Author Archives: ACI-NA Communications

Nominations for the 2015 Downes Award Now Open

The following is a guest post by Maureen Riley, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports and first vice-chair of the ACI-NA Board of Directors.

ACI-NA is now accepting nominations for the 2015 William E. Downes Award.

Named after the former Chicago Commissioner of Aviation, William E. Downes Jr., this prestigious award has been given to individuals who have made significant contributions to airports and the aviation industry since 1978. Past award winners are individuals who have tackled pressing aviation challenges and demonstrated strong leadership or innovation in our industry.

Past Downes Award winners include General Jimmy Doolittle for his efforts on aircraft noise abatement and Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine. More recently, ACI-NA has presented the award to the first Director General of ACI International Oris E. Dunham and Marge Brink for her contributions to airport concessions programs.

2011 Downes Award Winner Oris Dunham.

2011 Downes Award Winner Oris Dunham.

The deadline for nominations is April 24. The award recipient will be formally recognized at the ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition on October 7 in Long Beach, California. To learn more about the award and the nomination process, visit ACI-NA’s website at

Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, and Thella Bowen, president/CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, present the 2012 Downes Award to Marjorie Brink.

Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, and Thella Bowen, president/CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, present the 2012 Downes Award to Marge Brink.

I look forward to once again serving on the ACI-NA Downes Award Selection Committee and acknowledging another aviation champion in 2015.

Risk and Reward: Where Airport Customer Service and Communication Intersect

Last week during the 2015 Customer Service Seminar, we took a bit of a departure from what you’d probably expect on this type of seminar’s agenda.  In a tautological nutshell, we got the conversation going on how to get the conversation going.

Rick Kaufman is the executive director of community relations and emergency management for Bloomington Public Schools in Minnesota, and he served in the same role for Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado.  In April 1999, Rick led the crisis-response team to the Columbine High School shooting, and it was from this perspective that he led an in-depth, hands-on communications workshop on Day 2 in Reno.

Rick Kaufman leads a crisis communications workshop during Day 2 of the 2015 Customer Service Seminar.

Rick Kaufman leads a crisis communications workshop during Day 2 of the 2015 ACI-NA Customer Service Seminar.

Airports are bustling places for which no day is ever the same, and just like any large and complex company, they’re run by skilled teams with highly specialized knowledge.  Sometimes, though—and particularly in the midst of crisis-type event—the instinct can be to adhere strongly to expected job functions.  In terms of airports, this can mean a pronounced division between customer service and media relations.

Rick’s workshop sought to counteract this instinct, and for a few hours last Thursday morning, the meeting room became the communications command center responding to a hypothetical incident at a fictional airport.  Some groups of attendees were tasked to tweet as concerned citizens or family members, while others were assigned the objective to distract the dialogue with non sequitur memes, tirades, and tangents.  You can follow all the workshop’s tweets here.

But the most challenging role was assumed by the groups who took on the responsibility of what traditionally is in the realm of a public information department: speaking on behalf of an airport as a crisis unfolds.  Perhaps because there is a clear distinction between customer service and public information at many North American airports—and perhaps, too, because these disciplines also are closely aligned—the natural instinct was to defer to the appropriate colleague.  But once this role became comfortable, the conversation fully emerged.

In the end, though, the goal of the workshop wasn’t to cross-train customer service professionals as corporate spokespersons.  Instead, it was for us to gain a better understanding of how honest, direct, and precise communication across all parties and audiences is essential, especially during difficult circumstances.  Similarly, we hope that taking the risk of incorporating this type of workshop provided a richer overall seminar experience for those of you who joined us in Reno.

Caroline O’Reilly
Senior Manager, Communications and Marketing

Gaining Ground and Flying High: A Look Back on My First Year at ACI-NA

Thursday, January 22, 2015, marked my one year anniversary as president and CEO of ACI-NA.  In that time, I have deepened my appreciation for the complexities of modern air travel.  I have also learned how important ACI-NA’s work is for North American airports to be successful in serving their passengers and communities.  While there is no shortage of challenges, I view them as another opportunity to learn about this wonderful airport industry and to ensure that we are constantly improving the service we provide to our members in both the United States and Canada.

It was very fitting that I spent my one year anniversary meeting with key Canadian and U.S. government officials and industry stakeholders in Ottawa.  During my meetings, we were able to discuss many of the trans-border issues, including security, passenger facilitation, trade, and intergovernmental collaboration, that keep a lot of you up at night.  The meetings were very productive, and we left with action items we will be following up on in the coming months.

While in Ottawa, I was able to perform an “under the hood” tour of Ottawa International Airport.  As I have said before, these tours offer me a valuable education about the difficulties of operating a 21st century airport.  While each airport tour is unique, there is one feature that remains the same.  The airport director is always most proud of something the public never gets to see, like Ottawa’s new baggage handling system.  What Mark and his team have been able to accomplish is truly amazing.

With 38 of these tours now under my belt, I have been able to develop a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face together as we advance our aviation system.  I look forward to continuing my tours of North American airports in the coming year.

My big takeaway from my trip to Canada relates to ACI-NA’s role in promoting intergovernmental and industry collaboration across the border.  The U.S. government and the Government of Canada are eager to work together, but many officials have questions as to how they can achieve meaningful progress on initiatives like Beyond the Border.  With strong presence in both national capitals, ACI-NA is well-situated to offer support and expert guidance as the United States and Canada begin to move on to the next phase of Beyond the Border, especially as major policy debates unfold in both countries this year through the review of the Canada Transportation Act and reauthorization of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

As U.S. President Barack Obama said in his recent State of the Union address, “21st century businesses need a 21st century infrastructure.”  I could not agree more.  To that end, your organization is working tirelessly on these important matters because of the long-term impact these issues will have on airport operations for years to come.  The Canadian Policy Board, through the Canadian Airports Council, has just submitted policy recommendations on the review of the Canada Transportation Act.  ACI-NA’s U.S. Policy Board continues the steady drumbeat on airport priorities as part of FAA reauthorization discussion in Congress.  ACI-NA continues to build its visibility on both of these fronts.

Outside of the policy arena, challenges continue to mount before the industry, and ACI-NA is ready to help our members confront these obstacles.  Just a few months ago, more than 45 percent of responding airport directors told us air service development was the single biggest challenge facing North American airports.  More than 40 percent of airport directors said air service will continue to be challenging over the next five years.  As such, ACI-NA is responding to member needs.

In June, ACI-NA will launch our re-imagined JumpStart® Air Service Development Conference on June 1 – 3, 2015, in Seattle, WA, as a stand-alone networking event designed to bring airports and airlines together.  Planning has already started, and I assure you this year’s conference will be unlike any other air service development conference available.  Our Small Airports Committee will also be able to meet together during this conference to discuss issues unique to their airports while still having access to recruit new airline partners.

As an association, we must continually provide the most up to date information to ensure our members are able to stay ahead of tomorrow’s challenges.  Our brand-new Business of Airports Conference, set to be held April 20 – 22, 2015, in Phoenix, AZ, does just that.  By bringing three conferences together – commercial management, finance, and human resources – we are able to reduce organizational silos and empower airport leaders to make smart, strategic decisions about non-aeronautical revenue and talent management.

Other upcoming conferences of note include the ACI-NA/AAAE Spring Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 3 – 4, the Security, Operations, Environmental, and Business Information Technology Conferences in Vancouver, BC, on March 22 – 25, and the biennial Airports Canada Conference and Exhibition in Vancouver, BC, on March 25 – 27.  More information can be found at

The immense challenges looming over the horizon require us to maintain a global vision.  We have to be able to adapt to those challenges we might not yet be able to see.  That is where your association can be most impactful, and we are ready for the challenge.  We look forward to providing you additional updates in the coming months.  In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have or if I can be of assistance to you or your respective teams.

Kevin M. Burke
President and CEO

“Ruff”-ing It in a New World of Airport Customer Service

In my first week at ACI-NA, travel writer Harriet Baskas published an article in USA Today about pet therapy programs in airports. Being new to the airport and aviation industry, I was not familiar with such programs, and the article was an eye-opening experience into the lengths airports will go to provide excellent customer service.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport welcomes attendees to the 2015 ACI-NA Customer Service Seminar.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport welcomes attendees to the 2015 ACI-NA Customer Service Seminar.

ACI-NA’s Customer Service Seminar in Reno, Nevada, has been a great forum for our members to discuss the latest issues and trends in customer service. One member put it best when she said that the objective of customer service is about lowering travel stress. In the golden age of social media, it’s easy for a complaint regarding customer service to go viral. So what are airports doing to lower passengers stress and provide the best possible customer service?

The three "I"s of this year's seminar: imagination, initiative, and innovation.

The three “I”s of this year’s seminar: imagination, initiative, and innovation.

My big takeaway from this week’s conference is that airports work tirelessly to establish enterprise-wide customer service standards that apply not only to airport employees, but also third-party vendors at the airport. In order to achieve this, several airports have launched campaigns to provide everything from extra care to a smile and a compliment to their travelers. During a tour of our conference’s host, Reno-Tahoe International Airport, the airport employees gave conference attendees a first-hand looks at their different efforts to create a worry-free experience for passengers through their #KindnessTakesFlight campaign and volunteer programs.

#KindnessTakesFlight at RNO.

#KindnessTakesFlight at RNO.

In a way, my tour of RNO (I’m also still getting into the swing of airport-code lingo) brought full-circle these beginning months for me at ACI-NA. The centerpiece of #KindnessTakesFlight is the Paws 4 Passengers therapy-dog. Not only was I so excited to meet these four-legged ambassadors, but so were many seasoned airport pros. Flying can be stressful, but airports are embracing creative ways to make the journey seamless for passengers. It’s safe to say that air travel hasn’t totally gone to the dogs.

Mimi Ryals
Communications and Marketing Coordinator