Bad Referring an Outrage; Why Doesn’t Bad Infrastructure Trigger Similar Outrage

I haven’t written in a while, largely due to all the time and energy I spent at our annual conference in Calgary.  This year’s meeting was terrific, what with the World conference co-located with ours and the terrific setting and hospitality provided by our hosts.  But I saw something in the paper that prompts me to write today.

Specifically, it was a story about the end of the NFL’s lockout of its game officials.  I followed this story because I love football (NY Giants Super Bowl Champs!!!) and because the president of the Referees Association, Scott Green, is a former colleague of mine on the staff of then-Sen. Joe Biden.  Scott is one of the more solid and disciplined people I’ve ever met, and he basically looks exactly the same as back in the 1980’s. Unlike yours truly.

The disputed call.

Anyway, what got my attention was that the lockout was settled after what was called “national outrage” about mistakes made by the replacements, especially in the recent Monday nighter between the Packers and Seahawks.  Even President Obama weighed in, as did dozens of other political figures from across the political spectrum.

Well, I’m delighted the lockout is over.  But I must admit to amusement over this “national outrage” that caused action.  I know a lot of people love football, and lots of them bet heavily on it.  So I understand their outrage. And I am glad to see that outrage can get action.

But it does raise a question.  Where is the outrage about other matters of more lasting importance?  How about outrage about the state of our infrastructure?  I have never heard ANYONE argue that our infrastructure is excellent.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think it is important.  But there is no outrage.  Or even, seemingly, widespread interest.  Every now and then there is a catastrophic failure.  But even in those cases, the outrage and concern last a week or two.

Our Airports for the Future campaign in the Salt Lake City airport.

I am glad public outrage brought the NFL’s plutocrats to their senses.  I wish we could bottle even 5 percent of that outrage and energy and focus it on infrastructure.  Our Airports for the Future initiative is a start.  Won’t you join us and help throw a flag on our outdated system for financing aviation infrastructure?  There is no one betting on any of this in Las Vegas.  But we are wagering our future as an economically competitive nation.

9/10: Are you a July 4 American or a 9/11 American?

Flag at Reagan National Airport

Next week will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and I will write something about that then. But today I want to write about 9/10/01.

The night before the attacks was one I will never forget; a night that made me feel great about our country, our ideals and our people.

At the time, I was President-elect of the PTA at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Movie buffs might recognize the name of the high school; it was featured in the movie “Remember the Titans.” One of the duties of the PTA President-elect is to represent parents at the Academic Letter ceremony. At T.C. Williams, good students receive “letters” same as the athletes get. I was on stage as a couple hundred or more students came up to get their letters; I shook every hand.

If you saw the movie you will remember the school combining several high schools in post-integration Alexandria. These days the demographics include students from all over the world, more than 80 countries. Think of all the countries in the world that have had civil wars these past three decades and you will find students from those countries at T.C.

I shook the hands of tow head blonds, African American kids, and kids from so many of those countries. This was a big night for those kids and many came dressed up; some in native garb. I just enjoyed being with those kids that night and thought “this is what makes America great.”

The following night, after the attacks, close enough to my house to hear the impact and smell the fire, I went to bed thinking of the night before and had the same feeling; those attacks whose burning aftermath I could smell inside my house couldn’t change that.

Many of those kids came from countries based on ethnicity or religion. (I am proud of my own ethnicity and a church-going religious person, by the way). Our country is based on an idea, and anyone willing to accept that idea — including those kids whose hands I shook — is welcome. That is what makes us great, what makes us exceptional.

Someone once wrote we can choose to be July 4 Americans or 9/11 Americans. I am a July 4 American and celebrate our freedom and the notion that our best days are always ahead.  Attacks like the 9/11 attacks cannot ever change that.  And, at the risk of offending the likes of Glenn Beck, I am a 9/10 American, which to me means shaking the hands of hundreds of high achieving, enthusiastic, kids who come from everywhere and anywhere to take advantage of the promise of America.

A Victory for Airports and Passengers, Visiting Virginia, and Remembering a Yankee Legend

There was an important court case decided last week. It didn’t get much attention in the general press, but was pretty big news in the aviation trades. And it was great news for passengers around the country.

You see, in 2008 the US Department of Transportation issued rules on airport rates and charges. The rules clarified that airports can charge a two-part landing fee based on whether or not a flight was coming at a peak time. This makes sense, after all the airlines price their product the same way (as was pointed out in the opinion). Airports must still base their charges on the overall rules set by the government; they can’t just charge whatever they want, whenever they want. But airports can use rates and charges to manage their own airfields and provide incentives to reduce congestion.

This just makes sense, but for some reason the airline industry took the DOT to court over this matter. The arguments were made back in October, but the decision just came out last week. I’m an old soccer player:  if this opinion was a World Cup match it would not have been a 1-nil win, but a 4-nil win. Airports, the DOT – AND common sense – won on all counts. But really, this was not a win for airports so much as it was a win for passengers. And, in the long run, I think a win for airlines too, though they don’t think so right now.

Also, late last week two of our staff and I visited the airports in Newport News, Virginia and in Norfolk, Virginia. These are both well-run, well-managed airports that provide high levels of service to their communities and to their airlines. Both have extensive low fare service and offer beautiful facilities. Both have plans for the future – and leaders in place that can make them happen. It was really great to have a chance to see their work first hand and to spend some time with them. The best part of this job, I think, is the time I get to spend at airports with our members around the country, in Canada, and around the world.

The old Yankee Stadium, circa 1955.

A final note:  When you get to be a certain age, you look back on life and there are certain voices that stick out; voices that serve almost as the narrators of your life. One such voice for me was Bob Sheppard, longtime public address announcer for the Yankees and (football) Giants who died the other day at age 99. I bet I saw several dozen Yankees games in the old Yankee Stadium when I was a kid (I mean the pre-1976 Yankee Stadium, that thing they tore down a year or so ago was NOT the old Yankee Stadium, though I did see some games there too). I know I saw several dozen Giants football games over the years, at Yankee Stadium, the Yale Bowl and Giants Stadium. The constant was Bob Sheppard. I am old enough to have heard him, in person, announce Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. I heard him announce Joe DiMaggio, in person, at several Old Timers Games. I heard him say “pass by (Y.A.) Tittle” and “tackle by (Lawrence) Taylor.” And there are so many other great names in both sports I heard him announce over so many years, it would take me an hour to list them all. It is a voice I will never forget (and he looked a little like my late father-in-law too, which added to the effect for me). Bob Sheppard. RIP.

Greetings from Austin

Greetings from Austin. I’ve been here since Thursday attending the ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition. We have roughly 1,700 attendees. There are more than 100 airports from the U.S. and Canada represented and our exhibition contains over 100 companies in over 200 booths. I love spending time on the exhibit floor, I call it the Airports Industry’s state fair. 

Peter Bergen addressing ACI-NA.

Peter Bergen addressing ACI-NA.

Our keynote session this morning featured Peter Bergen from CNN.  Peter is a national security correspondent, one of the best in the business. He gave a 45 minute tour of the world’s trouble spots and discussed the present nature of the terrorist threat in the US and around the world. His talk sparked a number of questions and has sparked a lot of conversation here. We try to bring keynoters in who can help our members understand the global context in which they run their business, and who will make them think. I believe we succeeded this year. 

We also had a tribute to Bill DeCota the aviation director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who passed away last month. He had a lot of friends in the industry and many of them are here this week. 

Austin is a really terrific town. I’ve had a lot of great food, heard some good music (I’m not a country music fan but there is some great music here.) There are few towns where you will find friendlier people and few airports more pleasant to spend time in. 

We were also a focal point of the college football universe Saturday as Texas played Colorado. The stadium is a few blocks away and the hotel felt like a student center on campus. There are few things more exciting in my book than college football. 

I look forward to these next few days in Austin and encourage you to follow the goings on by going to our web site.

On the road to Saskatoon via Notre Dame

I’m writing from Saskatoon, the second stop on a two week travel fast that will take me to, or through, 4 countries and 7 different beds (including my own for one night!) 

The first stop was South Bend, Indiana, to see Notre Dame play Nevada. I flew to O’Hare with my son, rented a car and drove to South Bend. The plane had a large number of Notre Dame fans on it, and judging by the comment from the woman at the rental booth, a lot of Hertz‘s rentals that day were headed to South Bend. 

We first visited the Notre Dame bookstore, which is the first or second most visited tourist attraction in Indiana (seriously). The place was packed, some of them there to see Dick Vitale sign his book

We spent the rest of the day touring a campus that has changed greatly since I left 31 years ago but remains the most beautiful campus in America. We tried to go to the Notre Dame-North Carolina womens soccer match, but it was sold out, a far cry from the dozens who sometimes would come see us play when I was on the first varsity soccer team there (we got hundreds a few times!) 

My name on the wall where all Notre Dame monogram winners are listed.

My name on the wall where all Notre Dame monogram winners are listed.

The highlight Saturday was the game of course. Eigthty thousand people attend those games, almost all of whom (except students) travel from some distance. I’ve written about this before, it is so much fun to see airports filled with sports fans traveling to or from games. Even the day after the game — today O’Hare was filled with folks wearing Notre Dame gear. 

It is always more fun when you win, of course, and we did 35-0. Having my son along made it special. 

Being able to travel so freely is truly one of the blessings of liberty we so enjoy in this country. The woman in front of me who attended her first ever Notre Dame game and who was in tears at being able to fulfill a lifelong dream would surely agree. 

I hope some of those folks who traveled to South Bend (or to Ann Arbor or Columbus or Gainsville or Knoxville or East Lansing or St Louis or Charlottesville, or any of the other places college football was played this past weekend) will appreciate that and will feel free to disagree whenever someone says that, in a tough economy, travel is something we might perhaps be able to do without.

Climate change and soccer from Manchester

I’m writing from Manchester, England, site of the 2009 ACI Europe annual meeting. We also held an ACI-NA board meeting here. The ACI-NA and Europe boards meet together every year, alternating sides of the Atlantic. 

Manchester is a very lively city, probably partly due to the fact that there are three universities here. And, a lot of very nice pubs. 

Two college soccer goalkeepers at Old Trafford - Mark Reis, Seattle's airport director, and myself.

Two college soccer goalkeepers at Old Trafford - Mark Reis, Seattle's airport director, and myself.

A highlight was the social event last night at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United and one of the most iconic sports venues in the world. A real thrill for a former college soccer player. 

The joint board meeting, naturally, focused heavily on how airports are responding to the financial crisis. It is always interesting to see how much airports have in common, regardless of where in the world they might be. Other issues included security, especially liquids and gels, and environment, especially climate change. 

On the first day of the ACI Europe conference, the organization launched its new carbon accreditation system, which includes 32 airports. This is the result of two years of work by ACI Europe airports and staff. Political pressure on climate change in Europe is hard to overstate and this effort is a laudable one. 

Showing that no good deed goes unpunished, however, protestors came into the meeting shouting “your time is over!” and releasing balloons. It did not hamper the ceremony, but it was a sign of the times in Europe. A responsible transportation organization makes a bold move and even so there are protests. We have a chance to stay ahead of this in North America and we need to do so. Along those lines, the ACI-NA board also adopted a policy statement on climate change. 

Even so, the economic crisis overwhelms every other issue in the various meetings and hallway discussions; it is keenly felt here.

The US Airways Super Bowl, well sort of . . .

I was talking to our CFO, Brett McAllister who told me about a very interesting conversation he had with a sports-minded aviation consultant.

Phoenix is the main hub for US Airways (because it was the hub for America West, of course).  In the first round of the playoffs, the Arizona Cardinals dispatched the team from Delta‘s hub (Atlanta), but in the next two rounds they beat teams from US Airway hub cities Charlotte and Philadelphia. In the Super Bowl gameday_superbowlthey will play the team from what used to be US Airways’ main hub, Pittsburgh.  So, in a way, the Cardinals are vying not just to be champions of the football world, but champions of the US Airways system. 

Wonder if the folks in the marketing department of the carrier have caught on to this yet (I do know they have planes painted in the logos of both teams).

My World Series prediction turned out to be all wrong, but that won’t stop me from predicting that the Steelers will have a better defense against the Cardinal attack than Pittsburgh had against the US Airways decision to pull down its hub there.  Steelers, 23-17.