transport system. I wish all travelers could get to know these people as I have and come to understand their dedication to the traveler’s well-being. 

Roughly two-thirds of an airport’s expenditures, on average, go to safety and security. The commitment of the airport industry is rock solid, and the industry’s dedication to preparation is inspiring.

Ted Kennedy. RIP

I had planned to write a post today about ACI-NA’s Public Safety and Security Conference, underway now in Arlington.  We have 150 people there, all of whom are dedicated to ensuring a safe and secure transportation system.  There are a lot of important topics on the agenda.  But the news this morning about the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy has changed my plan.  I will write the post I planned for today, but will do it later in the week. 

When you get to a certain age, you start reacting differently to the news of the passing of prominent individuals.  You see, many times such news not only marks the passing of a person, but an era.  This one qualifies. 

Undated file photograph of a young Edward "Ted" Kennedy at New York international airport.

Undated file photograph of a young Edward "Ted" Kennedy at New York international airport.

I was four years old when my parents took me to see then-Senator John F. Kennedy speak during the 1960 campaign.  I don’t recall what he said, of course, but I remember the event, clearly.  I asked some questions of my parents and it was then I decided I wanted to move toward government and politics.  I guess I might be among the youngest people in America who were directly inspired by JFK. 

Like anyone of a certain age, I remember where I was on Nov. 22, 1963 – and during the several days that followed.  I remember RFK’s tribute to his brother during the 1964 Democratic Convention (I was a political dork even then, watching convention coverage), and where I was during those days in June, 1968 when RFK was murdered, mourned and buried.  And I certainly remember the eulogy Ted Kennedy gave that day – and shed a tear even today when it was replayed on the radio. 

I was in the audience at Madison Square Garden at the Democratic Convention in 1980 when Ted Kennedy gave his “…the dream shall never die…” speech.  I’m sure that one will be played often in the days ahead.  I was sitting with a fellow I knew who was a senator from Nigeria (they had senators back then), and it was a great thrill to see his reaction.  Being there…well it was quite something. 

My wife was in the audience at American University last year when Senator Kennedy, along with his niece Caroline, endorsed Barack Obama for president.  Many historians say that Senator Kennedy’s prime as an American political figure is really the period bracketed by those speeches, after he came to terms with the end of his presidential ambitions. 

So, there is a personal nexus here for me for many reasons.   Oh yes, there is also an aviation nexus.  I haven’t heard much (actually I’ve heard nothing) so far today in all the tributes about this, but some remember that it was Ted Kennedy who provided a great deal of the energy and ambition behind airline deregulation.  His view was that fares would come down, choice would increase and customer service would be enhanced.  Still a work in progress. 

I don’t know about any of you, but I will be watching as much of the coverage of this as I can the next few days.  I will especially be looking for clips from some of the past events I’ve mentioned, and many others as well. 

Ted Kennedy.  RIP

National Aviation Day

Happy National Aviation Day!  Today is the birthday of Orville Wright (yes, I know, it is Bill Clinton’s birthday too), so on August 19 every year we celebrate National Aviation Day.  It is actually part of National Aviation Week, established as such by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, when commercial aviation was in its infancy.

I am a student of history and I like to play the “what if” game.  You know, what if this event never happened or that person never existed?  How would things be different?

What if we couldn’t fly passengers and cargo?  What kind of world would it be?  Would we be ANYWHERE near as well off?  If you could say we would be as well off, I want to hear your reasoning.

Aviation is the most important single economic development story of the 20th century in my opinion.  Greater even than the invention of the computer.  Again, play that “what if” game.  Let me know what you think.

Enough Already

I’m on vacation, trying to keep my pledge to relax and not think about work (very much). My last post was about the Jersey Shore and my latest visit to a presidential grave – light stuff. 

But the story about passengers stuck on a regional jet Friday night in Rochester, Minn., really has me angry. 

What angers me the most is this:  the airline involved blamed the airport, saying it was the middle of the night, the airport couldn’t take care of the passengers, there were no TSA screeners, etc.

This is bull. 

The Rochester International Airport's terminal.

The Rochester International Airport's terminal.

The airport was and is ready to receive passengers in this situation. They are an international airport open 24/7. There were clean rest rooms and vending machines available in the sterile area. The notion that the absence of TSA screeners caused this is also nonsense; the people could have been let off and remained in the secure area of the terminal. 

This airline and its personnel screwed up. It happens. When it does, you own the mistake, apologize and compensate those who paid a price for the mistake, and then set about making sure it doesn’t happen again.  I was pleased today to see that Continental is offering a refund to the passengers and a certificate for a future flight. 

What bothers me is the pattern of blaming the airport and I am tired of it.  The director of a small southern airport told me a story about being on a plane that landed early at his own airport. The pilot pulled up toward the gate but stopped short announcing that as they were early, “the airport” wasn’t ready. The airport director talked to the pilot about this; it was the airline’s ground staff that wasn’t ready for an early flight, the airport was all set. The pilot didn’t care; he said it because he could. 

The same happens when “air traffic control” is blamed for all sorts of problems, including those caused by airline over-scheduling. 

The airline business is a complex one; no doubt. Mistakes will happen. But I am tired of airlines blaming everyone else, with airports being their favorite target of choice. 

The airport in Rochester, Minn., was ready to help those people. The airline preferred to leave them on the plane and then found it easier to blame the airport and TSA. 

Shame on them. They deserve whatever remedies might be forced on them by a traveling public, and the politicians who represent then, who are fed up with such irresponsibility.

Footnotes:

  • Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in his blog today is asking for a better explanation of events from Continental and ExpressJet. He has also asked the department’s general counsel to investigate the incident to determine if either airline violated any law in its actions or inactions last Friday night.
  • New York Times columist Joe Sharkey this afternoon wrote a posting in his Boarding Area blog echoing similar thoughts to what I have said.

Another gravesite, more stimulus spending

I’m in New Jersey visiting family “down the shore” as they say here. Went to Ortley Beach yesterday, a very nice family beach. 

Ortley Beach along the New Jersey shore.

Ortley Beach along the New Jersey shore.

There are a lot of people here and it looks like some money is being spent. I hope that means that the economy is starting to turn around like the recently released figures seem to indicate. 

On the way up here we stopped in Princeton to see the gravesite of Grover Cleveland. He is the only president born in my home state of New Jersey and the only one buried here. Arthur Schlesinger calls him the greatest president no one knows anything about. Not sure about that, but he got elected twice, the only one to do that non-consecutively.  When he lost the presidency in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison he actually won the popular vote (one of only three presidents to do that more than twice — FDR and Andrew Jackson the others).  His grave is near Princeton University and he is buried next to his wife and his daughter Ruth after whom the Baby Ruth candy bar is named. 

I also drove past a lot of road work between Virginia and New Jersey and a lot of signs stating that the work was paid for by the stimulus legislation. 

 I kept thinking about how much good the stimulus has done in the airport sector, with almost every penny of the grant money dedicated and the tax provisions leading to the sale of roughly $3 billion in airport bonds, all of which has created or saved thousands of jobs. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times:  Aviation is the real success story of the stimulus. Though I really hope that the highway money I saw being put to work on the way up here does just much as good.