Alfred Kahn

Greg and Dr. Alfred Kahn in Boston in 2008 after Kahn's keynote address to the ACI annual meeting.

Two years ago, ACI-North America and ACI World held a joint conference in Boston. There were more than 2300 people there from every corner of the world. When we left, there was one person who the other 2300 people were talking about: Alfred (Fred) Kahn.

Dr. Kahn was our keynote speaker. Dr. Kahn is best known as the father of US airline deregulation, and his ideas have taken root around the world. What we take for granted, that you can fly anywhere from anywhere on almost any airline, would not have been possible without his work. Because before Fred Kahn came on the scene, the reality of air travel was much different.

We were chatting before his speech and I saw his notes for his talk. As you might expect from someone so experienced and thoughtful, his notes had been edited and re-edited, right up to the moment when we walked on to the stage. He wanted it to be perfect.

Our then-chair, Randy Walker, introduced him. Dr. Kahn began by saying “it’s nice to be here, but at my age (then 91) it’s nice to be anywhere.” From that moment on, he had everyone in the room in the palm of his hands. He talked about deregulation and its aftermath. He drew lessons that were pertinent for everyone in the room, no matter where they came from. I was the person who had to follow him to the podium and I could see the hold he had on everyone in the room.

More than one person told me that having the chance to hear him was worth the price of admission to the conference. People still say that today.

Having met him and been on a stage with him was one of the highlights of my career. Having traveled widely and easily, I feel myself in his debt on a regular basis.

Fred Kahn passed away this week at 93. Unfortunately, no one from here on will have the experience I had that day in Boston. But we will all benefit from his work and ideas, for as long as people travel. Alfred (Fred) Kahn. RI

Security Mission to Israel: A Tour of the West Bank



The President of the Palestinian Authority is paying for fixing the roof on the Church of the Nativity. A sign of hope?

Birthplace of Christ inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Getting ready for a 2 a.m. wake up call on Friday morning to begin the journey home.

Today we spent more time in the West Bank, including an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority itself. It was quite an experience, and not just because the area we visited includes Bethlehem. 

To briefly discuss Bethlehem, we were driven by an Israeli Arab into Bethlehem and then met by a young Palestinian Christian who took us around (it is interesting that of the three tour guides we had, one was a Jew, one a Muslim and one a Christian — this is truly an amazing place). 

We visited the shepherds’ fields near Bethlehem and then the Church of the Nativity where Christ was born. Coming a week before Christmas was fortunate; we had a lot of room to move around. Seeing the site of the birth was very moving to my wife, sister-in-law and me. The Church of the Nativity itself has an interesting story, you can look it up. As we were leaving, we heard the call to prayer from a nearby mosque (Friday is the Muslim holy day of the week). A similar experience was encountered earlier at the week at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which contains the Crucifixion and Resurrection sites. An interesting place. 

Just as when we drove near Ramallah earlier in the week, the trip to and from Bethlehem was most interesting. We started in Israel proper. We went into West Bank areas controlled, policed and secured by Israel. We went into other areas policed by Palestinians but the border areas are secured by Israel. Then the third type of area, where Bethlehem is, where all such things are controlled by the Palestinian Authority. An eye opener, I’d heard about all of this and think I’m pretty well informed. But to see it all is to bring it strongly into focus. 

Most know the contours of an answer to the Israel-Palestine riddle.  There are arguments on the edges of those contours, but those are important edges to all involved. A solution to this dispute would really help move the world toward better outcomes on other disputes, including even with Iran. 

All those who are working hard to bring about a peace agreement have my earnest best wishes and prayers. One thing I do know, I met Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians on this trip. I was treated with warmth and courtesy by all of them. They all deserve a chance to live in peace, and all want to. 

Let’s hope that day comes, soon.

On the Road: Security Mission to Israel

I’m writing this on the bus back to Tel Aviv. We’ve visited Haifa and Ceaseria; and saw some of the damage from the recent fire on Mt. Carmel 


The remains of a Roman aqueduct at Caeseria.

The purpose of the trip was to examine Israeli security methods. We also received governmental, academic and private sector briefings on a variety of issues. And, as luck would have it, we met with TSA Administrator John Pistole who was at Ben Gurion Airport at the same time, on a similar mission.


We have a lot we can learn from Israel, especially the application of common sense and risk-based concepts in security. I was also interested in one briefing when they told us that if you do tests of the system and don’t have failures you are wasting your time. Whenever there are stories about failures in tests the press sometimes treats them as potential successful attacks. But what it really amounts to is that we’ve found another way to thwart an attack. Failure in tests is wanted, there are soft spots in every system, we need to uncover and bolster them. So the Israelis have a much different attitude toward these test failures than do we.    

Much of American political and press commentary on what they do here involves the concept of profiling. American notions of what profiling here entails are not based on reality. Most people assume that if we adopt this system, they and their families and friends will never be profiled. Not so. Here, everyone is profiled and the process takes a lot of time. Now, most people are cleared to go through, but they have to be interviewed and still have to go through a checkpoint that mostly resembles ours. If we tried to exactly replicate it we would shut down most of our airports (there are as many flights here in one day as there are at Chicago O’Hare in about two hours). 

There are many other differences that I am still thinking about and will, as I said, write more later. Just as last year, this has been an awesome experience as someone who really reads history and thinks about his religion a lot. It is also an awesome experience to meet so many professionals here whose work and products do so much to keep aviation safe.

I’ve now been to Israel twice and have discovered new treasures each time. The list of places I want to see grows every time I come here. My wife and sister-in-law joined me and their tales about the sites they have seen further whets my appetite. 

Airlines’ Baggage $$$s Makes News Around the Globe

I’m in Israel for our 4th annual security mission. But before I get to that, I should mention that word has reached here about airlines making over $900 million in fees just in the last quarter. Fine. Good for them. They can charge whatever they want; they are de-regulated. But there are three questions. 

First, airline reliance on fees renders the way the federal aviation trust fund is financed obsolete. So we need to figure something out.  If we don’t, investment in infrastructure and air traffic control will suffer. 

Second, it is shown that fees provide incentives for people to carry more bags on board. This has had an impact at checkpoints. Something should be done. 

Finally, as I’ve said so many other times, why is it that the federal government caps fees charged by airports, but not airlines. This federal involvement in local matters makes no sense, but I guess no less sense than airlines opposing airports financing projects through user fees. (Especially, when the fact that airport fees are limited reduces the airline bottom line, thereby reducing the positive impact of fees – if you think that makes sense then you must have a unique definition of self-interest). 

Sorry, just had to say that, especially after the latest figures came out.  

I’ll have plenty to say about Israel shortly. We’ve visited some incomparable historic sights. We traveled through Palestinian territories today on the way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, with Ramallah just a kilometer or two away and, at one point, the security fence on BOTH sides of the highway.  

We have had briefings at the Foreign Ministry and spent a full day and a half at the airport viewing their security programs from every angle. Suffice to say we’ve learned a lot — including the fact that the Israeli system could not be imported whole to the U.S. or Canada.   More to come. 

Act Now

If you are reading this it is because you are interested in airports and aviation.  So…if you are interested in those things drop whatever it is you are doing RIGHT NOW and call your senator, your congressman and The White House (202-456-1414).   

Why?  Because the tax deal announced by the president does not include an extension of the AMT waiver for private purpose bonds (including many airport bonds) and does not include Build America Bonds.  These provisions, I can say truthfully, created and preserved jobs more effectively and efficiently than any other provision of the so-called stimulus package.  This has been recognized on the Hill, with the House passing a one-year extension twice and the Senate Finance Committee approving it as well. 

This is a provision that created and preserved tens of thousands of jobs, while building critical infrastructure that our nation needs.  Democrats and Republicans in Congress support it.  The airlines support it.  Business and labor support it.  Must be the right thing to do. 


A Worthy Colleague, Jim May

ATA's retirng CEO Jim May

The Air Transport Association earlier this week selected Nick Calio as its new President and CEO.  Nick worked for both Presidents Bush in Legislative Affairs and is currently at Citibank.  I look forward to working with him on the many issues on which airports and airlines agree, and to debating on other issues on which we do not agree.

But, this post is about the man he is replacing, Jim May. 

Most people in Washington, especially those from a younger generation, automatically assume that Jim and I would not like each other, that we would never meet or talk, that we would demonize each other, and that we would make no effort to work together.  None of these things was true.  Perhaps it is because we have both been around long enough to remember when common ground was sought where possible, when fights were intense and straightforward but never personal, and when the work was done you might ask about one another’s’ families – and actually care.  Perhaps we are both just a little old school in that respect.  But I think it is also, and primarily, because of Jim’s character. 

Jim is a Marine (he taught me there is no such thing as a “former” Marine).  He once ran for Congress himself.  He has had a variety of jobs in Washington, most outside of the aviation industry (like me in that respect).   Jim is someone who is interested in results.  Many people in Washington relish the fight for its own sake.  He relishes it because, in the end, it often leads to some result that will, in the best cases, benefit everyone.  And, for some who may not believe this, that is actually the way our system is supposed to work; that is what the Founders had in mind. 

I don’t mean to give the impression that Jim and I hang out in the evening or on the weekend; we don’t.  But from the beginning, we have had a friendly, professional, high-level relationship.  We have found much common ground.  On issues where common ground was harder to find we still searched for it.  When we couldn’t find it we fought for our members, hard.  We knew it was not personal, and we knew that even if we were fighting today, we might be shoulder to shoulder tomorrow. 

I think Jim did a great job for his members, and has been a terrific representative for them over these past eight or so years.  He has been an outstanding advocate for issues such as air traffic control modernization.  He has seen to it that our organizations work together on security, facilitation, safety, international air service expansion, environment (most of the time) and a variety of legal issues. 

It would be easy for us to have simply put one another into some sort of enemy category.  That never happened.  And, when one of us did something that might have come close to the line, we could discuss it. 

Oh yes, in one of his best moves, Jim also married a New York Giants football fan! 

I have enjoyed working with and against Jim.  I will miss that very much.  I wish him well and hope that our paths will cross often in the future.