“Beyond the Runway” Coalition Update and Reception

This week, ACI-NA’s “Beyond the Runway” coalition took to Capitol Hill for a briefing and reception targeted to a broad cross section of aviation industry stakeholders and hill staffers.  Committed and prospective coalition members filled the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee room in Rayburn House Office Building for a brief presentation on the headway we’re making toward modernizing how we finance our nation’s airports and aviation infrastructure.

ACI-NA Director of Advocacy Nathan Pick welcomes "Beyond the Runway" coalition partners and Hill staffers to the Feb. 24 briefing.

ACI-NA Director of Advocacy Nathan Pick welcomes “Beyond the Runway” coalition partners and Hill staffers to the Feb. 24 briefing.

The briefing, conducted by ACI-NA’s Government Affairs team, was an opportunity for airports to educate coalition members and Hill staffers on what airports are hoping to gain in the 2015 FAA Reauthorization. Immediately following, ACI-NA hosted a networking reception that allowed attendees to discuss what steps to take next in advocating for airports and modernizing how we finance these important capital improvement projects.


ACI-NA Senior Vice President of Government and Political Affairs George Kelemen gives an update on AirportsUnited activity.

When I joined ACI-NA a few months ago, I was immediately propelled into the office’s efforts to assure a successful FAA Reauthorization, and the event brought to light the labor we are putting into the coalition to make sure that airports’ issues are represented.

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke talks airport priorities with a Congressional staffer.

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke talks airport priorities with a Congressional staffer.

With just over 200 days until the deadline for the next Reauthorization, the airport industry’s work is far from over.  But I can assure you that ACI-NA is taking action on behalf of your airport. As we like to say here in the Washington office, we are maintaining a steady drumbeat in advocating for airport priorities in 2015.

Mimi Ryals
Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Airports and Wildlife: Why Doesn’t the Today Show Present the Full Story?

“Why don’t more airports use radar to prevent dangerous bird strikes?” blared the headline from a segment that aired on yesterday’s broadcast of Today (February 19). Although the reporter in the piece never provided an answer to this question, he did charge ahead in pursuit of an agenda that implied U.S. airports aren’t committed to safety. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The report ignored the work that thousands of airport professionals do to mitigate wildlife hazards every day and the millions of dollars that they invest every year on fencing, habitat management, wildlife harassment, and wildlife monitoring activities, all of which have been effective in reducing wildlife hazards at our nation’s airports. The report also sidestepped any mention of significant wildlife hazard management requirements that the FAA has on the books. These include conducting wildlife hazard assessments and developing, implementing, and regularly updating comprehensive wildlife hazard management plans. These plans and the resources airports dedicate to implementing them provide concrete evidence of how seriously airports take wildlife hazards.

Although avian radar systems can be components of such plans, many airports have found that other hazard mitigations provide greater safety benefits and address their specific wildlife management challenges most effectively. These decisions have been made by highly trained professionals at our airports—including qualified wildlife biologists—based on data, detailed assessment of wildlife hazards, and understandings of their local airports’ circumstances. (That’s certainly the engineer in me talking, which I’m sure doesn’t make for a good soundbite.)

Airport professionals are called upon to make decisions about the technologies, processes, procedures, and capital investments that will produce the best safety outcomes given available resources, be those people, money, or time. Yet at the same time, airports have been unnecessarily constrained in terms of how they can finance these solutions.  Specifically, we’ve seen Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding decrease and the purchasing power of its companion funding mechanism, the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee, decline by half over time even as new, promising safety technologies like avian radar have emerged.

The Today reporter did acknowledge that avian radar is expensive at the conclusion of his segment, but his insinuation that individual airports just don’t want to foot the bill at the expense of safety is a simplistic and dangerous misrepresentation.  Introducing new legislation to require the use of avian radar at all U.S. airports would only create a yet another unfunded mandate for airports.  Instead, the smarter solution would be for Congress to implement common-sense reforms to airport funding mechanisms that ensure they both provide sustainable and secure support to maintain our current airport system and invest in new and emerging technologies like avian radar.

Ultimately, though, why not focus on all the important elements that make up managing wildlife hazards at airports instead of making ill-informed assumptions? I’ve got some ideas, but am guessing they don’t make for good TV.

Chris Oswald
Vice President, Safety and Regulatory Affairs

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 www.aci-na.org/content/awards-and-recognition.

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