I’ve been out of town most of the past two weeks, visiting the ACI Latin America/Caribbean conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica; participating in an event at DePaul Law School in Chicago with the smartest person I’ve ever met, former Virginia Governor Jerry Baliles (also had a chance to meet Rosie Andolino, Chicago’s innovative aviation commissioner); and speaking at the Western Regional Airport Property Managers meeting in Portland (and meeting with Steve Schreiber and his great team at PDX).
Sometimes when you travel a lot you miss some things back home. In this case, I missed an interesting and important speech given by my colleague and counterpart at the Air Transport Association, Nick Calio.
Much of the speech was about what you would expect from the ATA president. But there were two things I want to comment on.
First of all, Nick came out strongly in opposition to the administration’s proposal to levy a new FEDERAL fee/tax/whatever to pay for aviation infrastructure. I suppose this is not news in itself, but you might be surprised to hear that I share his concern about this idea. We have been pushing for the federal government to get out of airport financial affairs; this proposal doubles down on an approach that continues to tether airports to Washington. We want more freedom, not less! So, I must say I agree with Nick and do not think this is the best way forward.
Which brings me to my second observation about his speech. As did President Obama, Nick pointed to places around the world, like China and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, that are making major investments in airport infrastructure. Just so. We are falling behind and need to do something.
What was not mentioned, though, was that these places use passenger user fees (what we call Passenger Facility Charges) to finance this development. Now I presume Nick does not favor Chinese or UAE-style government involvement in aviation. Absent that, the ONLY way to make those investments is to give airports the ability to generate their own resources, as happens in those places.
So. It seems we may agree on not wanting the federal government to collect even more money and be any further involved in our affairs. I continue to think that airports and airlines have much more in common than we may sometimes want to admit. I will continue to call airlines on their inconsistency — wanting the federal government out of THEIR way while wanting the federal government to mess in airports’ financial lives, especially to protect airlines against competition. I will continue to say that the ATA call for a National AIRLINE policy betrays a view that the purpose of aviation is happy airlines. These are important differences.
We are not ready to sing around the campfire. But we have more in common than we may sometimes want to acknowledge and we ought to continue to communicate with each other to try to find a way forward. Especially when the presidents of ATA and ACI-NA agree that we should not impose this new FEDERAL tax and also that certain airports that happen to use a PFC-approach are worthy of emulation.