Centerlines - June 2013 - (Page 9)
s this is my final column for Centerlines, I want to begin by thanking each and every one of you for
giving me the wonderful honor of leading the ACI-NA team as its president. This is a wonderful
industry, filled with so many smart and passionate people. It has been a privilege to work with,
and for, you these past eight years.
As I prepare to leave a number of thoughts have crossed my mind. Several boil down into a
category you might call “Lessons I’ve Learned.”
The first lesson is that most people do not understand or appreciate the economic impact of
airports. I worked for 20 years for a politician who did, but it was almost a shock to me that most
people, whether press, public or policy makers, just do not understand. And if they try to understand,
it is usually in terms of how many people might be employed in a particular project for a particular
time at a particular airport. The role of the airport in enabling travel, business and commerce is totally
misunderstood and vastly under-appreciated. This is true in the U.S., it is true in Canada and it is true in
much of Europe. What you might call the “legacy economies.”
While the role of airports is not understood, or best case is taken for granted, in those countries;
it is a different story in the emerging economies. In those countries they do understand. Perhaps it is
because they know from their recent past what it is like to lack strong air links. But they do understand.
I have learned that the difference is reflected in the policy choices that are made. U.S. airports are
restricted in their ability to finance modernization. Canadian airports send hundreds of millions to
the federal government every year in an outdated rent scheme. Many European airports are shackled
in terms of their ability to meet growing demand. In Asia and the Gulf region of the Middle East, for
example, they invest in infrastructure and promote their aviation sector. Now some have drawn the
wrong lesson from all this; that those countries only favor one segment or another, or that we need to
be protected from what those countries are doing. The real lesson is that they are making smart policy
choices, and we are not. And it all comes down to understanding the economic importance of the
airport and of aviation.
I have also learned that the airport-airline dialogue is much more constructive and advanced in
those emerging market parts of the world. The U.S. in particular lags and it is a disappointment of
mine that I could not do more to advance this. Our comfort zone is often found in focusing on the
differences, but the commonalities are much more important.
I have learned that we must stop, as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told us at the
2012 legislative conference, “flying solo.” We need to engage other partners in this effort. This is a key
goal of ACI-NA’s Airports for the Future campaign; just as it is in the outreach many airports and groups
of airports undertake in their communities. This is an area in which we must do better.
I’ve learned that airports are often a source of energy behind many new initiatives in air
transportation. Open skies and customer service are just two of these areas.
I’ve learned that airports are not islands
(yes, I know there is one in Toronto but soon you
will be able to walk to it). Airports cannot exist
by, and for, themselves. There is a system; each
depends on the other. This is not to shut off
discussions about how many airports we need,
or the role of a particular program, or the fact
that airports of different sizes might require
different treatment. Those are important. But
we are in this together.
Finally, I have learned there are few, if any,
new ideas. There is lots of good discussion
now about financing airport infrastructure,
for example. A lot of this discussion mirrors
almost perfectly, discussions held in the Clinton
Administration’s aviation commission in 1993.
I was involved in that and made the mistake
back then of thinking these were new ideas.
A number of industry veterans informed me
otherwise. Herb Kelleher once said to me that
the last truly new, revolutionary, idea in aviation
was the jet engine. While there are lots of cool
new innovations, especially with the advent of
new wireless technologies, I have come to learn
he was, and is, right.
Finally, I have also learned that there are a
large number of great people in this wonderful
industry. I have made so many friends, both
professional and personal. I look forward to
carrying those friendships, and many good
memories and feelings, into the future.
www.aci-na.org | CENTERLINES
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Centerlines - June 2013
The Control Tower
On the Hill and on the Stump
Cover Story: Privatization
Customer Service: Partners in a Better Passenger Experience
Marketing Perfecting-And Protecting-Your Brand
Index of Advertisers/Advertiser.com
Centerlines - June 2013