Making the Airport Case to Senate Democrats

I’ve just returned to the office following a meeting with the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy and Steering Group.  Seventeen members of the Senate participated in the meeting including the Senate Majority Leader and Majority Whip.  Also participating were about 15-20 leaders from various transportation organizations.  Las Vegas Airport Director Randy Walker and I were the aviation representatives in the room.

I sat next to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell who chairs an organization called Building America’s Future.  Rendell is a real leader on infrastructure issues, and credits the investments Pennsylvania has made in its infrastructure for the fact that his state’s unemployment rate is noticeably below the national average, a rarity for an industrial state these days.  (This point is exactly the same as I made in my speech at Airport Cities in Memphis, and various places since; businesses invest and grow where there is a demonstrated commitment to high quality infrastructure.)

Building on a comment by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about all the investment in airports around the world, I spoke to the group about the fact that U.S. policy right now stands in the way of airports making full use of their ability to invest in infrastructure.  By capping the PFC user fee, this country is leaving billions on the table that could be invested in our future, not just the funds that could be raised directly through the fee, but also the funds that could be leveraged.  I also stated that we are going on 19 FAA extensions, that this has had the effect of reducing investment and destroying jobs, and that the House bill would go even further in that direction.

Randy was next and pointed out that reliance on user fees to finance infrastructure is the method used in many parts of the world where they are investing in infrastructure, and the current U.S. policy is holding us back.  He pointed to specific examples in Las Vegas, half of the $5 billion invested out there over the last 20 years comes from the PFC user fee, either as pay-go projects or that was the result of leveraging.  There is much more work to do, but he is being stymied by current policy.  Randy also pointed out that the PFC user fee, even if increased, pales in comparison to paying $35 or more to check bags, a point that hit home with the senators.

My point about current U.S. policy standing in the way of airports investing in the future and Randy’s point about the airlines charging for bags but standing in the way of this investment struck a chord, I believe.  We will be following up quickly and strongly on these points.  We are also designing a public campaign to build support for infrastructure investment; stay tuned on that front!

At the RAA Meeting – Talking Airport Investments

I’m headed back from Nashville where I attended the annual conference of the Regional Airline Association. RAA was good enough to invite me to speak on a panel that also included oneworld CEO Bruce Ashby and Mike Ambrose who runs the European Regions Airline Association. Our moderator was Bill Swelbar (his blog, swelblog, is something I highly recommend).

Greg participating in a panel discussion at the RAA Annual Meeting.

At first glance we might seem an odd group to put together but, whether because of Bill’s skills as a moderator or just because we all meshed well, the panel worked quite nicely. We got into a wide variety of issues from air service to infrastructure finance to the comparative dysfunctions of the U.S. government and the European Commission.

One interesting exchange occurred between Mike and me. Mike detailed, quite well, the challenges they face with the European Commission and Parliament saying that they rush through ill-considered proposals and so on, and suggested that we in the U.S. have a much better system and a government committed to aviation infrastructure.

I pointed out that our problem is that our political system and the current political atmosphere mean that we get nothing done, which has resulted in stagnation and a reduction in infrastructure investment. You can make a value judgment as to whether it is better to have a government that does too much or too little. But, the fact remains that our industry – on both sides of the Atlantic – depends far too much on what government does or does not do. On our side of the Atlantic, I know what the result is – a stupid, archaic system for investing in infrastructure. Yes, I said it exactly that way during the session.

In many ways, the regional airlines and the airports are the parts of the US aviation system that works best right now. It was a pleasure and honor to participate.

Two postscripts:

If you have read this blog very much before you will know that I am on a quest to visit every presidential gravesite. Nashville has two; James K Polk who is buried at the State Capitol and Andrew Jackson, who is buried at his home, The Hermitage. The Capitol was a short walk from my hotel, which I took the first day (after which I met the airport director here, Raul Regalado, at the Hermitage Hotel for lunch — it is a beautiful hotel by the way).

Polk grave

Jackson grave

Yesterday I rode out to Jackson’s Hermitage. He and his wife are buried in the garden there. I really enjoyed the house tour, all original items, very cool.

I have now visited 26 of the 38 presidential gravesites.

Second, I have always viewed the period from 1950-1968 as the best era in baseball history. The game had been integrated and the best players played. There were 16 teams through the 50’s and then 20 during the 60’s. The pitching was superb, it was a great game. Look at how many Hall of Fame pitchers worked during that time and look at how many 500 home run hitters from the pre-steroid era played during that time. Extraordinary.

One of those 500 Club guys, Harmon Killebrew, died this week. He was a strong, muscular, guy; but a quiet guy. He was a real leader, who played for the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins (and the Royals, for one season). Didn’t throw his bat or take performance enhancers. Just did his job. My kind of guy. Harmon Killebrew, RIP

Understanding and Defending the Fourth Amendment

The Economist, May 14, 2011

Perhaps the most interesting and eye opening conversation I have ever had occurred on a beach in Maui 19 years ago.  I was there as part of the Young (stop laughing) Leaders Program of the Atlantic Council of the United States.  The Atlantic Council had gathered a couple dozen of us from a number of different countries to discuss and debate some issues of the day.  It was also hoped we would network with one another, learn new perspectives and so on.

I was standing on the beach that day with Jaroslaw Guzy.  Jaroslaw had been the leader of the student arm of Solidarity in Poland in the 1980’s and had been imprisoned for his activities.  As often happened in those times, the police came for him with a knock in the middle of the night.

We talked about how the Polish Constitution (indeed, the Soviet Constitution) included the rights we Americans normally associate with the Bill of Rights:  freedom of speech, assembly, religion, the press and so on.  Those things were all in there.  What their Constitutions lacked, and ours had, was protections against unreasonable search and seizure and against the government taking away our liberty without probable cause.

It occurred to me that the freedoms we all take for granted, those of speech, assembly, worship, the press and so on, mean absolutely nothing without the parts of the Constitution that protect us against unreasonable searches and seizures and protect us against arrest without cause.  It was an eye opener.  The REAL genius of our Constitution is not those First Amendment freedoms we so often think about, it is rather the freedom from the government being able to search us, seize our property and arrest us without cause.  The REAL genius of the Constitution can be found in the Fourth Amendment (Amendments 5-8 also address these protections).  Because without the Fourth Amendment, the First Amendment means nothing.

This point often gets lost in debates about the true meaning of freedom.  I was reminded of it again this weekend, reading the May 14 edition of The Economist, specifically the “Lexington” column (Save The Fourth Amendment).  It is why I often get tired of certain commentators decrying what they sometimes call “criminals rights;”  those are MY rights and I might not need them today but I might need them tomorrow and they are what truly guarantees my freedoms delineated in the First Amendment.

It is also why we here at ACI-NA often get into tussles with TSA over, for example, what they can and can’t do to passengers in public areas of the terminal and on the queue for security.  We believe the Fourth Amendment means what it says.  We understand why some might want to take a more expansive view of the amendment in a dangerous time, but it is precisely at such times when those protections are at their most important.

If you have a copy of the U.S. Constitution, read the Fourth Amendment (check out 5-8 too).  And, imagine what things would be like without them.

Marking Israel’s 63rd Birthday

Last night I went to the Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day celebration. Sixty-three years ago, President Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel within minutes of its declaring independence and the rest is history.

You might recall that ACI-NA sponsors an annual security mission to Israel for airport directors and senior airport staff. Last year we were joined by government officials from TSA and Canada. Obviously, Israeli aviation security has much to teach us, though it is not all transferable.

The main thing I noticed is that every citizen feels a responsibility for the success of the country, and they act on that sense of responsibility. Perhaps it is the military training most citizens receive. Perhaps it is living in such a dangerous neighborhood. Whatever it is, it is very impressive. And I often wish I saw more of it here.

Seated are: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren; Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jacob Lew; House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano; and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

Airports: Serving the Public, Moving People and Goods

I’m in Arizona for two of our most interesting and important conferences:  Our Commissioners Conference in Tucson and our Finance/Human Capital/Information Technology Conference in Phoenix. The fact that they are in one of my favorite parts of the world makes it even better!

The Commissioners Conference serves those who serve on the boards of airports (many airport directors also come). These men and women are leaders in their community and serve on these boards as a community service. They invest a lot of time, energy and expertise in making their airport an important economic engine for their community.

The Finance/Human Capital/IT meeting was in Phoenix. Some of the sessions were joint and some were on separate tracks. We had 300 or so key airport staff from all over the US and Canada here engaging on a wide range of topics important to their work at their airport and in their companies (many corporate members were also here). Many attendees were able to receive professional development credits.

An important topic at both conferences was the lack of a PFC increase and the whole airline/airport relationship. I gave a version of the speech I gave at Airport Cities in Memphis at both locations and received an overwhelmingly positive response. I encourage you to look at it and let me know your thoughts.

I agree with my friend Steve Van Beek who commented on my Memphis post, that we will have to take a fresh look at the whole

Doug Parker

Doug Parker, CEO, US Airways speaking at the 2011 ACI-NA Economics & Human Capital Conference

airport governance model if nothing changes, and that could include some form of privatization. What I do know is we can’t go on like we are now.

I should mention that Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways addressed the group in Phoenix and did a very nice job expressing his views, even though they disagreed with mine.

I came away convinced of two things:  that we need to continue expressing our views that the airlines and government are working tacitly together to strangle the airport economic engine and do so in explicit terms; and, that we need to quietly work with the airlines to find some better way forward. I should also say there need not be a contradiction between those two things, indeed the first might help make the second more possible.

Post bin Laden: May Things Be Better

It’s Sunday night, May 1, and I am in Tucson at our annual Commissioners conference. Was on the way back from dinner when I heard the news that Osama bin Laden is dead.

I am not normally a vengeful person, but this is war; a war that was declared and started by bin Laden. So many people in our industry know people who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001; I knew three. But what happened that day affected us all in so many negative ways. He got what he deserved.

Was just watching Peter Bergen of CNN talk about all this. Peter was our keynote speaker at our annual in 2009 and he had interviewed bin Laden earlier in his career. I remember shaking Peter’s hand (and he’s a good guy, engaging fellow) and wondering if he’d shaken bin Laden’s hand and feeling a little strange about perhaps shaking a hand that may have shaken bin Laden’s.

By the way, Bergen said tonight that this really effectively “ends the war on terror” that everyone else, including al Aulaqi (al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula) is “a dwarf”. I so hope he is right. I know that we will need to remain vigilant, but I hope that from today on things will be better.