Along the Way I Gave a Speech

I just returned from a three city, 11 day trip; starting in Las Vegas, continuing to Pasadena/Burbank and then to Denver.  Along the way I saw some beautiful things.  The Pasadena City Hall, which I saw from my hotel room there, is as beautiful a public building as you’ll ever see and the Rocky Mountains, which I could see from my room in Denver, are…well…the Rockies.  I saw some creepy things, in my room at the Planet Hollywood Hotel in Las Vegas was a kimono worn by Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs (it was in my sleeping room!).  I saw some things I’d always wanted to see, such as Dodger Stadium (the 35th Major League ballpark I’ve visited).  And, I saw one of my oldest friends and a former college roommate (talented fellow named Julius Thompson, he actually won the Gong Show!)

Delivering the opening address at Global Airport Cities last week in Denver.

I also saw, through the three venues, roughly 1,300 folks, most of them ACI-NA members.  In Las Vegas I saw our Environment and Ops committee members, in Pasadena I saw our Airport Board Members and Commissioners, and in Denver I attended the Global Airport Cities conference, where I saw a number of airport directors and leading executives of key companies that supply airports and their passengers with goods and services.

Whenever I take a trip like that, I am always amazed at the energy, vision and intelligence of the airport community.  And, I am thankful to work for an industry that does so much to connect us to the world and to each other.  And, I must say, it is great to work for an industry where we don’t have to spin our good intentions, they are at the core of what we do every day.

But our ability to invest in our future, and that of our communities, is endangered.

In Denver, I gave a speech answering those in the airline community, in government and elsewhere, who say we do not need to invest in our aviation future.  Who say that our market is mature; that there will be no more growth.  Who say it does not matter that our competitors are investing in newer, more modern, efficient, facilities; they are just trying to build what we already have, not to worry.

I think these folks are wrong, and a quick look at demographics, economics and history shows they are.  The U.S. will add the equivalent of the population of Japan in the next few decades; we are, as Fareed Zakaria said, the only demographically dynamic country in the industrialized world.  New businesses and new industries are being invented and created all the time.  Our economy is incredibly dynamic, even now.  According to the World Trade Organization, 50 percent of U.S. exports, by value, travel by air.  Do none of these things matter?

What some are saying right now reminds me of what steel and auto executives said after World War II.  We know how that turned out.  By the 1970’s and 80’s Capitol Hill was crawling with people representing both industries begging for protection.  I worked there back then, I saw them.  Airlines are already doing that, working against Export-Import Bank support for sales of U.S. aircraft to non-U.S. airlines (to be clear, I am not taking sides in this one; not something we are involved in.  But it IS an example of the aviation industry feeding on itself).

I pointed out that by not investing and by concluding that the future will be devoid of growth we can guarantee that we will be right.

Afterwards, I got a lot of nice comments.  That’s to be expected, most people are polite.  But the most interesting comments I got were from those who are either from some of the parts of the world that want to supplant the US as a global aviation hub, or from many who have worked in those parts of the world.  They agree that I am right.  You see, some in the U.S. may be complacent about keeping our dominance, or perhaps figure that it is assured till the end of their own careers.  But there are a lot of folks out there who have us in their sights.

I invite you to read the speech and share your thoughts.

We Spoke, They Listened

Sometimes you can’t tell if they are listening.  And, then, you get indisputable evidence that they are – and that what you’ve said has had an effect.

I had one such moment recently.

For years now, ACI-NA has been arguing for a number of initiatives to make travel easier across the U.S.-Canada border; and by extension all foreign travel into the United States.  We have pushed for the elimination of the redundant re-screening of bags when a traveler – American or Canadian – leaves from a Canadian airport and transfers at a US hub.  We have pushed for greater reliance on known traveler programs and use of information to speed the facilitation of travel from those who we know pose no threat.  We have pushed for visa reform and all sorts of other common sense initiatives to facilitate travel.

We know that international travel is a proven economic generator.  And, we want more of that.  We also know we live in difficult times, and have to best focus our security resources on known threats or travelers about whom we know very little.  And we need to find ways to do that.

A couple of weeks ago, President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement that includes a robust travel facilitation component.  Most of the ideas were identical to proposals we had made over the years.

During a trip to Ottawa I made last week, this was pointed out to US officials and it was confirmed to us that our proposals, and the arguments for them, were used to form the core of this initiative.  Someone, it seems, was listening.  And travelers from both countries, the economies of both countries, and the security of our transportation system will all be the better for it.

Speaking of people who have been dedicated to security and facilitation, I want to note, with great sadness, the passing of TSA Chief of Staff Art Macias.  Art was totally dedicated to TSA and its mission.  More importantly, he was one of those people who always “said what he meant and meant what he said” and made things happen.  Usually, if I was calling him, it was because we either needed something to happen or there was some problem we were hoping to solve/de-fuse before it became something that might be too hot to handle.  Every time, without fail, he either made things happen or he found a solution to whatever problem there was.  He never, in my experience with him, kicked a can down the road.  And he was always, it seemed, in a good mood.  And good moods can be tough to come by in jobs like his.

A couple of years ago, Art became a father.  My kids are grown, so I always enjoyed talking to Art about his child, watching him light up, and sharing stories.  It always took me back.  I don’t think I ever knew anyone who was more excited about being a parent than Art.  Though he never smoked, Art somehow developed lung cancer.  I am told that at the end, he was able to hang on for his child’s second birthday, dying four days later.  I also saw in an article about him that his last words to his wife were simply, “thank you.”

Art was a classy guy in a town and time with too few of them.  A great man.  Art Macias.  RIP.