Category Archives: Policy Issues

Any concerning government policy

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.

“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.”

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!

Do airlines fact-check airport claims?


By Tom Smith
After an airport has that critical first meeting with an airline, such as at ACI-NA’s JumpStart, how much time does the carrier spend fact-checking the airport’s pitch presentation? It depends.

During the day-long ACI-NA International Aviation Issues Seminar on Thursday here in Washington, there were a few useful or insightful nuggets for airports from airlines, consultants and analysts.

Do airline route planners validate airport presentations?
“It depends,” said Sabine Reim, a former long-time British Airways route planner now with the London office of InterVISTAS.  If an airport simply claims that the community is the home to “x number” of Fortune 500 companies, then that will require further fact-checking. However, Reim said if the airport details the type of locations a Fortune 500 company may have and their travel (especially foreign travel) patterns, then an “overworked” airline planner is less likely to take the time to fact-check an airport’s information.

A trusting relationship or partnership between an airport and an airline route planner is essential, Reim said. Airlines have fewer people in route planning and a strong relationship helps. While the airline can get the information, the airport providing trust-worthy information certainly helps.

Southwest will be expanding in 2014 and 2015
With the final integration of AirTran into Southwest in 2014 and the end of the Wright Amendment restrictions, Southwest plans to begin its own branded international service as well as non-stop service from Dallas Love Field, said Robert W. Kneisley, the airline’s associate general counsel.

Southwest will take over the 25 AirTran international routes currently flying from eight cities and expand the route network to serve Mexico, the Caribbean and eventually northern Latin America. With the new international terminal that Southwest is building at Houston Hobby Airport, Kneisley said Southwest will compete with United with “Southwest” fares to Mexico.

In addition, Southwest will be competing with United in Dallas beginning next October when the Wright Amendment restrictions are lifted on Love Field. “There is a target rich environment and we will be able to compete with non-stop service with United flying out of DFW. Love to Baltimore, logical. Love to LaGuardia, logical. Love to Midway, logical,” he said.

Southwest flying to Canada?
Service between the U.S. and Canada is under-served and over-priced,” he said, further noting that U.S. carriers only fly regional jets between Washington and Ottawa. “Canada fits the Southwest target” and it would benefit from the “Southwest stimulus effect,” however, Kneisley said the barrier to entry is the “extremely high costs of Canadian airports.” The high landing fees and ticket charges would restrict the “simulative” effect of Southwest’s fares in that transborder market.

Where will the Dreamliner fly next?
It is only a matter of time before Philadelphia and Charlotte get B787 service to Tokyo with the new aircraft coming into the “new” American fleet. Miami won’t be far beyond and Phoenix will also get the service, said Seth Kaplan, editor of Airline Weekly.

Austin won the BA flights to London with 787 service because it had decent volume and the capacity for higher fares. Its yields, he noted, are higher than several potential competing airports that had greater volume.

While everyone is excited about the route combinations that a Dreamliner makes possible, Reim said this creates more competition for airports to land international service. It will be “tougher” because airlines will not be just considering east-west flights but now there are strategic reasons to fly north-south.