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Drilling Down – International Aviation Issues Come Home

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke (second from right) discusses international security challenges at the 23rd AVSEC World

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke (second from right) discusses international security challenges at the 23rd AVSEC World.  Other panelists from left: Jim Marriott, deputy director aviation security and facilitation, ICAO; Calin Rovinescu, CEO, Air Canada; Jeff Poole, director general, CANSO; and Tony Tyler, director general and CEO, IATA.

Kevin M. Burke
ACI-NA President and CEO

A few weeks ago, I participated on a panel discussion during the 23rd AVSEC World, where I had the privilege to discuss the challenges in meeting future security demands amidst an uncertain global political climate with the heads of IATA, CANSO, and Air Canada, as well as ICAO’s deputy director of aviation security and facilitation.  As the panel’s sole airports representative, it was a valuable opportunity for me to share our industry’s perspective and recommendations for ensuring safe and secure commercial air travel, especially in an era of constrained governmental resources.

In both the United States and Canada, federal budgetary limitations continue to squeeze staffing levels at security checkpoints and international arrivals areas.  Meanwhile, recent alerts and threats pertaining to commercial air travel have resulted in increased security screening procedures.  This combination of factors has created quite the conundrum for North America’s airports: they’ve been tasked to do much more with much less, and failure is not an option.  In a perfect world, American and Canadian airports would be fully funded to carry out the security and facilitation initiatives mandated by Washington and Ottawa.  In reality, the fiscal environments in which our airports operate demand creative and collaborative solutions favoring the risk-based over the redundant.

Take for example the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) PreCheck program.  From a practical perspective, PreCheck harnesses available data—provided by passengers on a voluntary basis—and intelligence information to serve as an indicator to guide the application of screening resources.  From the passenger’s perspective, it’s even more straightforward—no need to remove shoes, acceptable liquids, and other items that can slow down the line.  As I expressed to my fellow AVSEC World panelists, ACI-NA fully supports PreCheck, and we’ve been working with TSA to significantly increase enrollment.

Similarly regarding facilitation, ACI-NA has been a strong proponent of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry and the Canada Border Services Agency’s NEXUS programs, and we’ve encouraged the expansion of reciprocal agreements with other countries in order allow their citizens to participate in trusted-traveler programs.  We’ve also championed collaborative technologies to reduce administrative burdens, most notably the Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks and the Mobile Passport Control (MPC) smartphone app.  Like PreCheck, these initiatives have resulted in measurable gains for participating airports, their federal partners, and the passengers they serve.

ACI-NA’s International Aviation Issues Seminar, December 4-5 in Washington, is an opportunity to continue the conversation started at AVSEC World, and I’m pleased to note that our keynote address will be delivered by CBP’s acting assistant commissioner, John Wagner, who has been instrumental to realizing APC and MPC.  I hope that you’re able to join us and representatives from across the aviation community as we continue to discuss challenges and explore solutions in an increasingly complex world.

Serious Airports Require Serious Solutions

by Kevin M. Burke
President and CEO
Airports Council International-North America

Kevin M. Burke

As the nature of business and tourism grows more global, the role of airports becomes even more important.  Airports are essential to connecting travelers with leisure destinations and businesses with new customers all around the world.  However, U.S. airports were recently scapegoated following the release of a customer service satisfaction survey of the world’s top 100 airports (“If the United States is a Serious Country, Why Can’t It Build a Serious Airport?”).

Like Forbes contributor Eamonn Fingleton, I would love to see more U.S. airports on the list of top 100 global airports, and so would airport directors all across the United States.  North American airports – some of the best and busiest in the world – are the foundation of the global air travel infrastructure system.  But Mr. Fingleton’s charge in his commentary that airport directors have no desire to undertake major improvements highlights two misguided notions.  First, there is widespread misunderstanding about how U.S. airports are funded.  Second, improving airports requires collaboration of the entire aviation community, including the airlines that use airport facilities.

First, unlike many other airports around the world, U.S. airports are publically-owned facilities operated by local governments that receive funding from a mix of sources, primarily user fees paid by travelers when they purchase their airline ticket. To further compound the issue, the U.S. Congress determines how much a local airport is allowed to collect and how the money can be spent.  The cap on the most common source of airport funding – known as the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee – has not been increased since 2000.  Given the rate of inflation, the PFC’s purchasing power continues to erode every day.  Right now, the PFC is only able to buy half of what it could in 2000.  That’s why we think it’s time to increase the PFC and allow it to adjust with the rate of inflation.

Second, airports are actually communities comprised of many stakeholders, and any progress we seek must be a collaborative effort.  Most notably, the airlines have an important role to play in helping airport directors improve the competitiveness of U.S. airports in the global market.  The airlines are essential partners in the future of our aviation system, but the airlines must begin working proactively with Congress and aviation stakeholders to find commonsense solutions that modernize the way we finance and improve U.S. airports.

Airports are in the business of keeping the travelling public safe and secure, improving the travelling experience, and working with aviation stakeholders to find solutions to the challenges that keep U.S. airports off the global top 100 airports list.

Modernizing the way we finance airport improvement projects is the best way for airports to meet the needs of the 21st century traveling public. The investments we make today will drive growth into the future, because we know the economic impact of airports extends far beyond the runway.  With more than 700 million passengers and 27 million metric tons of cargo traveling in and out of the United States via air each year, airports make a tremendous contribution to U.S. GDP—more than $1.2 trillion—and employ more than 1.3 million people.

The need is clear: U.S. airports expect the number of domestic passengers alone to surpass one billion enplanements within the next 15 years, and their greatest challenge is obtaining the financial resources that will allow them to successfully tackle these infrastructure needs.  Right now, there are already more than $71 billion in infrastructure improvements needed by 2017 to meet projections in both passenger and cargo activity, according to the most recent survey by Airports Council International-North America.

We must also realize the inconveniences U.S. airport travelers experience are beyond the control of the airport.  Travelers wait too long to get through security and customs screening lines.  That’s why we continue to work with U.S. government agencies and urge them to increase efficiency with improved technology and more staff to alleviate the logjam travelers face.

We have a limited window in which to act, and I encourage air travelers to get involved.  In just under 500 days, the U.S. Congress will be required to renew – and improve – the policies that govern airport infrastructure within the United States.

It will take more than just the voices of airport officials to make the improvements travelers demand. If you agree with Mr. Fingleton that we should be serious about our airports, everyone must work together toward a serious solution.  We must modernize federal funding policies so our nation’s airports can compete on equitable financial footing with the rest of the world.  Failing to upgrade how we fund airports—our large, medium, and small hubs—will only shortchange our nation’s world-class aviation system and future economic competitiveness.

ACI-NA Launches Edge4Vets at Airports Program

by Kevin M. Burke
ACI-NA President and CEO

This Memorial Day, ACI-NA celebrates the service members who have dedicated their lives to honoring and protecting the United States of America. In my mind, there is no better way to say thank you than to provide veterans with the skills and access necessary to make the transition to the civilian work force.

That’s why I am thrilled to announce the launch of our Edge4Vets at Airports program which aims to translate returning veterans’ military aviation skills to the civilian airport industry. This program, run through Fordham University’s Human Resiliency Institute and funded by the Walmart Foundation through the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, will begin phase I in New York at JFK and LaGuardia airports. The hope is that this pilot effort will expand across our ACI-NA network to member airports in the United States.

On May 21 Edge4Vets and ACI-NA officially announced this partnership at JFKIAT, and also hosted an informal ‘teach-in’ with young veterans looking to get into the civilian aviation industry and older aviation veterans who have been working the civilian side for many years (pictured at left). The event boasted 50 participants, including 25 veterans from a half-dozen schools and 25 airport mentors from Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue and Hudson Group.

For me, the ‘teach-in’ solidified the genuine interest returning service members have about working in our industry and affirms my commitment, as a CEO of a leading association in one of the United States’ top industries, to make sure we reach out to veterans about the opportunities in U.S. aviation.

Edge4Vets at Airports will be working with ACI-NA’s Human Resources Committee to train returning service members in four separate workshops, all of which will take place at airports to maximize veterans’ exposure to the facilities and employees. While we are just in the initial stages, the goal is to expand to member airports around the country, using our HR network and capitalizing on the Edge4Vets program infrastructure.

We’re fortunate that airports represent a wide variety of skills and career opportunities that match well to the types of training and skills service members already possess, and ACI-NA is proud to take this next step with this Edge4Vets at Airports program. As the nation’s military commitments return to peacetime readiness and more veterans are looking to return to civilian life, we are preparing to welcome our returning heroes with exciting career opportunities.

Edge4Vets at Airports is led by its founder, Tom Murphy, director of the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham University. The Walmart Foundation, through Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, provided the grant to develop the plan for Edge4Vets at Airports. Edge4Vets will conduct a campaign to raise funds to implement the plan as a pilot in New York and then expand the program nationally to airports across the U.S. Edge4Vets will be working with Goodwill Industries “Operation: Good Jobs” program on this project.

Tips for Airport’s Airline Recruiters

By Tom Smith
Former airline route planners kicked off the first day of the ACI-NA Air Service Data Seminar in Albuquerque with some “horror stories” from their JumpStart days and provided some tips on how to better pitch their communities to airlines.

Presentation mistakes

  • Greg Atkin, a consultant with Sixel Consulting Group, formerly with US Airways. – In a meeting with an incumbent carrier, the airport “chews out” the carrier for service and pricing and the meeting ends with both sides angry.
  • David Gentry, vice president of air service development for Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, notes that when working for Silver Airlines a community opened a Texas Roadhouse restaurant opposite the airport and it thought this would merit service to Atlanta. “I felt bad for them and I trashed it before anyone else in the office saw it.
  • ”A city delegation of 14 flew to Silver’s headquarter without the knowledge of the airport board and made a pitch for the carrier to fly Saabs against American’s regional jets out of Dallas. No one was sure what they were trying to accomplish.
  • Marcus Lam, an InterVistas consultant and former route planner for Air Canada, recalls one presentation that 80 percent of the time was spent talking about a new parking lot. “My eyes just started to glaze over.”

 Insights and tips

  •  Atkin — Incentive programs could win the day if an airline has 20 communities vying for two planes because the incentives reduce the start-up risk. In a risk adverse culture, senior route planners may take the safer approach to add capacity to an existing market even when it may not generate excitement to stimulate a market.
  • Lam – Belly cargo is not a factor on a domestic route with a narrow-body plane, but it definitely is a factor on an international route with a wide-body plane.  “Air cargo made some flights happen for Air Canada,” he said.
  • Atkin – Keep communication going with your airlines. Ask frank questions and you will get frank answers. Know you aircraft and anticipate if it will be replaced because of age or maintenance issues. Development and stimulate your traffic so that the community can support a larger aircraft if your small turbo-prop or small RJ goes away.
  • Bryan Dietz, air service manager at Pittsburgh International Airport, demographic helps mitigate the risks in conversations with airlines.
  • Suggestions from attendees — Monitor mayor’s social media feed for the latest developments in your community that could be the latest information tidbit in a presentation. Build your presentation around a story board to weave in your facts to tell your story, which is especially critical in a 20-min. meeting.
  • Kim Sippola, vice president of The Quotient Group, Don’t only pull information together for effective pitch presentations, but also use in a “unified talk track” in brochures and messages to stakeholders. And, then share with hotels to improve their messaging and to also trade for data. Pull out and use data from economic impact statements, share with the community.
  • The stuff others are using to sell the community to bring in jobs or tourists can be used to sell the airlines. Get involved with business retention programs because they also are telling the airport’s story.
  • Corrina Smith, senior marketing manager of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, suggested working with your community’s destination marketing organization and partner with their cooperative advertising campaigns. The DMO can provide bed tax payment reports, access to reports tracking hotel occupancy, analytics from the groups’ website.
  • Brian Solis, air service development at Lee County Port Authority, uses property tax records and send mailings to those who live outside the county. With a large number of Europeans with second homes in the Fort Meyers area, the discovered many travel multiple times a year to Florida. The move successfully persuaded German carriers to offer more service to his airport.

At The Gate and Ready To Go

By Kevin M. Burke
Today I begin a new journey – my ACI-NA journey.

ACI-NA's President Kevin M. Burke

I am excited to join ACI-NA as the new president and CEO. As only the sixth president in 66 years, I know that ACI-NA has a well-earned reputation as a respected organization with a staff of experts that Congress, executive agencies and the media call on for expertise on airport issues. I am looking forward to the challenge of enhancing its reputation so that the Voice of Airports is heard by even more both inside the Beltway and throughout the aviation industry.

I traveled extensively in my 13 years with the American Apparel and Footwear Association passing through airports on six of the seven continents. (If I knew that I would one day hold this position, maybe I should have kept a log of each airport I visited.) As a well-traveled end-user, I hope to bring a new prospective to the on-going discussions about improving airport infrastructure in the United States and Canada to ensure our global competitiveness.

While I am not coming from the aviation industry, I recognize the critical role that transportation plays in every day commerce here and around the world. For example, my former employer takes an annual snapshot of the economic impact of the apparel industry. In 2012, 4 million Americans working in clothing and footwear firms helped you get dressed and that industry contributed $354 billion to the U.S. economy. But in order to succeed these firms had to depend upon a massive transportation network, since 97 percent of the goods are made internationally.

Today’s economy with on-demand manufacturing and worldwide next-day delivery expectations could not function without up-to-date and financially-sound airports.

My job here at ACI-NA is to help our member airports gain greater flexibility so that they can finance and build the capital projects needed to handle tomorrow’s travelers and cargo.

There are bound to be many challenges in the years ahead and while the flight at times may be bumpy – with expected and unexpected turbulence, I am confident the landing will be smooth and our goals for a safe, effective and financially sound North American airport industry will be achieved.

As I said, the journey has just begun. We are on the runway, centerlines in sight and we are taking off.  Time to throttle up!