Monthly Archives: March 2011

FAA Finally on the Floor

By Jane Calderwood
The U.S. House of Representatives began debating H.R. 658, the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, this afternoon.  Listening to the debate, it is clear there is a major difference of opinion on the impact the bill will have on the aviation industry, and one’s interpretation clearly depends on which side of the aisle the member sits.  Republicans and Democrats are drawing very different pictures of what the bill can/will do for/to the aviation industry.

House debate FAA reauthorization.

Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) noted the bill was long past due given that the last FAA bill was signed into law in 2003, and that the agency was now operating under the 18th extension of its operating authority.  In his opening remarks, the chairman made reference to difficult fiscal situation facing the country by stating that at a time when Congress needs to cut back on spending, the bill requires the FAA to “do more with less.”   Aviation Subcommittee Chair Tom Petri (R-Wis.) expressed his support for moving forward with the bill in order to provide operating stability to the FAA.

Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) used his opening remarks to highlight the negative impact the bill’s provision sun setting the Essential Air Service will have on rural communities across the country, and lamented that the bill would not only have a negative impact on the FAA’s ability to do its job but that it would cost jobs as well.  “The bill cuts FAA funding by billions of dollars, back to 2008 levels.  You cannot cut funding so dramatically without destroying tens of thousands of jobs: Federal jobs, state jobs, local jobs, public and private sector jobs.  In addition to costing jobs, the bill’s funding cuts would cause delays to air traffic control modernization – meaning more delayed flights – a reduction of FAA’s safety workforce and delays to FAA safety rules.”

Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), responded to Mica’s comments regarding the FAA doing more with less by stating that the FAA “will not do more with less they will be forced to do less with less.”  Costello also referenced Mica’s comment that the bill specifically directs the FAA to prioritize and protect safety activities.  Costello remarked that while it sounds good “all the evidence suggests that it just can’t be done.”

General debate is scheduled to be completed Thursday afternoon.  The House will then begin consideration of the 33 amendments.

Celebrating 100 Open Skies Agreements

By Debby McElroy
On Wednesday, Diane Peterson and I were privileged to attend a ceremony at the Department of State celebrating the 100th Open Skies Agreement, signed with Colombia in late 2010.

Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, opened the program, introducing Secretary Hillary Clinton, who emphasized the importance of the Open Skies agreements not only for the economic benefits for airports, airlines and the economy but also as a means to achieve “people-to-people diplomacy”.

The important contribution of airports in not only supporting the concept of Open Skies, but also in actively participating in the negotiations was mentioned by several speakers, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  He emphasized that “the global transportation system is the glue that makes the global community a community at all”, bringing benefits to the traveling and shipping public.  While ACI-NA president Greg Principato could not attend (he is speaking at the California Airports Council meeting in Sacramento), airports were well represented by Jeff Fegan, CEO of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, who presented remarks following LaHood.  You can watch the entire ceremony by going to the DOT FastLane blog.

Paul Wiedefeld, Executive Director of the Maryland Aviation Administration; Bradley Rubinstein, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Don Fields, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; Lucinda Harshman, Pittsburgh International Airport; Joe Cambron, Detroit Metropolitan Airport; and Phil Ritter, DFW, also attended the ceremony, which was held in the beautiful Benjamin Franklin room at State.

ACI-NA serves a unique role in Open Skies, participating as a member of the U.S. delegation, which negotiates international aviation issues and in preparations leading up to aviation consultations and decisions. The direct participation ensures that negotiators at both State and DOT are aware of airport issues and concerns. It also enables ACI-NA to inform airports of on-going developments so they can effectively pursue their specific interests with airlines and the government representatives.

Open Skies Agreement #101 was signed with Brazil; next up are negotiations with China in August 2011.  U.S. airports will be well represented in those negotiations by Diane Peterson who has been involved in the vast majority of the Open Skies negotiations since the United States signed the first agreement with the Netherlands in 1992 as well as many other U.S. air service ngotiations.

Give Airports Flexibility on the PFC

Today, ACI-NA President Greg Principato posted the following blog in the National Journal online discussion concerning the pending FAA reauthorization bills.

The key question left to decide as the House considers its’ FAA reauthorization bill is whether or not Congress is willing to get the federal government out of the business of interfering with local communities and their airports.

We are in the midst of an on-going national debate over ways to reduce pressure on the federal budget, while at the same time in serious discussions on how to build and maintain our infrastructure.  Yet both FAA reauthorization bills ignore the fact that Congress has not raised the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge  user fee since 2000, and the $2 billion it raises a year is dedicated to paying for already completed projects or those currently underway.  The PFC is a local fee, paid by passengers who use the airport.  The money raised is plowed back into the system to make critical safety and security improvements at the local airport, thereby not only addressing our infrastructure needs, but also creating local jobs.

As I noted in a recent letter to Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who are leading the effort in the Senate on the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reforms, if Congress would lift the ceiling on the PFC, thereby allowing airports to work with their local community to set the PFC at a figure that ensures they are able to meet their outstanding infrastructure needs as well as to plan for future needs, airports’ need for federal assistance, particularly for those classified as large or medium hubs could lessen significantly.

The PFC user fee does exactly what Senator Bill Bradley, Secretary Tom Ridge and Comptroller David Walker, co-chairs of the Leadership Initiative on Transportation Solvency, suggested must be done in their recent op-ed; it makes “every dollar contributed…count.”  The PFC is set locally and used exclusively for local airport projects.  It is not filtered through Washington and it pays no bureaucrat’s salary or benefits.  It is exactly the type of locally-focused, self-funded mechanism that typically earns raves from both fiscal conservatives and their progressive counterparts.  It’s also a job creation machine that puts every program dollar into airport infrastructure and capital improvements, again without a penny going to Washington bureaucrats.

If Congress truly expects airports to continue to meet the numerous federally mandated safety, security and infrastructure projects while looking for ways to reduce the deficit, Congress needs to life the cap on the local PFC user fee so that every airport is able, based on its individual needs, to generate local, non-federal resources.

Customers Are Not Just Another Can of Soup

By Stephenie Brooks
Chicken noodle, cream of mushroom, tomato—um, no thank you. No canned soup for me.  I prefer it home made, and garnished with customer service.

At the ACI-NA Customer Service & Aviation Education Conference held last week in Denver, the point was made by Sally Covington, deputy manager of aviation Marketing and public relations at Denver International Airport: customers are not a commodity; they are not just a can of soup. Her statement rang true for me and I’m sure, for the rest of the almost 90 attendees in the room.

Q&A time at the Customer Service Conference last week in Denver.

As the new ACI-NA Director of Membership and Marketing, I was delighted to attend my first Customer Service and Aviation Education Conference and excited for a myriad of reasons. First off, this was my first time traveling to Denver, which is a way cooler city than I thought and, the Rocky Mountains make for a breath-taking view from the airport. Secondly, I was going to meet and talk with folks from our member airports, which is always a treat. And lastly, this was a record-breaking Customer Service Conference in terms of attendees and, like everybody else, I was eager to learn best and next practices, share ideas and information, and network with colleagues.

The content and speakers were excellent. I could go on and on about each session, but here are some highlights:

In the opening keynote session, Lou Carbone of Experience Engineering created that aha moment for attendees when he said, we shouldn’t stop at best practices in customer service but instead, look beyond to next practices. Founder and CEO of Open Doors Organization, Eric Lipp, and his panelist certainly opened our eyes and understanding with his Better Serving Customers with Disabilities session. Airports, and other organizations for that matter, would do well to better understand and provide for their customers with special needs.

A key takeaway for me was offered by Cathy Nyfors of the Vancouver Airport Authority. In conclusion of her presentation on the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics, she summed it up by saying that it’s all about people. And I agree. It takes people to serve people. Customer service is about more than a bunch of programs, systems and processes. It’s everyday people like you and me serving our customers, meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations.

CBO: Funding is All About Control

By Debby McElroy
Last week the Congressional Budget Office released Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options, an annual report which included among its options for reducing spending the elimination of Airport Improvement Program grants for the 65 large and medium hub airports, which enplane nearly 90 percent of passengers. The discussion of airport grants (on page 109 of the 256 page report) provides some interesting food for thought, including an acknowledgement that the federal government prevents local communities from using local resources to fund local projects that create local jobs.

“The time is now to eliminate the shackles preventing airports from using local resources to fund local projects.”

The report states “One argument against ending federal grants to large and medium-sized airports is that those airports currently lack the flexibility to substitute private sources of funding for reduced federal grants because of provisions of federal law that limit the amount that airports can charge passengers to finance capital projects.”  The answer is simple- eliminate the existing cap on Passenger Facility Charges, which are simply user fees that allow passengers using the airport to pay for the runways, terminals, taxiways and safety equipment from which they benefit.  For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per passenger, updating PFCs will fund projects and create jobs without bailouts, stimulus packages or adding to the national debt.  The bottom line is that local communities can do finance safety, security and capacity projects themselves if the federal government will get out of their way.

But perhaps the final paragraph of the CBO report provides the real reason why the federal government continues to thwart local control.  The AIP recommendation concludes with “Another argument against ending such grants is that they allow the FAA to retain greater control over how those airports spend their funding by imposing conditions for aid.”  CBO seems to be saying it is all about control, with the Washington bureaucracy not being ready to reduce federal spending and lower the national debt if it means giving up control of local community projects.

The time is long overdue to get Washington out of the way and allow airports to meet the needs of the traveling public, their communities and the airlines. Airports are working to educate Congress that the budget crisis provides a perfect opportunity to change the way we do business and fund airport infrastructure by eliminating the ceiling on PFC user fees. This is a proposal that both conservatives and liberals can embrace!  The PFC, which is a user fee and not a tax, doesn’t impact people who don’t use airports.  It only pays for capital projects and has no impact on the federal debt.  Further, PFCs create jobs!  It is estimated that a mere $2.50 increase in the PFC would create 40,000 jobs throughout the United States.

The time is now to eliminate the shackles preventing airports from using local resources to fund local projects.  Federal government interference keeps communities from accomplishing this; we need to get Washington out of the airport financing business.