Getting Our Message Out There

By Kevin M. Burke
Over the last couple of days, I have had the chance to tell the airport story in several local and national forums.  My consistent message: Airports need greater funding flexibility and the ability to generate local dollars for local capital projects with a higher PFC ceiling.

In an interview with CNN that was focused on the poor standing of U.S. airports compared to our global peers, I noted, “there’s no question that U.S. airports suffer from an image problem globally, and the main culprit is our nation’s lack of dedicated infrastructure investment, particularly in its aviation infrastructure.”

“Many of our airports are operating well beyond the capacity for which they were originally intended several decades ago, and this is the reason why air travelers — international and domestic — experience crowded terminals and outdated facilities.”

I noted that the U.S. airport ownership model differs so dramatically compared to major airports around the world. Thus how we obtain funds and then use the funds is much more restricted than the corporate-owned, profit-driven airports.

Today in an op-ed published in The Hill, a publication that covers Capitol Hill and the federal bureaucracy, I wrote that “we could use more creative solutions, certainly, but greater flexibility at a minimum. Airports are a good case in point. Funded primarily from fees paid by airport users, airports urgently need a federal policy change that would increase the cap on the Passenger Facility Charges so that every local airport has the flexibility to invest in its own capital improvements.”

These are the kinds of policy hurdles that stymie transportation infrastructure investment at just the wrong time in our history, I noted. The cost of the status quo is clearly unacceptable. The time for more flexible federal transportation policy is now.

And, that was also my message on Thursday afternoon when I participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 13th Annual Aviation Summit on a panel concerned with Today’s Regulatory Environment. The panel was moderated by Washington Airport’s Jack Potter and joining me as speakers were former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey (now with AIA), Doug Lane from Boeing and Rob Wilson from Honeywell.

My colleagues on the panel had been able to incorporate the latest advancements in their systems, despite challenges with FAA certification, but I reported the airport industry has not been able to modernize its funding system. That has to change. “We need a regulatory system that allows airports to fund the critical safety, security and efficiency improvements that allow the United States to compete and win in the global aviation industry.”

Lawmakers Share Their Insights

By Tom Smith
During last week’s ACI-NA/AAAE Washington Legislative Conference, while federal officials reviewed their past accomplishments it is worth noting their forward-looking observations on the 2015 FAA reauthorization and the TSA.

Participating in the Thursday briefings of airport directors were FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, (R-N.H.), Sen. Dan Coats, (R-Ind.), Rep. Michael McCaul, (R-Texas), Rep. Richard Hudson, (R-N.C.), and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).

On FAA reauthorization
The FAA is taking a “systematic approach” within the organization looking for changes that will enable it to operate more efficiently and effectively, Whitaker said. “We need to invest in airports to stay competitive internationally and meet demand,” he said. “We need to invest in new technology.”

With reauthorization 500 days away, Ayotte said now is the time for stakeholders, including airports, to provide their feedback as to what they want to see changed or included in the new law. Congress needs your help to make “common sense” decisions that will shape the nation’s aviation policy, she said.

“We want to hear from you. Reach out to my office on ways we can do things better,” said Ayotte, the ranking Republican on the Senate Aviation Subcommittee.

The biggest obstacles to the next FAA bill will the “remnants of the last time,” said Rahall, “primarily the funding levels.” Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, noted he is working to preserve the Essential Air Service (EAS) program “so it does not become ESA,” an Endangered Species Act.

On TSA
“I have been critical of TSA Administrator John Pistole when he did not get enough stakeholder input, especially on the exit lane plan,” said Hudson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee and the 2014 Commissioner’s Congressional Leadership Award honoree. “I have asked him to work with me and stakeholders” to develop a long-term plan for the exit lanes – one that would reduce the use of TSA officers and provide airports with the funds to use new technology. “I have his commitment to come to the table. It is a win-win-win.”

Hudson, McCaul and Ayotte noted a study is needed to improve the use of technology at exit lanes.

The TSA’s acquisition of technology has been plagued with problems that waste airport resources. Ayotte noted she is the Senate sponsor of a bill that has already won unanimous House approval to reform the TSA’s technology program so that there is greater transparency and accountability also with common sense reforms. This reform needs greater participation of the private sector, she said.

McCaul noted his “pet project” is to get the private sector more involve with the TSA, in particular the private screening program. “I think the private sector can do a better job. We should make it easier for you to apply for private screeners if that is what you want to do. They will save taxpayers’ dollars and they maybe more efficient,” said McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Both Coats and Hudson observed that Homeland Security is now operating in a different budgetary environment than when it was created. A smaller foot print is needed.

The proposed DHS budget is 4 percent less than last year, said Coats, the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Homeland Security. There are proposed user fee hikes in the Obama budget that would fund program expansions. “There are considerable political issues that need to be overcome,” he said. “The proposal doesn’t have majority support in either House and we will need to look at what we can shift in the budget.”

Translating Airport Needs for the Public

By Tom Smith
As airports continue an effort to educate Congress to secure billions to fund a backlog of capital projects, two words of advice – localize and personalize.

Messaging efforts on the Hill are lost when the focus is on the large numbers. Audiences’ attention span wanes and eyeballs begin to glaze over.

The message needs to be distilled into easily digestible sound bites, said Marc Scribner, research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Personalization is important. How does this impact the local community?”

“Take one step back,” said Keith Laing, of The Hill’s Transportation Blog, “and make it relate to a person. Relate it to the ticket price and not the billions needed.”

The problem – the industry’s need for funds to meet today’s and tomorrow’s passenger demands – needs to be focused on the way the traveler will see it, not from the viewpoint of the airport manager.

Visualize the situation – if nothing happens, then major airports will have “Thanksgiving” traffic once a week. Travelers can relate and are frighten by this potential.

The advice was offered by two separate panels – one of reporters and the second from potential strategic coalition partners — on Thursday during the second day of the 2014 ACI-NA/AAAE Washington Legislative Conference here in Washington.

The Press Panel: NBC's Tom Costello, The Hill's Keith Laing, Politico's Kathryn Wolfe and USA Today's Bart Jansen.

The place to start with the localization and personalize is with the local media. Airports were advised to build relationships with both the reporters, who cover the news, and also the editorial boards, who influence local opinion leaders.

The reporters noted that the national media scour local papers for story ideas and examples to localize a big picture story. While the coalition builders note politicians are also very attune to their local papers and can obsess to be on the “right side” of a high-profile local issue.

A photo of a cracked runway will not make the news or do much to convince Congress or the public that a hike in the Passenger Facility Charge is needed, said NBC aviation correspondent Tom Costello. Close a runway because of the cracks and disrupt the flights, then that is news, Costello said.

The challenge is to personalize and to educate. In a carrot-and-stick approach, Kathryn Wolfe, senior transportation reporter for Politico, suggested that an airport highlight a project that will fix a problem, an eye-sore or its least-liked facility and note if it can charge “just a bit more we will have the dollars to replace it.

“You need to get them to care and see how it will affect their life,” she added.

Wolf, Lang and Bart Jansen, the transportation reporter for USA Today, noted that they periodically try to make clear just where the various ticket taxes and fees go so that passengers get a sense of the benefits of these air fare add-ons.

Philosophically, the public – particularly the non-flying taxpayer – may be more supportive of a hike in the PFC if they understand what it will accomplish and the “fairness” of a user fee, Scribner said. If they don’t fly, they don’t pay the higher user fee.  If they do fly, then they will see a direct benefit of their dollars spent at their local airport to improve the facility that they use.

Tell Your Story

By Tom Smith
If there was one crystal clear message on Wednesday at the ACI-NA/AAAE Washington Leadership Conference it was that airports need to do a much better job at telling their story to their home state congressional delegation.

Washington state's Sen. Patty Murray

A strong supporter of airports and the aviation industry, Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), told the airport community, “I need your help. When you talk to lawmakers, tell them the demands that you see and tell them how costs are out pacing the funds just to maintain what you have.”

The U.S. needs to make a strong, smart investment in infrastructure. We need to invest in capital needs, safety and security improvements and NextGen, Murray said. This is a “very challenging time,” but we need to fight to make certain you have all the resources you need to succeed.

Investing in the nation’s infrastructure, she said, rebuilds the economy, supports full-time, long-term jobs and maintains our competitive edge in the global economy. Her colleagues, Murray said, need to hear this as a local message from their constituents.

Murray was the kick-off speaker for the two-day conference.

Before the “official” program got underway airport directors and the leadership of ACI-NA and AAAE had a “listening session” on Capitol Hill with the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The marching orders from the congressional leaders – Tell your story.

ACI-NA President Kevin M. Burkesaid the committee leaders understand the airport’s position, but they asked the airports and community leaders to educate their local congressman.

ACI-NA President Kevin M. Burke

“We need to enlist your support in this effort,” Burke said.

In a show of hands, about half the airports in attendance had hosted their local congressman on a tour of their airport. Burke said all airports need to reach out and show their facilities, illustrate their capital needs and demonstrate the impact the airport has on the local economy. And, Burke said, “bring your local community up to seek the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”

As both ACI-NA and AAAE working in unison begin to the lay the groundwork for the 2015 FAA reauthorization, Burke said the strategy will be to bring in other groups to support our case to Congress. “We will bring in other groups that have skin in the game with the airports.”

AAAE President Todd Hauptli cautioned that based on the experience on the last reauthorization bill that took 23 short-term extensions until the multi-year bill was passed in 2013, “we need to be prepared for a sustained multi-year fight to get a multi-year bill.”

Burke said he and Hauptli will be up on the Hill often together telling the airport story.

We need a communication strategy that all know and understand, Burke said. To date, “we have not been effective in telling the airport story.”

31 Reasons to Celebrate International Women’s Day in 2014

By Kevin M. Burke

March 8 is the 106th annual International Women’s Day. This special day would not be complete without honoring the many women in our own industry who contribute to our airports, and communities, every day. I have spent some time reflecting on the role women have historically played in our industry, the leadership they demonstrate in today’s airport community and the direction I hope our industry takes in the future.

Historically, aviation, like many industries, has been primarily a man’s world, especially in leadership positions. Now is a great time to review how this dynamic is shifting. Today, 31 of ACI-NA’s member airports are run by women directors or acting directors – including some of the largest airports in the country.  Additionally, ACI World, representing 1751 airports in 174 countries and territories before the International Civil Aviation Organization, is led by a female director general, Angela Gittens.

This generation of women airport leaders is taking the lead on some of the most complex organizational and infrastructure challenges in the country. O’Hare Airport in Chicago, for example, is currently implementing the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) which will create one new runway, relocate three runways, extend two runways and add a western terminal campus. OMP is estimated to create up to 195,000 new jobs and add an additional $18 billion in annual economic activity to the Chicago region.

O’Hare is not the only woman-led airport with forward thinking modernization programs. Salt Lake City International (SLC) Airport’s $1.8 billion Terminal Redevelopment Program and Reno-Tahoe International Airport’s Development plan will solve operational problems, improve customer service, accommodate growth, and maintain competitive costs in their respective airports. In Montana, the Glacier Park International Airport will begin a $2 million remodel that will include an expansion of the security area and lower-level passenger seating area and provide a more comfortable and personal traveling experience for customers overall.

Two major airports in California, San Diego International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have also embarked on historic public works programs.  In San Diego, the now completed Green Build project, to-date the largest improvement project in the airport’s history, created 1,000 jobs and helped to modernize and enhance the traveler experience.  And the World Airports (LAWA) Capital Improvements Program at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) consists of more than 20 individual projects and will, at its completion, have created 40,000 construction related jobs. It is considered to be the largest public works program in the history of the City of Los Angeles.

Some projects are comprehensive in scale and scope, and others are aimed at addressing specific travel and infrastructure needs. Denver’s International Airport recently embarked on a Hotel and Transit Center project which will enhance Denver’s standing as an international hub by creating an independent, yet integrated, Weston that will include 519 rooms, a conference center and a public transit center.  In Boise Idaho, the Boise Airport is currently working on an Airport Garage Expansion Project that will add an additional 755 parking spots for airport travelers.  In Arizona, the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is undergoing construction of two new gates and an additional outdoor courtyard at the Airport’s Charles L. Williams Passenger Terminal.

While I cannot do justice to all of the important modernization and capital investment projects taking place in airports throughout this country, it is important to note that a number of them are coming from airports with women at the helm. These projects are innovative in the advancements they will make for customer travel. They also are to be commended for the thousands of jobs they are (and will) provide to the community, and the billions of dollars they are injecting into their local economies.  I encourage you to visit your airport’s website and see for yourself, what exciting and economically beneficial projects are underway in your community.

I know I speak for many in our industry in celebrating the increasing diversity of the staffs and leaders at our airports. Today I would like to offer a shout-out to these incredibly talented women airport chief executives.

ACI-NA’s 31 Women Directors and Acting Directors – we salute you all!

  • Kim Aguirre, Director of Aviation, City of San Jose Airport Department, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose Intl. Airport
  • Deborah Ale Flint, Director of Aviation, Oakland International Airport, Port of Oakland
  • Bonnie Allin, President and CEO, Tucson Airport Authority, Tucson International Airport
  • Rosemarie Andolino, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation
  • Pat Apone, Director of Airports, Horry County Dept. of Airports
  • Thella Bowens, President and CEO, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
  • Joyce Carter, Vice President Finance, Chief Financial Officer, & Chief Strategy Officer, Halifax International Airport Authority
  • Delia Chesworth, Director, Government of the Northwest Territories, DOT, Airports Division
  • Melinda Crawford, Executive Director, Charlottesville – Albermarle Airport
  • Ann Crook, Director of Aviation, Elmira Corning Regional Airport
  • Kim Day, Chief Executive Officer, City and County of Denver, Denver International Airport
  • Tamie Fisher, Acting Aviation Director, City of Phoenix Aviation Department, Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Patricia deLaBruere, Airport Manager, Juneau International Airport
  • Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, Director, St. Louis Airport Authority, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport
  • Rebecca Hupp, Airport Director, Boise Airport
  • Diane Jackson, Assistant Airport Manager, Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport
  • B.R. Lane, Interim Director, Gary Chicago International Airport
  • Gina Marie Lindsey, Executive Director, Los Angeles World Airports
  • Monica Lombraña, Director of Aviation, City of El Paso, El Paso International Airport
  • Helen Maclnnis, Chief Executive Officer, Sydney Airport Authority
  • Cindi Martin, Airport Director, Flathead Municipal Airport Authority, Glacier Park International Airport
  • Brenda Martin, CEO and Airport Manager, Stephenville Airport Corporation
  • Candace McGraw, Chief Executive Officer, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Intl. Airport
  • Melinda Montgomery, Airport Manager, Trenton-Mercer Airport
  • Marily Mora, President and CEO, Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority
  • Jane Morris, Executive Director, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority
  • Maureen Riley, Executive Director, Salt Lake City Department of Airports
  • Elaine Roberts, President and CEO, Columbus Regional Airport Authority
  • Jacqueline Shuck, Executive Director, Roanoke Regional Airport Commission, Roanoke Regional Airport
  • Rosemary Vassiliadis, Director of Aviation, Clark County Department of Aviation, McCarran International Airport
  • Vernice Walkine, President and CEO, Nassau Airport Development Company, Lynden Pindling International Airport
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