We have a Good ‘Green’ Story to Tell, So Let’s Tell It

Greetings from Geneva. I’m writing this sitting by Lake Geneva during a break from the Aviation and Environment Summit, which includes representatives from every sector the aviation, from governments all over the world, and non-governmental organizations who advocate for pro-environment policies. Prior to this meeting, I attended two days of ACI World board meetings. So this is my first time outside during the daylight hours since Monday and I’m enjoying it.

World aviation leaders after signing Declaration Towards Sustainable Aviation in Geneva.

One of the greatest untold environmental success stories in human history has to be aviation’s success in mitigating its impact on the environment. It now, for example, takes 70 percent less fuel to fly from point A to point B than it did 40 years ago. Aircraft noise levels have been reduced to levels that were once hard to imagine. And airports, on the ground, have put into place numerous initiatives designed to reduce environmental footprint. Airports are, have been, and will be, excellent stewards of the community’s resources.

A lot of this has been accomplished outside government mandates. Fuel efficiency, for example, is driven by economic imperatives we can all understand. And as I said, airport initiatives are undertaken by airport managers who want to operate their facilities in an effective manner and as good members of the community. A number of those initiatives were profiled in two editions of ACI-NA’s publication, Going Green and Going Greener.

And, I haven’t even gotten to the fact that aviation is the most efficient (and safest) method of traveling long distances ever invented; nor to the fact that (as shown in ACI-NA’s Economic Impact Study) aviation is a powerful economic engine which not only improves standards of living but also helps generate resources to pay for environmental protection.

Picture from top of Cathedral St. Pierre in Geneva with the iconic fountain in Lake Geneva in the background.

But few seem to know this story. Someone yesterday said perhaps it is because when we talk about these things we are either defensive or technical. And that is right and we need to stop. We need to proactively tell the positive story and we need to do so in ways that appeal to, and are understood by, mass audiences.

At the end of the meeting, the leaders of the global organizations representing the world’s major aviation sectors signed a declaration describing goals and achievements and calling on government to work with us. Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World, signed for airports.

We have a great story to tell and a great future to build. Let’s get started!

And now I have to leave the lakeside, go back inside, and lead a workshop on airport sustainability. More to come.

Small Airports and Environment Conference

Earlier this week I was in Cincinnati, Ohio attending our joint Small Airports and Environment conferences.

The men and women who run North America’s smaller airports are a diverse lot. Some are on their way to senior management at large airports, but increasingly many of them make their careers at smaller facilities. There are many reasons for this; a big reason being that running a smaller facility, with much smaller staff, is a way for these airport professionals to remain directly engaged in all aspects of airport operations. Indeed, we ran sessions on issues such as environment, security, safety, concessions management and social media. These topics are all covered at some of our specialty conferences but often the smaller airports can’t send (or don’t have) staff to all these other events. That is why we provide this program specially geared to smaller airports.

During my first several years in this job, I spent a lot of time dealing with environmental issues. For various reasons, including a change in the national political climate (not the climate change pun), I spend much less time on them now (in contrast to my counterpart at ACI Europe, where environmental concerns including climate change, remain at the top of the list).  But that does not mean they are less important. Indeed, nothing can slow airport development faster than environmental concerns, which is a reason our industry has been so proactive on environmental issues. It is also worth noting that the U.S. EPA is considering several initiatives that could drastically increase the cost of airport development and operations with no real environmental impact. We have worked, and are working hard to shape the outcome of that work and I will have more to say in the months ahead.

I did hear a very interesting anecdote yesterday; there have actually been emergency calls placed by people who have seen planes flying overhead but couldn’t hear them and assumed the engines were out. Aircraft noise remains a tough political issue, in many ways made tougher by the advances in technology that have reduced real noise but not perceived noise.

Tomb of William Henry Harrison

Before leaving Cincinnati, I joined my brother (who lives in the area) for a trip to the grave site of William Henry Harrison, our 9th president and the 28th presidential grave site I’ve visited. He was president for only one month, having caught pneumonia while delivering the longest inaugural speech in history (2 1/2 hours). Yes, he almost literally talked himself to death!