Get Ready For Holiday Travel

Kudos to TSA Administrator John Pistole for holding a press conference at Reagan National Airport Tuesday about the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel period that is less than a week away.  We have widely supported TSA’s risk-based security initiatives and I applaud the agency for proactively sharing how these initiatives help ensure, as he put it yesterday, “…effective security in the most efficient way.” Also that travelers should check the TSA website to make sure they understand the rules for liquids, aerosols and gels in their carry-on bags.

TSA Administrator John Pistole

I will be doing the same thing on behalf of the nation’s airports early next week through a series of TV and radio interviews. I’ll use those forums to discuss how airports are preparing for the high volume of anticipated traffic and inform the public about what they can expect at airports this holiday season.  America’s airports are prepared to meet the needs of holiday travelers and airports want passengers to have a great experience regardless of whether it’s Thanksgiving, the December holiday season, or any day of the year. The main message is to be prepared – check the airport, airline and TSA website to make sure you have all relevant information.  Also to pack your patience!

Airports are complex environments, with airlines, federal agencies, concessionaires and airport staff all responsible for different things.  But everyone is working together to make the travel experience safe, secure and whenever possible, convenient for passengers not only during the holidays, but throughout the year.

A key part of making the passenger experience enjoyable is reducing the wait time at the security checkpoint line or for processing international arriving passengers by CBP.  The key to success is for TSA and CBP to have adequate staffing to handle the millions of passengers who will travel not only during the holiday season but all year round. We are already experiencing problems at international airports so I am concerned about what might happen if Congress and the President don’t address the looming sequestration threat.  I am not alone – lots of people are concerned about the cuts we could see early in the new year.  Administrator Pistole was asked a question about that on Tuesday and he responded that “…the bottom line is to keep the frontline security operations in full force, to keep the movement of people and goods moving smoothly.”

Earlier in the press conference he emphasized how PreCheck and technology are helping to increase efficiency.  In facilitation we have Global Entry and pilot programs for Automated Border Control.  But there is more that needs to be done.  We also need better recognition that airports are a key driver of our economy, responsible for 8 percent of U.S. GDP and an estimated 7 percent of jobs.  They are critical for our global competitiveness.

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.

Visiting State Airport Councils

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling this summer; as have several ACI-NA staff.  Sure, some of it was vacation and some was family-oriented.  Some of it was to attend ACI-related meetings.

But a lot of it has been to attend state and regional airport and aviation meetings, to discuss the ACI-NA airport finance agenda and our Airports for the Future effort (  I have been to the Florida Airports Council and the West Virginia Aviation Conference, and will be attending the New York Aviation Managers Association next month.  Debby McElroy has been to the California Airports Council, the Texas Commercial Airports Association meeting and the Mississippi meeting.  Jane Calderwood attended the Oklahoma meeting.

At the Florida Airports Council meeting earlier this summer.

We have gone to all of these in person.  This allows all of us to rub elbows with our members where they live, and also to meet with airport and other aviation stakeholders who may not be ACI-NA members but whose views are of critical importance as we seek to shape the future of aviation policy in this country.  These travels also provide strong evidence of the importance of air transportation to every region of this country.

All of these audiences understand that we need to change the way we do things in this country.  They understand that the current system is not adequate, that our competitors are moving ahead of us, and that some others in aviation seek to keep the system static because it serves their own interests.  It is true, there is not unanimous agreement on a certain specific way forward, but the general principles of a new aviation policy in this country are beginning to take shape.  I will have more to say about those principles in the weeks and months ahead.  In the meantime, please visit to learn more.

It needs also to be said that ACI-NA, through the efforts of our Canadian Airports Council office in Ottawa, is making a strong case for change in Canada as well.  We have gotten the attention of a Canadian Senate committee on the critical issues of the (lack of) competitiveness of Canadian airport policies and we are working together to change various security and facilitation policies on both sides of the North American border.  The imminent end of redundant bag re-screening and the Obama-Harper initiatives are evidence that this is taking hold.  And, to continue a theme, I will be speaking at a meeting of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association in late October.

Next week we at ACI-NA are off to Calgary for the ACI-NA and ACI World annual conferences, and hope to see many of you.  I will have more to say from there.

Florida Airports Address: The Need for Change

I’ve just returned from the Florida Airports Council meeting in Naples.  This is usually the third largest annual airport conference in the United States and offers a full program touching on the key issues facing airport operators.  Florida is a state heavily dependent on aviation; indeed more than 10 percent of the national impact of the airport economic engine, as measured by our Economic Impact Study earlier this year, comes from Florida.  This is the second time I have been invited to speak.

As you might imagine, I focused my speech on the need for a new airport financing model.  One Florida airport director has told me that a project recently completed at his airport could not be accomplished today given the out-of-date system.  He was lucky to have completed his project, but others are not quite as lucky.

Greg Donovan, of Northwest Florida Regional Airport and president of the Florida Airports Council, and Greg field questions at the July 25 event.

Our message must be getting through because I now see things coming from important airline voices designed to counter our arguments.  You might think I am happy about this, and perhaps on a certain level I am.  But, as I always point out, I am NOT anti-airline and I don’t know any airport directors who are.  I truly believe that if we can reform and modernize the system by which we finance airport infrastructure, airlines would benefit financially and in every other way.  They may not have as much control at airports as they do now, and the competitive landscape may be more wide open, but they will do better, I am convinced.

There have been calls for a national “airline” policy.  I, and others (most recently Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino in a well-received speech at Washington’s Aero Club) have called for a national “aviation” policy.  One that recognizes that the purpose of air transportation is the movement of people and products to destinations and markets and, by so doing, promotes economic development and activity.

No airline executive I have ever heard believes the current set of federal policies, including various taxes and fees, is very good.  They might be surprised to know I agree with them.  I saw a piece by the CEO of United Airlines (I fly United a lot, made 1K for 2012 on July 8) a few months ago where he talks about the mish-mash of policies that adds up to a burden on airlines.  He might be surprised to know I agree.  What we are doing now does not keep us globally competitive, and we need to change.  But that need is across the board.

If you go to you will see plenty on this from the airport perspective.

Here’s one from the airline perspective:  in the 1997 FAA reauthorization (which did NOT include a PFC increase) included changes in aviation taxes and fees.  The legacy airlines, in fact, insisted that the tax section be looked at and “re-balanced” as they felt the previous regime favored the low cost carriers a little too much.  And, the re-balancing (reducing the ticket tax and adding the segment fee) had that basic effect.  But by opening all that up for discussion, the other changes that were made (mostly the increase in the international arrival/departure fee) means that airlines have paid $11.8 billion MORE than they would have otherwise since that time ($10.6 billion net if you subtract the savings from the other changes mentioned above).  Yes, if nothing were done and current law had been maintained, the airlines would have saved a net of $10.6 billion.  And have we seen Customs and Border Protection Services, which are supposed to be supported by those fees, improved since then?  That answer is an absolute NO.  Are the airlines happy about that?  No!  Are the airports happy about that?  No!

No airport operator likes this result.  We want to see these kinds of things changed; we want our aviation system:  airports, airlines, manufacturers and others, to be globally competitive.  The time is ripe for a fresh look at all of this.  Calls for a policy focused on only one segment of the industry distract from what this country really needs.

Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak said recently at another Aero Club of Washington speech that the industry agrees on 95 percent of the important issues and we should focus there.  I agree.  And, I believe that if we do that, we can improve the landscape over that 95 percent while finding a way forward on the other 5 percent that can work for all of us – and especially for the travelers and shippers who depend on us.

U.S. Airports, Airlines Need to Further Invest in Infrastructure

I’ve been back from Singapore for a week.  Two things stick out.  One, it is a bit harder to recover from these trips now than even just a couple of years ago.  Two, when I said in Denver at Airport Cities that our competitors were moving forward building new, more modern and efficient infrastructure, and we were being left behind; well, I was even more right than I knew at the time.

So many people came up to me at the ACI Asia-Pacific meeting who had either read or heard the Denver speech, or heard me ask a question of one of the speakers that made the same points.  They confirmed that this is what is happening.  If we do not think that these airport leaders around the world do not have global aspirations, we are deluding ourselves.  And I can’t say they are unhappy that policies in the United States hold us back while they move forward.  On the way over I read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book “Strategic Vision.”  He makes the same point in that book.

U.S. carriers tend to think that if it is new and shiny then it is too expensive and they shouldn’t pay for it.  I think they are, usually, shortsighted in this; I think their interests are better served by newer and more efficient infrastructure.  But at least I understand it, on a basic level.  What I do not understand is the U.S. Government, both executive and legislative branch, not really understanding this.  Henry Kissinger is fond of saying the role of a statesman is to represent the future to the present.  This is not being done right now in the United States on aviation infrastructure.

It has been a sad couple of weeks in aviation.  Andy Steinberg, who served as FAA general counsel and U.S. D.O.T. Assistant Secretary, died on May 20 at the young age of 53.  Andy oversaw the critically important negotiations that led to an open skies agreement with the European Union, a rare example in the past few years where a statesman did represent the future to the present.  He also worked for American Airlines when, in 1993, they won a landmark predatory pricing case.  That case was decided during the deliberations of the Baliles Commission; I recall it was one we had our eye closely on.  That case had a major impact on the business of aviation.  Andy was also the one who recruited me to join the board of the International Aviation Club a few years ago.  Jeff Shane, for whom I have the utmost regard says that Andy was “one of the greatest aviation lawyers of his generation.”  Andy Steinberg, R.I.P.

Ernie Boston was a member of the Pasco, Washington, airport commission for 17 years.  He was an active and constant presence in the ACI-NA Commissioners Committee; always sitting in the front, asking questions and greeting other attendees.  He was a sweet man, a real gentleman.  He cared a great deal about his airport and about the industry.  His background was in real estate and he long ago saw the potential of this for the business health of the airport.  Ernie was very active in all manner of civic and economic development activities in his town; he knew that the airport is an economic engine and was determined to make the best of it.  Ernie was a great guy and I will miss him.  Ernie Boston, R.I.P.

When I was a senior at Notre Dame, our school had one of the great sports years in NCAA history to that time.  The football team won a national championship (the QB was Joe Montana) and the basketball team went to the Final 4 (the soccer team I played on went 16-1-1 but no one talks much about that J).  A key presence on that basketball team was a freshman named Orlando Woolridge.  That guy could move and he could jump.  There were other perhaps better known names on that team (Bill Laimbeer and Kelly Tripuka for instance) but he was key to the success of that team, and a lot of fun to watch.  He went on to a nice NBA career, averaging 16 points per game and coached in the WNBA  He died over the weekend of a heart ailment and I was very sad to hear about it.  Orlando Woolridge, for helping make senior year so memorable, R.I.P.

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.