Thoughts on security (and Notre Dame)

Some random thoughts, not all security related: 

Current law stipulates that TSA look for explosives at the checkpoint. Regardless of your views on the machines or patdowns, that’s what they are doing. Considering current law, what other alternatives are there? 

What if they were NOT doing this and there was another, more successful, attempt to blow up a plane in flight?  What kind of discussion would we be having? 

I do think it is time to re-visit the basic security laws now that we have almost a decade of post-9/11 experience.  

Those who exploit this for political gain should not be taken seriously. 

Those who invoke the specter of sexual abuse victims (such as the Business Travel Coalition did) to criticize the new procedures are disgusting and contemptible.  I say that as someone close to someone who was a victim.  

John Pistole is a real professional. A pro’s pro.
Let’s keep all those protecting us, from military and intelligence people in the field to the TSA folks in our airports and local law enforcement, in our thoughts this Thanksgiving. 

Notre Dame half-time show in Yanke Stadium

Notre Dame half-time show in Yanke Stadium

Finally, I went to the Notre Dame-Army game at Yankee Stadium this past Saturday. That place is awesome. It looks and feels much more like the REAL old Yankee Stadium than did that post-1973 edifice that was torn down 2 years ago. Brought back great memories of going with my dad in the 60’s and early 70’s to see the Giants.


I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!


Enhanced Patdowns: Better Public Education Needed

There are any number of things I’d planned to write about. Security was not one of them.  But the stories about passenger reactions to the new TSA procedures, including patdowns and use of Advanced Imaging Technology are too numerous and important to ignore. 

As the leader of an organization that prides itself on putting the passenger first; it must be said that passenger views need to be taken seriously. There are concerns; so they must be addressed one way or another. Much better public education is one of those ways. An accelerated effort to develop new technologies to address the threat in ways that don’t generate such concerns must be another. 

A new AIT scanner in use.

But this must also be said:  the screening procedures that have been used up until now have been effective at largely eliminating guns, knives and other weapons — in fact that happened long ago. But more recently, the technology in use has been effective only in detecting metal hip and knee implants, jewelry left in place by mistake and stray coins in ones’ back pocket. None of those things poses any threat. 

The real and credible threat that does exist comes in the form of explosives that metal detectors are powerless to detect. They can be well-hidden. What was being used prior was not effective enough. 

Something had to change. 

We can argue over whether the current mix of procedures is best. Personally, I believe nothing beats great intelligence (as was shown when someone, and I hope he or she is still alive, was able to provide the tracking numbers for those printer cartridge bombs). As a wise friend of mine has said, if we wait to catch the bad guys until they’ve gotten to the airport, we’ve waited too long. 

This is increasingly important now as the terrorists, especially AQAP, have begun to recruit operatives to act alone and who had little or no previous connection with anything remotely related to terrorist activity (the underwear bomber was just another rich, lazy, underachieving college student four months before he set his “junk” on fire). And, now we know they are using items that can be shipped as cargo, no human beings even necessary. Give them “credit.” They are changing the paradigm, and doing so rapidly. 

I agree with those who say we should be looking for bad people rather than bad things. I agree with people who say we can do things differently and better. Except our current laws (and in some cases customs and traditions) dictate otherwise. One of the things the law dictates is finding explosives at the checkpoint. 

Those of us in the aviation industry are committed to working together to improve and reform our laws and procedures and some of us are actively working together to do that. We have a traveling public that demands respect, but also demands flawless security. Every time there is an incident, the press, public and politicians demand steps to keep it from ever happening again. The metal detector and old procedures were demonstrably not effective against the very real threat we face. 

Something had to be done. 

As the proud owner of a metal hip for exactly one year, I have been subjected to enhanced screening every time I have flown this past year – probably about 50 times. Most have involved a patdown and a wanding. I have used the AIT machine twice and greatly prefer it to either the old patdown or the new one. I have received the new patdown twice. Each time the TSA officer told me exactly what he was going to do. It was all done with professionalism (I would guess, that TSA officers, as a group, are strongly in favor of any technology or other alternative that would keep them from having to do the patdowns). To me, the new patdowns, while clearly more thorough than the old, are not significantly more intrusive than the old ones. But as the recipient of dozens of patdowns over the past year, I’ve become somewhat immune to it all and I understand that many people who are being patted down now had never before received any kind of patdown. And as I said earlier, we must pay attention to our passengers, improve public education, and move more quickly to better technology, improved intelligence and security law reform that makes sense. 

I wish TSA had undertaken a more robust education campaign, but I applaud Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s commitment to take passenger comments seriously, and I applaud TSA Administrator John Pistole and his team for trying to address the threat we face (we don’t get to pick the threat; it picks us). I know airports around the country are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all their passengers. 

In the short term I hope we can make whatever modifications might be called for and move beyond the immediate controversy. In the longer term, I hope we can develop new and better technologies and procedures to define a future of safe, secure, passenger friendly air travel; while addressing the very real threats we do face — and which are never going to be fully conquered. This is a game that will go on forever.

Debunking More PFC Misconceptions

Carl – glad to again be able to set the record straight! (Carl posted a reply to Tuesday’s blog, Answering PFC Lies.)

The airlines did cut capacity but according to their schedules, capacity is coming back in January- across all sizes of airports.  For large hubs, flights are up 5.7% over January 2010, for medium hubs 1.6%, small hubs 3.3% and non-hubs 6%.   

Apparently the airlines are not listening to your call to reduce the costs of flying! Fares are up, based not only on DOT data but airline CEO comments during investor calls.  The average fare in the second quarter was $341, including “peak day surcharges” which airlines added for most summer travel days.  And what about the increasing number of fees for everything from seat selection to carry on or checked bags?  Those fees can comprise 10 to 20% of rising fares. In fact, I just spoke to someone today who is paying an extra $120 to check her bags for the trip she is on. 

Each PFC collection is legally tied to a specific, FAA-approved project which enhances safety, security or capacity at airports. Further, airports consult airlines and the public before submitting the application to FAA.  Airlines always have the ability to protest PFC applications at FAA but they don’t because they would rather have the project costs paid by the passenger, not through rates and charges.  I’ve spoken to several airport directors recently who have been ASKED BY AIRLINE EXECUTIVES to pay for needed work with PFCs but have had to say no because their PFC is pledged to pay for work already done. The fact is airlines prefer funding projects through the PFC since it keeps their airport costs from going up, translating into a better bottom line.  

Finally, airport operators throughout the Unites States have delayed projects and reduced expenses significantly, including laying off personnel.  And airport directors are not enjoying rich bonuses for taking care of the traveling public.

Answering PFC lies

Today’s posting is in response to a comment posted in response to my blog on Monday: A PFC Hike Meets the Needs of a Divided Electorate. 

Carl – thanks for your comment and for giving me the opportunity to correct some of the lies that you (and others) have been told about the PFC by airlines. 

First, the airlines get paid for collecting the Passenger Facility Charges and in 2009 that meant at least $75 million to the airlines bottom line. 

Second, the PFC was put into place because airlines blocked any terminal expansion that would allow new competition. Without the PFC, passengers would not enjoy the competition they now have in Baltimore, Burlington, Philadelphia and many other airports. With increasing airline consolidation, the PFC is even more important now! 

Third, the regulations specifically prohibit PFCs from being used for building revenue generating areas such as retail and concessions. And speaking of services for passengers – the ACI-NA Concessions Benchmarking Survey released today in Phoenix, shows that air travelers are demanding more variety and better quality food and retail options at airports. Just because many airlines no longer listen to their customers doesn’t mean that airports shouldn’t. Airlines encourage airports to have more diverse non-airline revenues because it reduces their rates and charges – just like the PFC does! 

Fourth, airline CEOs have told me privately they like the PFC as a way to fund airport terminal renovation and expansion because it keeps their costs low. 

The issue is about control – the airlines want it and if they are successful that means higher fares and fewer choices for passengers. Airports are accountable to their communities – and the citizens of those communities want their airports to deliver that price and service competition.

A PFC Hike Meets the Needs of a Divided Electorate

I’m sitting in Newark Airport on the way back from the ACI World conference in Bermuda. That meant I was out of the country for the election and this gave me time to think. 

It seems like the country wants different things:  focus on jobs, no focus on the deficit, no focus on taxes, and no focus on spending. Reading a story how Americans feel about these seemingly (in some cases) contradictory desires, the polls say that people are pretty evenly split. No one is happy, that is clear. But on specifics, kind of split. 

But one thought keeps popping into my pre-occupied head. By giving airports more room under the outdated federal law that limits local user fees airports can charge; Congress can satisfy all of these urges. The Passenger Facility Charge user fee is a proven jobs creator. It spends not a dime of federal money, so jobs are created without increasing the deficit. It satisfies the urge to meet national needs without federal spending and as a local fee paid only by users, it is NOT a tax as was so splendidly explained by Senate Commerce Committee REPUBLICANS earlier this year. 

And by promoting economic growth and vitality long into the future, it continues to create jobs long into the future. In fact, when I was in state government in the 80’s, businesses told us over and over that a strong transportation system was their key priority. 

Politicians of all stripes will be looking for ways to address the understandable anger and impatience of the American people. Here is a way to do it. Pass FAA reauthorization with an increase in the federal limit on this local user fee. And watch good things happen.

Reporting from ACI’s Annual Meeting

I’m here in Bermuda on the last day of the ACI World and ACI Latin America/Caribbean Annual Conference. There are 500 people here from more than 70 countries and every continent. 

The start of this meeting coincided with the uncovering of an attempt to send and perhaps detonate explosives aboard cargo aircraft. The ACI World Governing Board made a strong statement on this. Airports around the world want to be, and should be, part of the way forward. 

Las Vegas CEO Randy Walker and Montréal CEO Jim Cherry don Bermuda business attire.

We also spent a great deal of time on the issue of gratuitous taxation of aviation. Often under the guise of environmental benefit, governments around the world have imposed, or are considering such taxes. Make no mistake; these taxes are only being put into place to try to close budget deficits. In the end, they hold down travel and actually have a negative impact on the economy and on government revenues. ACI World took a strong stand against such gratuitous taxation. 

As is often the case when I travel outside of the US, I talk to airport and airline leaders who just do not understand U.S. airport finance. These conversations are especially interesting coming from overseas airlines who just don’t believe their U.S. counterparts can possibly prefer having these costs in their airport charges rather than as a user fee like the PFC. This is one foreign perspective I hope takes hold in the U.S. 

I could go on, but do want to thank Aaron Adderley, Jacqueline Horsfield and all the folks at the airport here who have been such great hosts. I also want to congratulate my friends Javier Martinez, the new Regional Secretary for ACI-LAC, and Miguel Southwell, chair of ACI-LAC, for a successful meeting and also my friends Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World, and Max Moore-Wilton, chair of ACI World, on a very successful event. The hospitality here has been unsurpassed, and the natural beauty of Bermuda is hard to match. The spirit was contagious and as you will see in the attached picture, some were possessed by it to don traditional Bermuda business wear (but not yours truly, legs not good enough!)