This past week was really something.
On Monday, the Senate passed, by a vote of 93-0, its version of the FAA reauthorization bill. This is the first time since we began working on this that both houses of Congress have passed the legislation. In a meeting in his office just three weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told me face-to-face that he would bring this bill up and we’d get it passed. He was right!
On Thursday, the House had to pass (again) their version of the bill so a conference can begin. We are hopeful conferees will be chosen soon, that we can get an agreement (that includes the House-passed passenger facility charge number and does not include any newly mandated FAA regulatory action to change an already safe and effective Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting regime).
On Monday, I spent time (along with our Executive VP for Policy and External Affairs Debby McElroy) with Sue Baer, the Aviation Director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in her offices in New York City. Sue is the first person to have been the airport manager at all three major New York Area airports (JFK, LaGuardia and Newark) and then to have been appointed aviation director for the Port Authority. She has more on her plate than is possible to describe or contemplate, but she has the talent and the team to tackle all those challenges. The chance to spend so much time with her was invaluable.
While in New York, I had the chance to find out who is buried in Grant’s Tomb (President Grant, and Mrs. Grant). I have now been to 22 of the 38 presidential gravesites.
Wednesday morning, I flew to Sacramento for a meeting of the board of the newly formed California Airports Council. The council includes all of California’s 30 commercial service airports. We met with state legislators and staff, and I also made a presentation to the council’s board. After the meeting, I spent some time with the council’s Executive Director, Jim Lites. California airports see more than 10 percent of the take offs and landings that occur every day in the United States, so their collective voice is important. The council also includes current, former and future ACI-NA board members such as our current chair Hardy Acree (Sacramento), past chair Gina Marie Lindsey (L.A.), current second vice chair Thella Bowens (San Diego), John Martin (San Francisco), Bill Sherry (San Jose), and Russ Widmar (Frenso). We discussed a great many issues impacting the entire industry during my two days there, and I was also able to give them updates on House considering of the FAA bill as they occurred during their board meeting.
On the way out to Sacramento, I had a layover in Denver and was able to spend time with Kim Day who runs the Denver airport. Kim is also on our board of directors. She once ran LAX and is an experienced and effective airport leader. It might also interest you, (and you might have noticed reading this) that the directors of some of our nation’s largest airports/airport systems are women: Sue Baer (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey), Gina Marie Lindsey Los Angeles World Airports and Kim Day (Denver) have already been mentioned in this post, and you can add Rosemarie Andolino who is the Commissioner of Aviation in Chicago and is responsible for O’Hare and Midway. Angela Gittens, former Director in Atlanta and Miami, is current Director General of ACI World. The glass ceiling has been breached in the airport business, to the benefit of travelers everywhere.
So, our major legislative priority made great headway, I was able to visit with nearly two dozen members, and spent time in New York and Sacramento (they have a beautiful state capitol building, by the way). I settled into my seat on the plane in Denver on Friday, looking forward to a pizza and beer and the NCAA tournament when I got home, when the pilot made an announcement that joining us on the flight to Washington from Denver that day would be the body of a young soldier killed in the service of our country (a Private First Class McElroy, I believe). He would be going home to a very different reception, and would be going home for the last time. The feeling I had about this can’t be described. And on my drive home from the airport, I found myself in a group of cars traveling behind his hearse and escort on the Dulles Access road. I certainly felt honored to have been there, and I hope all of you will say a little prayer for this young private, his family and all those serving our country and their families.