Hong Kong’s Cargo Terminal

Spent much of today visiting the Hong Kong Airport’s Cargo Terminal. Hong Kong is the busiest cargo airport in the world.

As you can imagine, the cargo terminal is enormous. We seemed to walk over nearly every inch of it and saw all sorts of cargo being moved, including fresh (live) seafood. The staff there is hugely impressive. It is also worth noting the intermodal nature of cargo here: it moves by air, land and sea, all right here.

The fact is that 40 percent of world trade (by value) travels by air. The stakes are huge. Here in Hong Kong they have invested greatly in automating their processes to keep things moving as efficiently as possible. They have also invested greatly in security, a huge issue all over the world.

Hong Kong sits within a five hour flight of HALF the world’s population. That is certainly a strong selling point for Hong Kong.

The movement of 40 percent of the value of the world’s trade is yet another important, and under-reported, role airports play. Think of all the jobs THAT supports.  ACI-NA’s annual Cargo Conference will be held in just a few weeks in Seattle and is an increasingly important event. The event will cover the range of key issues faced by the cargo industry.

ACI meeting in Hong Kong

Olivier Jankovec (Europe), Angela Gittens (World), Maggie Kwok (Asia-Pacific), Ali Tounsi (Africa) and me.

I’m in Hong Kong, first time I’ve ever been here. This is the semi-annual meeting of all of us who direct the various ACI efforts around the world. Angela Gittens is Director General of ACI World. She was formerly the director of the Miami and Atlanta airports and has done a great job running the global airport effort.

Olivier Jankovec is Director General of ACI Europe. He has worked for several airlines and at the European Commission. Maggie Kwok is Regional Director for ACI Asia-Pacific. She formerly ran the customs operation at Hong Kong’s airport. Ali Tounsi is Regional Secretary for ACI Africa. He worked for the aviation authority in Tunisia before joining ACI Africa.

This is a capable and passionate group. We work closely together to promote airports’ global interests in areas such as safety, security, economics, pandemic planning and so many others. It is still amazing to me how similar many of the challenges are around the world, even if the context might be very different.

It is a real honor to be part of this group and of the effort to promote airports’ interests (which I equate to passengers’ interests) around the world. We spent all day meeting and I still haven’t really seen Hong Kong yet, but that’s the way many of these trips go!

Passing through Dulles onto Hong Kong

Writing from Dulles Airport at 5 in the morning waiting for my flight to San Francisco. I’ll catch a flight there to Hong Kong to meet with my ACI regional director colleagues from around the world. 

Got to see the new Aero Train that begins service today at Dulles. I was actually invited to the kickoff ceremony later today, but I will be in the air. The whole set up is beautiful. Jim Bennett, CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and Chris Browne, Dulles Airport Manager, and their staffs have done a great job and the Aero Train will be a great addition to the transportation experience here. 

I also had my latest metal hip experience with security. The TSA officer wanded me and then conducted an extensive pat down. Took several minutes. He was professional and courteous throughout. He’s a credit to the agency and his colleagues.

All in all, though, I would much rather have gone through the body scanner machine. No contest.

U.S. and Canada: A Single Security Perimeter

I was reading my Washington Post this morning while waiting for my car to be inspected when I came across an article on how the United States and Canada are cooperating on security measures for the upcoming Winter Olympics.

This makes lots of sense. Vancouver is only a few miles from the border. Cooperation is essential. There are some sensitivities; there always are when the US and Canada seek to cooperate. Take a look at the map and tell me you don’t think it makes sense.

Now think about this. The United States and Canada share the world’s longest continuously peaceful border. We share a common sense of values and an outlook on the world that, in the context of world politics, could not be more similar. Every time I go to Canada, it seems, I see a story about a Canadian soldier who died fighting next to ours in Afghanistan.

Yet, our government spends billions of dollars and untold man-hours on a set of largely redundant security measures aimed at Canada. Do you know that when you fly from Montreal to Minneapolis (or ANY connecting point in the US) and then switch planes to go on to a further point inside the US, your bag must be re-screened? It was secure enough to get from Canada into the US on the first leg, what happened to it that made it so much more dangerous at the transfer point? Nothing, of course. Indeed, if you started your trip at one of Canada’s eight largest airports you already went through customs in Canada and, for all intents and purposes, are a domestic passenger.

Yet the bag must be re-screened. This costs TSA millions each year, and diverts attention of personnel away from what might be real security threats.

It is time to end the redundant re-screening of bags of passengers originating in Canada and transferring in the US.  It is time to understand that it makes no sense to continue to treat Canada the way our laws, regulations and processes do today.

It is time to understand that it makes perfect sense to view the US and Canada as a single security perimeter and to begin working toward that goal.

The biggest lesson I learned from the aviation security tour I took in Israel last year is that we must focus on real threats, manage and understand risk, and apply common sense. The way we treat Canada? Well, it just doesn’t meet those tests.

Airports Rallying to Help Haiti’s Airport

I don’t think it is possible to watch the coverage of the earthquake in Haiti and not be touched.  The physical, human and emotional devastation can’t be measured – and it is certain that things look and feel much worse on the ground than they do on television. 

Haiti's airport before the earthquake.

ACI-NA is working together with ACI-Latin America/Caribbean to marshal the experience and capabilities of the North American airport community to provide assistance.  Currently, the U.S. military is ensuring that the airport can handle flows of supplies that are required for immediate humanitarian needs and the FAA has sent inspectors.  ACI-NA has been in close touch with the Departments of State and Transportation, and the FAA, and the Canadian Airports Council has been in touch with the Canadian government.  There will be many needs that have to be met in the days, weeks and months ahead, and the airport community in North America is prepared to do its part.  We will work closely with our colleagues at ACI-Latin America/Caribbean. 

As after Katrina, we will also be working with the American Association of Airport Executives to establish a fund to accept contributions to assist with the humanitarian need of airport employees and their families in Haiti.  We will get that information to you as soon as possible.  In the meantime, you can visit our website (www.aci-na.org) which contains a “Help for Haiti” link if you would like to make a contribution to one of the many organizations providing assistance there. 

It is hard to imagine what the people of Haiti are going through right now.  It is at least re-assuring to know that the North American airport community is ready and willing to do its part.

My new hip and a whole body scanner

Flew back home Monday from Indianapolis and, of course, the hip set off the metal detector.  So, I was invited to step into a body scanner they have there.  The whole thing went smoothly, they got the green light signaling that I was ok, and off I went.  The checkpoint at Indy is pretty roomy, so they have space for the machines and it worked great.  

A TSA employee, shown from the back, as he stands in an airport whole-body imaging machine.

My wife was also invited to use the machine, though she has her original hips.  She also reports that it was a good experience, especially when I explained that the images are viewed by someone who cannot see her and they are not stored.  Feeling secure is very important to her, and she is someone who has good old middle American common sense.  So, the scanner machines passed the “Ann Principato test,” a tough test indeed.  (Yes, I know, some of you can’t believe that I passed her test.) 

I can also tell you that the concessions program in Indy’s new terminal is terrific.  We patronized Wolfgang Pucks, Borders, Relay and the spa they have right next to the popcorn stand.  We have also previously eaten at Champs.  Very nice, passenger friendly, terminal.

Anything But Complacent

I promised an update on my first trip through security with my new hip.

Well, it went quite smoothly. The TSA folks were polite and professional throughout and the process didn’t take any longer than it should have.

I will say that it points to me the need to deploy scanner technology that does a better job of detecting explosives (rather than artificial hips) is important. Though metal detection will always be important, so I guess I will get to know lots of TSA (and overseas) screeners in the months and years ahead. But my first trip through the system makes me optimistic.

One more thing:  I was reading an editorial in USA Today (Jan 8)  that accuses the administration and its agencies of “disturbing complacency” about terrorism. I just could not disagree more. I have been in this job nearly 5 years during two administrations and I have NEVER detected any complacency from anyone working on these matters. From people we’ll never know who risk their lives to obtain intelligence to agency leaders on whose shoulders the burden of protecting the homeland sits to the screeners at airports, I have never detected any complacency, ever.

As I said in my last post and as the president said the other day, there is no silver bullet. The terrorists will be trying to launch attacks and probe the system for the rest of time. No matter what we do. So we have to be vigilant, protect against threats we know and anticipate those to come, and work to stay a step ahead. This job will never be finished. Ever.

I am confident the people who are paid to protect us from this threat are aware of this fact and are anything but complacent.