Sea-Tac: A Snapshot of a Global Town Square

This past week I visited two of the nation’s larger airports, Salt Lake City and Seattle. These also happen to be, I think, two of the more beautiful cities in the country.

At Salt Lake, I spent several hours with the very talented airport director, Maureen Riley. When I first took the job, Maureen was CFO at Orlando and chair of our Economics Committee. (She is now on our board and chair of our Government Affairs Committee). Maureen has a smart and level-headed manner about her and has moved on several fronts to update the business and the appearance at the airport. She has a terrific staff and I had a chance to meet with several of them who are active in many ACI-NA committees. Our committee structure affords us a chance to tap the talents of airport staff across a wide range of disciplines in order to help them share best practices and provide them excellent educational opportunities. One airport director calls ACI-NA committees “graduate school” for his staff.

The committee structure also enables us to draw on real world experience as we develop the policy priorities we pursue in the regulatory and legislative arenas. Salt Lake has had a number of staff take important roles in our committees and in ACI World Committees as well.

The mountains around Salt Lake City are breathtaking, I think, and the city looked especially beautiful this time.

I went from Salt Lake City to Seattle, which is run by another real industry talent, Mark Reis (also a former board member and former chair of both our Economics Committee and our Government Affairs Committee). Mark may have the best view of any airport person in America, a spectacular view of Mt. Rainer.

Mark has also encouraged his staff to be active in our committees, indeed, three of his staff now chair ACI-NA committees and a fourth is a vice chair. Other staff members have chaired committees in the past and have served on ACI World Committees.

Both of these airports see the value in working with industry colleagues for the betterment of the industry as a whole; one of the reasons the airport industry is so strong.

Families of U.S. serviceman station in Japan were evacuated last week to Seattle as their U.S. staging point. The airport was used to coordinate their arrivals and subsequent departures. (CNN)

While in Seattle, I also had a chance to see some of the facilities used to process and care for military dependents who have been evacuated from Japan since the earthquake and tsunami. It is a massive cooperative effort by the airport, military and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and is impressive. Most of the evacuees are mothers and children and the kids are all as exhausted as they are cute. There are also animals and pets, so the airport went out and bought dog food and kitty litter.

Many of the evacuees had no idea they were leaving until a day or two before getting on the plane. In some cases, not all documents are in order, in most cases onward travel must be arranged. Medical care is needed for many of them. Special care is taken with every one of them.

I have often called airports the new global town square and this is a prime example of an airport as far more than just a place to board a plane.

I am so proud to work on behalf of an industry that has so many talented people like all those I saw in Salt Lake City and Seattle, and an industry that steps up to the plate in tough times as I saw in Seattle as those evacuees were cared for.

Devastation in Japan

Every day beings with worse and worse news from Japan.  Any of the three disasters that have befallen that country:  an historic earthquake, an historic tsunami and an historic nuclear accident, would be bad enough, all three at once just seems too much.  On top of the changes occurring in the Middle East, rising oil prices and other upheavals around the world (not to mention two wars) would leave any interested observer feeling confused and helpless.

Sendai Airport is flooded after a tsunami following an earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan, March 11, 2011.

We may not always be able to help with the confused part, but we can help with the helpless part.  If you have seen the video of the tsunami racing over the airport in Sendai, you know that our colleagues at that airport and other airports in the area are facing challenges of the most extreme kind.  Some may not even have survived.  Together with AAAE, ACI World and ACI Asia-Pacific, we have created an airport employees relief fund.  One hundred percent of any donation you can make goes directly to assist airport employees and their families.  Not a penny is taken out for administration.  Your donation would be worth as much as donating twice as much to some other organizations that are doing good work there but must use some of your donations to pay their own costs.  With our fund, every penny goes to assistance.

You can donate by clicking here or by going to our website  I hope you will consider helping our colleagues, and I hope you will keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Recognizing the Great Ones: ACI-NA’s Downes Award

In any walk of life, there are many, many, people who strive and work and contribute to the betterment of their town, their company, their society, their world.  All deserve special recognition.  But there are a certain few who go the extra mile, on whose shoulders we all stand, and to whom we owe an extra measure of gratitude.  This post is about them.

ACI-NA each year awards the William E. Downes, Jr. Memorial Award, our highest honor.  Our Immediate Past Chair Hardy Acree calls it our Oscar, though I think it is more important than that (after all, Gary Busey got nominated once for an Oscar).  We don’t have a Hall of Fame, but if we did, we’d start with the winners of this award.  Just since I have been here, winners include:  Bill DeCota, Paul Gaines, Wally Burg, Bob Michael and Jim DeLong.  These are all people who enhance the stature of the award by their having won it.

It is time to consider the 2011 Downes Award recipient.  A committee has been established, and they await nominations from among the membership.  That is one of the best things about this award; winners are nominated by ACI-NA’s own members.  And there is nothing more satisfying in this world than recognition by one’s peers.  The deadline to submit nominations is April 13 and you can click here for more information and to propose a nomination.

PLEASE take the time to consider the people on whose shoulders we stand and nominate one of them for this terrific award.  Presenting the Downes Award is always an emotional highlight of the Chairman’s Honors Lunch at the Annual Conference.

Before closing, but in keeping with a theme of recognizing the great ones, I have two RIPs.

Ted Bushelman passed away earlier this week at the age of 75.  Ted was the “face and voice” of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport for more than four decades before his retirement in 2008.  As current airport CEO John Mok said:  “Ted was an icon in his community and was well-regarded for his…..innovative approach to communications and media relations.”  I use the word passion a lot, and Ted had it in abundance:  for his airport, for his community and for his friends and colleagues in the industry.  Retirement for Ted meant serving on the City Council in his town, devoted to the community to the end.  ACI-NA presents an award each year to the person in the airport marketing and communications who best exemplifies passion, dedication and innovation in their work.  I have been proud to present this ward in recent years.  The first person I presented it to was Ted Bushelman.  And the award is called the Ted Bushelman Award.  He was a great guy, a great asset to the airport community and we will all miss him.

David Broder died yesterday in Arlington, Virginia.  Broder was the best political reporter of his generation; and he was a lot better than anyone in the current generation, for that matter too.  He was known as the Dean of the Washington Press Corps, and was first called that when he was 36 years old!  He was thorough, fair and knowledgeable.  He had scant time for ideologues and for people who wanted just to talk.  He had great respect for politicians who wanted to work to achieve results, and he thought politician was an honorable calling.  I still remember the day in December, 1992, my old boss, Gov. Baliles called me and said “Broder says I’m on the short list for Attorney General.”  This was during the Clinton transition.  The transition team hadn’t called him, but Broder did.  Good thing, too, because when the Governor got home there were press trucks in front of his house.  I especially loved his year-end column listing all the things he got wrong during the year.  Anyone on MSNBC or Fox News gonna do that?  My first personal encounter with him was when I raked the leaves at his house. His wife, Ann, was a community activist in Arlington and had gone to some fundraising auction for some worthy cause.  I was President of the Arlington Young Democrats then and we offered leaf raking services to the highest bidder.  Ann Broder won and that’s how I met David Broder.  At a time when we need more David Broders, it is especially sad to lose the original.

Airports Coming Together

As someone who has had the good fortune to visit Christchurch, New Zealand, the images of the destruction coming out of that beautiful city are just heartbreaking.  I see areas I toured, ate and walked, reduced to rubble.  It is even harder knowing that some are still buried under all that debris, perhaps some of the people who were so nice when I was there.

Jim Boult, the airport director there, tells me that the downtown business district is about 60 percent destroyed, just obliterated.  More than 80 percent of the hotel rooms in the city are gone.  And, you have seen the pictures of the iconic church that is there and other sites.

Street scene near a destroyed cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand on Feb. 22. (© Asher Trafford

The airport’s employees have lost much, in some cases, everything.  They continue to work to keep the airport running; knowing the importance of that infrastructure to the recovery effort – a lesson we learned to great effect here after Hurricane Katrina.  Those employees need our help.

ACI-NA, AAAE, ACI World and ACI Asia-Pacific have come together to establish a relief fund for the airport’s employees, similar to what we did after Katrina and after the Haiti earthquake.  You can find a link on our web page or by clicking here.  I urge you to consider a contribution; as this fund is established as a 501©(3) your contributions are tax deductible.

When the chips are down, few industries come together to help their own like the airport industry does.  I thank you in advance for your contribution; I will finish writing now so I can make mine.

Turmoil in the Middle East, the State of al Qaeda, and Airport Security


Today's situation map from the Washington Post.

Whether what is happening in the Middle East right now seems a lot like 1989 in Eastern Europe, like 1848, like 1968 or like something brand new cannot yet be known. The same can be said of the impact of all this on al Qaeda. Everyone has a different view.

This morning on his show, Fareed Zakaria, GPS, Zakaria (who I think is the single most interesting, thoughtful, commentator in America today) made the case that all this is bad for al Qaeda. He based his argument largely on the point that one of al Qaeda’s major goals has been the overthrow of the secular Middle Eastern dictatorships and that the only way to do this was to join with al Qaeda. Now, the people of Egypt and Tunisia (and one hopes, Libya) have proven this wrong.

An opposing view is offered by Michael Sheuer in Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook Section. Scheuer ran the bin Laden unit for the CIA for many years and, anonymously wrote a book called Imperial Hubris several years ago (I recommend it). He says the turmoil is an “enormous strategic step forward” for al Qaeda. He sees the new regimes as being more open to religious groups, and also expresses concern about all the people let out of prison as a recruitment opportunity for al Qaeda.

Also this weekend, I read a piece in Foreign Affairs by Leah Farrall (don’t know anything about her) that says, contrary to popular views, al Qaeda as a franchise and a brand is much stronger than after 9/11.

I recommend all these commentaries and you can make up your own mind.

So, what does all this have to do with airport security?

Al Qaeda is the major piece of the context within which the whole airport security regime has been created and run over the past 10 years. Its has changed and changed again. Al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the links real or imagined, with Somali terrorists, so much to comprehend.

What I would say is this. We can’t tie ourselves in knots trying to figure all this out, and trying to design and re-design the system. What we need to do is to figure out what kind of system works best for us and will keep our air transportation system actually working.

That’s why we are working with a group of airport and airline interests to develop a set of principles by which the US air transportation security system ought to be designed. We need to be smart, take a risk management, common sense approach (both terms that the Israelis repeat over and over again, by the way). We need to understand the most important part of the system is the transportation of people and goods to destinations and markets.

So, yes, let’s try to figure out where al Qaeda goes from here, and what tactics they are likely to employ. Let’s try to wipe them out. But let’s stop trying to stoke fear and let’s stop trying to react to everything said by every terrorist idiot in a Pakistani cave or Yemeni tribal village. Let’s use this time to look back on nearly 10 years since 9/11 and keep what we’ve done well, change what we haven’t. And let’s take a little bit of our lives back by not portraying those who would do us harm as 10 foot tall monsters and show them they can’t change the essential and important part of who we are as a nation and a people.

ARN Honors Savannah and Phoenix

I spent the last two evenings and part of Monday at the Airport Revenue News conference.  More than 700 airport staff and concessions company representatives attended the meeting held at the Washington National Harbor Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center in Maryland.

Last night, ARN saluted airports and concessionaires for the quality of their programs as they handed out their annual awards.  There are so many great and interesting things going on in the world of airport concessions and it is a great opportunity to get a sense of all that is going on.

There was a time when you could get anything you wanted to eat at an airport, as long as it was a hot dog or a cold piece of pizza.  You could buy anything you wanted, as long as it was the local paper or a t-shirt.  Now, the world is almost literally yours!  Airports, and their concessions partners have developed products and services that not only make the airport experience more enjoyable for the passengers, that not only provide food and goods you might need in a pinch, that not only help provide a sense of place to travelers, they are also a crucial linchpin in the airport effort to better serve the customer.

When airlines were deregulated, airports were seen as mere facilities, and airlines were supposed to be free to better serve the customer.  Today, the aluminum tube is the facility, and the REAL customer service nexus is the airport.  As airlines decided to de-emphasize (for cost or other reasons) basic services (and even courtesy), airports filled the breach.  Seeing the airports and companies who were recognized last night just brought that point home.

Beyond hot dogs and T-shirts. The Mosaic Fine Art & Craft Gallery at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport brings an artistic touch to the airport's retail offerings.

Also honored were ARN’s Small and Large Airport Directors of the Year.  In the Small Airports category, Patrick Graham of Savannah was the winner.  In addition to running one of the most beautiful airports in the country, Patrick is one of the industry’s best financial minds.  Perhaps his greatest legacy will be his organization of southeastern airports into the South East Airports Disaster Organization Group or SEADOG.  SEADOG airports spring into action whenever disasters strike; for example help from SEADOG was on the way to places like New Orleans and Gulfport before Katrina had even begun to do its damage.  What a great legacy.

In the Large Airports category, Danny Murphy of Phoenix was the winner.  Danny has been director only 5 years, but in that short period of time has done a great job mobilizing the community to support the airport and its growth, overseeing a rail project that will bring great passenger benefit for a long time to come.  Danny is always willing to pick up the phone and reach out to his legislators in Washington to try to move the overall industry agenda forward.  Both of these men have in place very strong staffs, and they allow those staff people use their talents for the betterment of the whole industry.  It is an honor to be able to work with both of them.

I want to end with two RIP’s.  First, Duke Snider, Hall of Fame center fielder for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Snider is probably best known to younger fans from the song “Talking Baseball” when they sing about “Willie, Mickey and The Duke.”  Mays, Mantle and Snider made center field the glamour position in American sports.  You’ll never convince my parents, old Dodgers fans, that The Duke wasn’t the best of them.

Second, Frank Buckles.  Who is that, you might ask?  He was the last surviving U.S. serviceman who fought in World War I.  I remember as a kid seeing the World War I vets march on Memorial Day; even saw some Spanish-American War vets too.  World War I is the less well known of the two world wars (some would say that they were part of the same war, with a 15-20 year truce in the middle).  My grandfather fought in that war; he was gassed 12 days before its end.  I’ve tried to learn a bit more about it; the conditions those people fought in were among the most horrible in the annals of human history.  It is hard to believe that no one remains who we can ask about those days.