Election day in the U.S. is Tuesday, Nov 2. If you are reading this it indicates a certain level of interest in airports and aviation. If you have that kind of connection with aviation then you really have no excuse not to vote. 

ACI-NA does not endorse candidates, though our PAC does help support candidates of both parties who have been supportive of airport infrastructure. Regardless of your party or candidate preferences, you should vote. 

When you do, all I ask is that you ensure that your candidate understands the importance of airports and aviation to their communities. That they understand that investments in infrastructure are for the long term; and that the jobs and economic activity they foster will be there and growing long after the project is finished and the ribbon is cut. 

There are congressmen and senators and candidates of both parties who understand this. Transportation used to be seen as the routine business of government. Politics didn’t much enter in, at least at the stage when programs were being authorized. Ask your candidates whether they are committed to returning to those days. And then VOTE!

Airports Like Profitable Airlines

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about airline profits. The numbers are good, almost all larger than expected. This is great news. No one in the airport industry wants a financially week airline industry. Some think otherwise, but not true. Airports want airlines to do well. It stands to reason. Financially strong airlines are more likely to serve more communities. 

One of the most amusing stories I saw was one in which airline folks rushed to point out at that without ancillary fees the airlines would barely have broken even. I just don’t get that. It’s like WalMart saying that without sales of food, clothing and toys they would barely break even. 

I’m not sure if airlines are somewhat shy about becoming profitable or what it is. What is happening is that they are providing service to people that customers want and are paying for. It’s a free market and this is as it should be.  Fine. 

The biggest threat I see to the airlines’ financial future is the inadequacy of our infrastructure, both in the air and on the ground. Seventeen years ago, a presidential commission made exactly this point. I am amused that some current airline leaders have perverted this point as they quote that report to argue airports should be limited in how they finance infrastructure (while also changing the pricing structure for air transportation in a way that starves the trust fund that supports air traffic control). I wrote that report 17 years ago and will be keeping my eye on how it is used or mis-used in the current debate. 

I want airlines to remain profitable, and become more profitable. I want the infrastructure in the air and on the ground to improve and not to crumble. That’s my vision, and the vision of the airport industry.

What Do You Wish Congress Better Understood About Airports?

I just finished reading the September issue of Airport Revenue News (great publication by the way). They have interviews with a number of really, really smart airport directors.

Two comments really jumped out at me, both in response to the same question:  “What do you wish Congress better understood about airports?”

Here’s Patrick Graham‘s (Savannah) response:  “Airports have to construct facilities long before they are needed and when they use AIP/PFC funds, the airlines don’t pay for those facilities in rates and charges. So the airlines and Congress should be in favor of higher AIP and PFC levels.”

Airport Revenue News

Here’s Steve Grossman (Jacksonville):  “I wish Congress understood we are on the same side. Airports have the community’s best interest at heart. We’re trying to build things for our customers and for the community. Sometimes I think Congress looks at us as just another special interest out for their own good. Our good is the community’s good.”

Patrick and Steve make a lot of sense. Some in Congress do understand, but many do not. What Patrick and Steve say are basic truths – no spin, no B.S.

As we look toward the election and beyond, we will be re-assessing our approach on these issues, and our basic message. We can do worse than to begin with very simple thoughts from two of the smartest people in the business.

Obama likes the Miller Center Plan and so do I

On Monday, President Obama stood with former Transportation Secretaries Mineta and Skinner to call for bipartisan support for infrastructure investment. The two secretaries chaired a University of Virginia Miller Center conference on transportation, which last week released a report (which the president held up). The Miller Center is run by my old boss former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles. I was among the 80 experts called upon by the Miller Center to participate. 

While the report has a heavy surface transportation focus, its recommendations directly relate to aviation: 

  • Recommendation 1: Stop the Bleeding. Federal aviation infrastructure spending has gone down both in real terms and because more of the money is spent on FAA operations.
  • Recommendation 2: Beyond the Gas Tax. Of course in aviation it is the ticket tax. But the point is the same, the mechanism to fund aviation in this country is out of date as airlines move toward charging fees not subject to the ticket tax. It is time to get beyond the ticket tax as currently constituted.
  • Recommendation 3: Jobs for the Future Not Just for Today. Aviation infrastructure is the perfect illustration of this, look at all the economic activity that grows around airports. Those jobs last!
  • Recommendation 4: Pass the Power Please. Airports are key parts of their community and we believe the law should be changed where appropriate to give airports more say in their own economic affairs, including what fees to charge and how to finance projects.
  • Recommendation 5: Adopt a Capital Budget. Airports already essentially do this. It is time to give them the freedom to finance it.
  • Recommendation 6: Connect the Dots. Airports are also increasingly doing this, looking to better connect to downtown and surrounding areas. Let’s remove restrictions that hold airports back.
  • Recommendation 7: Getting Americans Home for Dinner. Air transportation congestion has been well documented. Let’s move forward with NextGen, and allow airports the flexibility, especially including a higher PFC cap, to finance infrastructure to take full advantage of NextGen. There is NO NextGen without a PFC increase, and there will be lots more missed dinners.
  • Recommendation 8: It’s All About Leveraging. Airports are involved in public-private partnerships every day. Perhaps there is no mode better at this. Let’s remove remaining obstacles, and I would implore the airline industry to join us (as they often, but not always, do).
  • Recommendation 9: Delivering Transportation Investments on Time. Airports have an outstanding record in this regard, but the stop and start of 16 FAA Reauthorization extensions and no PFC increase puts this in peril. We need a long-term extension and a PFC ceiling increase so projects can continue to come in on time and on budget.
  • Recommendation 10: Build a Foundation for Informed Policy. This is why airline mis-information about airport infrastructure is so frustrating and why ACI-NA investments so many resources in data collection. In fact, private conversations, even with airlines, based on our data are usually quite constructive. Informed debate is useful. Ideological debate is not. 

These are the 10 recommendations from the Miller Center’s work. They make all the sense in the world. I applaud Secretaries Mineta and Skinner, Gov. Baliles and President Obama for focusing on them and call on all my colleagues in aviation to approach this FAA bill, and all its future successors, with the same constructive spirit.


Back from Pittsburgh

Back from our Annual Conference and Exhibition in Pittsburgh. A few observations: 

Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center, the site of the closing night event.

We had great attendance and spirited participation. This despite, the fact that three other organizations scheduled airport-related conferences right on top of ours. (How about some consideration next time, folks???  Ours was scheduled six years ago.) 

Pittsburgh might be America’s most under-rated city. Just beautiful. The rivers, bridges and architecture combine in a really wonderful way. And the Pittsburgh airport team, led by Brad Penrod, were outstanding hosts. This was a great conference and a great event. 

My big take away from the conference:  Our members want the federal government out of the business of the airport business. More on this in coming weeks and months. 

2010 ACI-NA Board Chair G. Hardy Acree and TSA Administrator John Pistole at a joint ACI-NA/ACI-Europe Board meeting in Pittsburgh.

We had a major security session together with the board of ACI Europe. We had the new TSA Administrator, John Pistole; the European Union’s top aviation official, Daniel Calleja: and from Canada the head of CATSA, Kevin McGarr. There is a great interest in better coordinating and harmonizing security approaches around the world. The current meeting in Montreal of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, a UN body) is considering this. ACI World is the official airport representative there 

We also had a spirited security panel, at which it became clear that airports and airlines want to work together on new approaches to aviation security 

A lot of discussion about technology and social media. Our keynote, Nick Bilton, is a technology writer for the New York Times. I interviewed him prior to his session and his message was much discussed over the next few days 

The week in Pittsburgh was just terrific, our best program yet I think with a great array of speakers and topics. The meeting with the ACI Europe board was interesting and engaging and lays the groundwork for a lot of good work ahead. It is always a grueling week, and I found that my new hip allowed me to do far more than before, including visiting a large majority of the exhibit booths. I’m tired, but exhilarated