I’m in Memphis for the annual Airport Cities conference. A lot of airport leaders come to, and speak at, this meeting which is held all over the world. I was honored to be asked to deliver the first welcoming address.
I thought about delivering the usual opening comments (glad you’re here in this great place, let’s have two great days, etc etc). But I decided to do something different.
Catch some of the local news coverage. While I got quoted, Delta’s Richard Anderson did not get a pass from the crowd. See The Commercial Appeal, the Memphis Business Journal, WMC TV-5 and AirportBusiness.
When I thought about the idea behind the conference (maximizing economic growth and development around the airport), and thought about all the people attending from around the world (630 from every continent), and thought about all that is happening around the globe to promote aviation infrastructure development, and thought about how government and airlines hamper such investments in this country; I decided to say something different.
You can read the speech for yourself, if you’d like. But, what I wanted to do is point out that 5,000 years of human history show us that those who invest in transportation infrastructure grow and prosper and those who don’t invest fail to grow and prosper. And, that right now, the United States belongs to that second group.
Airlines around the world support a push to a system that utilizes user fees to invest in infrastructure. In many parts of the world, the results of this decision are apparent and aviation growth is taking off. In the U.S. though, airlines are nostalgic for the days when they controlled airports, pre-deregulation. They do not want communities to have the ability to generate resources to build infrastructure. Why? Because they want to control airports and keep out competition, plain and simple. The need to invest in aviation infrastructure is subordinated to a short-term, short-sighted, highly questionable, business decision.
The purpose of air transportation is to move people and products. Airlines seem to think the purpose is to move airline stock prices and balance sheets. Last week in Phoenix I was on a panel with several airline people, good folks all. But when we were asked by the moderator whether we support the need for a national aviation policy, the airline reps turned it into a question about the need for a national airline policy. We do need a national aviation policy. We do NOT need a national airline policy any more than we need a national cereal company policy or a national grocery company policy.
As long as airlines see the aviation system as being about nothing but their financial health, and as long as government abets this by standing in the way of airports and communities planning for their future, we are destined to watch cities around the world take off while we sit back and stagnate. It is that simple.
Please look at the speech and let me know what you think. The federal government and the airlines have joined forces to place a heavy boot on the neck of the airport economic engine. It is time to do something about that.