’60 Minutes’ Correspondent Scott Pelley: Aviation is a Miracle

During the 2022 ACI-NA Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Alessio Olivetti caught up with Scott Pelley, the 60 Minutes correspondent and 2022 annual conference keynote, who shared his experience as tireless traveler and long-time journalist.

 

AO: You travel all around the world. It’s safe to say you’re a frequent traveler. What’s the most memorable airport experience have you ever had?

SP: My most memorable experience would have been at the very beginning of COVID, when thousands of people in the United States were dying every day.

I was covering COVID, and I was flying through Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I got off the plane and I was the only person in the terminal. Everything was closed. There were Texas State troopers clearing every plane and taking down the contact information for every passenger who came off.

I could hear the soles of my shoes clacketing on the floor. I was literally by myself walking through Houston Intercontinental, which I came through many times surrounded by tens of thousands of people in the terminal.

It was just such a shocking, remarkable experience to understand better in an airport than anywhere else the effects the COVID was having and would continue to have on the national economy. If Houston Intercontinental is empty of people, the economy has stopped, you can tell.

 

AO: You wanted to become an astronaut when you were a child. The U.S. has been the cradle of the aerospace industry for a century. Why are people fascinated in stories about aviation and lately about space tourism?

SP: People are still fascinated about the courage required to leave the Earth and fly beyond the atmosphere. Even though we have been watching that happen in the United States since 1957, the year I was born by the way, people are still fascinated about the images coming back from space, our astronauts on the International Space Station for example. And now in this all-new world of private companies launching people in space we are beginning to imagine, ‘Hey, it could be me, I could go too!’

In terms of aviation, there is just something about flying. I should be the most jaded airline passenger at all times. I’m a multi-million miler on many different airlines, but I’m still thrilled when I get on a plane and it leaves the ground. It never gets old.

I was on the A380 the other day, which is the size of an apartment building. The engineering involved in building something like an A380 or a 747-8 is a miracle, getting that thing off the ground almost effortlessly. Engineering is far beyond me, but I have so much respect for it.

There is another thing about aviation. People complain insensitively about their flight being delayed, canceled, or their luggage being lost. I get all of that, it’s very frustrating.

But I would argue that aviation today is a miracle. You can literally be anywhere on this Earth in 24 hours. Imagine such a thing.

I’m amazed at the way the airline industry runs all around the world with thousands of operations every day, and virtually accident-free. It’s one of the greatest achievements of man.

 

AO: What’s your favorite interview if you have one?

SP: Now I have a new favorite interview and that’s the one I did in April with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

I’ve never met a leader of a country who has impressed me more. The courage that he took to stay in Kyiv when the Russians were coming at him in three different directions. And when he walked outside into the courtyard and filmed a video message on his phone.

That moment galvanized the country to resist. It was on the knife’s edge of collapsing until he walked out and said, ‘We’re not going anywhere, we’re all staying here.’

Just an incredibly courageous and impressive man who forced the Russians to retreat from Kyiv and from Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv. He has punched way above his weight leading his people so courageously.

At the end of the interview, I said ‘Mr. President, we wish you all the luck in the world.’ He broke into English saying, ‘Half of it, I think we need half of it.’

A man with 44 million people on his shoulders and he is still having a sense of humor.

Airports Council Establishes DEI Working Group to Drive Association Efforts

Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), the trade association representing commercial service airports in the United States and Canada, today announced the formation of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group.  Comprised of professionals and DEI experts from across the organization, ACI-NA’s DEI Working Group will help propel the association’s work in this important area moving forward.

“Our industry has a strong record of success in creating opportunities,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke.  “Our industry is a driver of change because of our strong commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives and we look forward to the input from our new working group to further advance our industry’s leadership.”

Despite the pandemic that nearly crippled the North American airport industry, airports have not neglected their social responsibility priorities, especially in the areas of DEI.

The North American airport industry has a strong reputation of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, and strengthening partnerships with their local communities.  But, this work has not been easy.  In fact, it is quite complex.  That’s why it is necessary to continue learning and listening about the work being done in this area.

The DEI Working Group will take a deep dive into our industry’s commitments to DEI issues and assist the association in developing a clear and actionable approach to one of the most important leading issues of our time.  The working group will help chart a path forward on how ACI-NA as an organization can contribute.

The high caliber of participants on the working group bring vast perspectives and represent every facet of the North American airport industry.  The group will be chaired by Tanisha Lewis, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Social Impact for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.  Debi Marshall, Director of Human Resources, Syracuse Regional Airport Authority, will serve as the vice chair. Danette Bewley, President and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority will serve as the liaison to the ACI-NA Board of Directors.  Solomon Wong, President and CEO of InterVISTAS Consulting, will serve as the associates representative on the working group.

Participants on the ACI-NA DEI Working Group also include:

Barbara Alexander
Shared Prosperity Program Specialist
Port of Portland

Molara  Awosedo
Director, DEI
Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Michelle Brega
Senior Director, External Affairs
San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Regina Carson
Human Resources Manager
Peninsula Airport Commission

Thiané Carter
Small Business Program Officer
Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority

Loriann Chace
Senior Aviation Economic Develop Specialist
Sacramento International Airport

Christy Cheever
Paine Field / Snohomish County Airport
Airport Administration in Human Resources

Mike Christie    
Vice President, Human Resources
Halifax International Airport Authority

Patti Colbry
Human Resources Director
Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust

Kim dela Torre
Manager of Talent/People Operations
Tucson Airport Authority

Elise Durham
Assistant General Manager, Business Diversity
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Meg Gibson 
Manager, Learning & Professional Development
Charlotte-Douglas International Airport

Lorri Graybeal
Human Resources Manager
Roanoke Regional Airport

Louis Gutierrez  
Chief, Human Capital & Equity Officer
Los Angeles World Airports

Teika Jefferson
DEI, Manager
Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission

Maria Kim 
CFO
Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Andrew Martz 
Assistant Director, Communications & Development
Eugene Airport

Elita McMillon
Assistant General Counsel
Tampa International Airport

Gina Stough
Vice President, Human Resources
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport

Elise Thomas
Environmental Manager
Fairbanks International Airport

Jonanthan Todd
Manager, Workforce Development
Philadelphia International Airport

Guadalupe Torres
Community Investment Manager
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Jayme Verish  
Assistant Airport Director, Operations & Maintenance
Idaho Falls Regional Airport

Karen Zygun      
Director, Human Resources
Vancouver Airport Authority

Celebrating April as U.S. Airport Professional Appreciation Month

 

As U.S. Airport Professional Appreciation Month comes to a close, we have been so excited to celebrate the airport industry professionals who are demonstrating their commitment to industry excellence and professional development.  We recently caught up with Sylvia A. Palmer, Vice President, Operations and Regulatory Affairs, at the Airport Consultants Council to learn about her experience in the program.  Sylvia recently completed her USAP studies and is now an accredited U.S. Airport Professional.  She is one of eleven students to be celebrated this first U.S. Airport Professional Appreciation Month!

ACI-NA: Why did you decide to enroll in USAP?

SP: In 2020, as the aviation industry was undergoing massive disruption, I desired a resource that would provide a comprehensive overview of the entire U.S. airport system as we knew it, and the all-encompassing evolution occurring as a result of the pandemic’s wide-reaching impact on the aviation industry.

ACI-NA: How is USAP making you a better airport industry professional?

SP: The USAP program’s detailed and well-constructed modules touched on every aspect of the U.S. airport ecosystem, in a cohesive manner. It helped me understand the changing industry landscape, and operational and management strategies that would help to re-invent the overall airport and travel experience. The program is also helping me better understand how to engage airport development stakeholders and regulatory bodies in the advancement of a more resilient, efficient, sustainable, customer-centric aviation system.

ACI-NA: What would you say to a friend or colleague who expresses interest in USAP?

SP: I endorse the USAP program for anyone who desires to grow as a leader within the aviation industry. It strengthens the critical skills necessary to effectively manage and lead change in the current dynamic airport environment. Congratulations to ACI-NA for delivering such rigorous professional development, and thank you for the opportunity to participate.

About the USAP Accreditation Program

In 2020, ACI-NA launched an accredited e-learning training curriculum, the U.S. Airport Professional (USAP) Program, to equip students with the leadership and strategic management skills necessary for personal and professional advancement in the U.S. airport industry.  The program was developed in collaboration with U.S. airport industry and professional development experts.

Comprised of seven online courses and a writing assignment, the USAP accreditation program covers the full range of current airport management topics, including leadership development, business strategy, commercial management, finance, operations, safety, security, air service, and more.  Each student who completes the program is permitted to use the USAP credential to demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. airport system.

Learn more about the U.S. Airport Professional accreditation program at www.usairportprofessional.org.

 

Looking Forward One Year In

By Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO, ACI-NA

Now at the one-year milestone of widespread travel and local restrictions to help stop the spread of COVID-19, we are reminded that this past year has been incredibly challenging for so many, both personally and professionally.  While so much has changed in our industry as we continue to respond to this prolonged crisis, airports remain fully committed to ensuring the health, safety and security of the traveling public and airport workers.

Although North American airports quickly mobilized to protect travelers and workers, the significant drop in passenger traffic has wiped out record growth in air travel and decimated the airport industry’s financial outlook. In 2019, more than 1.9 billion people traveled through North American airports.  At the start the pandemic, air travel dropped by upwards of 95 percent.  ACI-NA estimates that the pandemic will cost U.S. airports more than $40 billion and Canadian airports more than $5.5 billion — a number that will only grow if the pandemic drags on.

There is no shortage of issues confronting the industry.  Early in the pandemic, ACI-NA created the Airport Industry Recovery Advisory Panel to provide the industry with valuable recommendations on immediate term, medium term and long-term measures to address the public health concerns and assist airports coming out of the pandemic.

These initiatives, ranging from restoring confidence in air travel to implementing a wide variety of mitigation strategies, are fostering a completely new level of collaboration across aviation industry stakeholders.  We each have a role to play, and the value of partnership has never been more important. As we think about the future, airports leaders should remain cognizant of the ever-evolving airport business model.  Our ongoing relationships with airline partners, concessionaires, retailers, service providers, and government regulators are essential to our continued success.

ACI-NA led the charge in an effort secure $20 billion in immediate financial relief for the U.S. airport industry.  We are immensely grateful from the strong support of the U.S. government for airports and their concession partners as they remain open and fully operational though this crisis.

Thanks to the proactive leadership of our team in Ottawa, Canada’s airports received some of the only sector specific COVID support in Canada, with some CAD $1.4 billion through ground rent waivers and deferrals, wage subsidy, and infrastructure funding.  However, as the situation in Canada grows more dire each day, our work continues in Canada to secure addition relief to meaningfully address the financial challenges Canada’s airports face.

One of the silver linings to come out of this pandemic is the rapid innovation and the deployment of new technologies to allow for a seamless – and contactless – passenger experience.  While most of this progress had seemed years away, the pandemic has accelerated this effort to turn our industry’s aspirations into reality.  One thing is clear: the passenger experience will look different than it did before. It is going to be better.

Airports have taken unprecedented actions to limit the spread of COVID-19.  As the eternal optimist, I am confident there is a light at the end of the tunnel and much to be done when we emerge from it. From enhancing airport sustainability and resiliency to taking full advantage of automation and big data to enabling a new generation of aircraft to operate at our airports, we face myriad opportunities to make a difference in the aviation industry. All of these opportunities require a ready and able workforce. We look forward to working with the industry to develop training that will help current airport workers adapt as well as prepare the next generation to make their mark on aviation.

Thank you for the continued trust you place in ACI-NA and the immensely talented team here at your trade association.  I continue to be proud of our team, our members, and the important work we do on behalf of North American airports.

 

ACI-NA Remembers Late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Her Contribution to the Airport Industry

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a champion of women’s rights and a leader in creating a more equitable system of justice in the United States. Her sharp intellect and fierce commitment paved the way for countless others within the legal and political landscape. Justice Ginsburg exemplified an unmatched devotion to the Constitution and the law, and her loss is one that will continue to be felt for years to come.

While Justice Ginsburg will long be remembered for her tireless advocacy and dedication to issues of justice and equality for marginalized communities, we also recognize the pivotal role she played for the airport industry in securing the rights of airport proprietors.

Just months after Justice Ginsburg was sworn-in to the U.S. Supreme Court, she authored the opinion in Northwest Airlines Inc. v. County of Kent, Michigan, 510 U.S. 353. That opinion, released January 24, 1994, was a pivotal decision within the airport proprietor rights legal cannon.

The Kent County case centered on the financial relationship between airports and the airlines utilizing airport services. Relying on the statutory language of the Anti-Head Tax Act (AHTA), the Supreme Court upheld the right of airports to charge airline fees based on a compensatory rate-setting methodology. The Court also overturned a prior Court of Appeals decision, concluding that airlines have no right to share in airport revenue generated by concessions.

Airlines mounted an immediate legislative effort to overturn the Kent County decision. However, following an airport lobbying counter-effort led by ACI-NA, and in line with Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, Congress affirmed the right of airports to use a compensatory fee methodology, and charged the Department of Transportation (DOT) with developing policies and procedures to determine the reasonableness of those fees. DOT’s Policy Regarding Airport Rates and Charges, originally published in June 21, 1996, and DOT’s fast track procedures for reviewing the reasonableness of airport fees imposed on airlines are a direct result of the Kent County decision and the legislation that followed.

The long-lasting impact of Justice Ginsburg’s 1994 opinion on the financial relationship between airports and airlines continues to be felt today. While we mourn her loss, we are grateful for her contributions to our industry.

# # #

 

Editor’s note: Special thanks to recently retired ACI-NA General Counsel Tom Devine for contributing to this post.

Americans Are Starting to Fly Again

States around the country are taking their first steps to safely reopen our economy and to start rebuilding a sense of normal life. This Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer in North America — a well-deserved benchmark that we’ve made it through a difficult start of this year. This typically marks the beginning of our busy travel season, and while COVID-19 has quieted the typical buzz in our airport terminals and dramatically reduced the crowds, we are finally seeing an uptick in passengers who want to travel again.

Despite the challenges we still face, the Transportation Security Administration expects more than 350,000 people to travel through our airports this Memorial Day weekend. That is a far cry from the 2.7 million air travelers who passed through our airports last Memorial Day weekend, but it nearly doubles our traffic from weeks prior. Airports welcome these early signs of a rebound, and they are ready to help passengers navigate the new normal as we work to adapt to the future of travel together. If you’re traveling this Memorial Day weekend, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Arrive early: Airports around the U.S. have enhanced safety standards and measures for all passengers. This could mean more delays as you travel through security checkpoints. Be sure to arrive early so you are able to make it to your gate and flight on time.
  • Adhere to physical distancing: Remember to keep your physical distance (6 feet) when going through checkpoints, shopping at concessions shops, or standing in line at customer service. By keeping your distance, you can help stop the spread of germs and keep you and others in your party healthy.
  • Wear a facial covering: Many states and local governments as well as airlines are requiring that masks be worn when occupying a public space. Please be sure to bring a facial covering with you to the airport and wear it throughout your duration there. For facial coverings to be worn properly they must cover your nose, mouth, and chin.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds throughout your time while traveling. Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throw the tissue away in a trash bin. Avoid touching your face.
  • Be patient: We are all learning these lessons together, so please understand that our dedicated workforce is doing everything in their power to adapt to these new requirements as quickly as possible to ensure the travel experience remains as seamless as it can be in the face of new health and safety guidelines.

As the nation continues to open up and more people begin to travel, implementing these best practices will help to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy. Our airports are eager to welcome you back.

Members of Congress Announce Framework for Infrastructure Bill That Includes a PFC Increase

Last week, ACI-NA welcomed the news of an infrastructure investment framework – called the “Moving Forward Framework” – which was announced by a group of Members of Congress, led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR). The start of the new year represents an important opportunity for Members to announce their top policy priorities and we are pleased that improving airport infrastructure across the U.S. is a high priority for so many Members, as well as the American people.

The Moving Forward Framework calls for raising the federal cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) and indexing it for inflation. If enacted into law, a lift on local PFCs would allow airports to fund necessary infrastructure improvements, including repairing aging facilities and making expansions to accommodate record-breaking passenger traffic.

In his remarks, Chairman DeFazio highlighted how airports are in dire need of infrastructure upgrades and addressed the fact that the very same airlines who are comfortable with increasing baggage fees oppose an updated Passenger Facility Charge because they know it will increase airline competition in many airports. You can watch his remarks here.

Immediately following their announcement, ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke thanked the group, and specifically Chairman DeFazio, for their leadership.

“The House Democrats’ infrastructure framework recognizes the time has finally come to increase the woefully outdated PFC,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke. “A long-overdue adjustment to the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) will provide the lift America’s airports need to take off into the future. Unlike a $40 bag fee that just pads an airline’s bottom line, a modernized PFC will help our terminally challenged airports make transformative investments in new infrastructure that will improve the passenger experience for millions of travelers. I am particularly thankful for the leadership of Chairman DeFazio, the father of the PFC, for making this one of his top legislative priorities.”

Burke also joined American Association of Airport Executives President and CEO Todd Hauptli and Airport Consultant Council President T.J. Schultz in a joint letter thanking Chairman DeFazio for his leadership on this issue. In the letter they write:

“…we strongly support proposals in the House Democrats’ infrastructure framework that call for raising the federal cap on local PFCs and indexing it for inflation. We are grateful for your leadership. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues to advance legislation that would help airports finance critical projects and repair our nation’s infrastructure.”

Just this month independent research from RAND Corporation confirmed the best way to fix America’s airports is by modernizing the PFC. Further, according to a recent ACI-NA study, U.S. airports face more than $128 billion in infrastructure needs by 2023, with over 56 percent of the needs inside aging terminals. President Trump has repeatedly called for renewed investment in American airports, so we will be listening closely for any references to infrastructure investments in his State of the Union address.

We look forward to working closely with Congress to get this framework over the finish line so that we can finally empower airports to improve their infrastructure and continue to meet the demands of the traveling public.

GSP Leads Efforts to Hire South Carolina Veterans

Independence Day is more than fireworks and cookouts.  It’s a special day we celebrate liberty and those who have helped secure the freedom we cherish today.

Honoring our veterans is a top priority for the airport industry.  That’s why ACI-NA partnered with Edge4Vets in 2014 with the shared goal of connecting America’s – and now Canada’s – veterans with airports across the country to place them in careers that utilize the valuable skills they learned while serving in the military.

Earlier this year, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) collaborated with Edge4Vets and the Upstate Warrior Solution to host a workshop for the region’s veterans.

“We are proud to bring Edge4Vets to South Carolina,” said Dave Edwards, GSP’s president and CEO. “This will be a good opportunity for Upstate employers to identify talent while mentoring veterans transitioning into the workforce or those looking for new opportunities.”

Several companies participated in the workshop, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, United Airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, airport concessionaires and Clemson University.

“Many veterans have valuable skills that are beneficial to employers, but they sometimes have difficulty selling themselves,” said Tom Murphy, Edge4Vets’ founder. “People serving in the military learn to work as a team and they sometimes don’t think in terms of their individual accomplishments and skillsets. Some also become so accustomed to using the language and lingo used in the military that civilian employers might not understand what they are saying. These slight adjustments can make a difference in a veteran landing a job and getting on a desirable career path.”

Get Involved

Is your airport interested in becoming an Edge4Vets partner? Airports across North America are partnering with Edge4Vets and ACI-NA to help connect veterans to aviation careers. Current participants include GSP, LAX, HOU, MIA, JFK, CVG, and more.

Contact Tom Murphy to learn more about hosting a workshop in your community. Edge4Vets is offered by the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham University. Learn more here.

LAX CEO: We Need to Bring the Passenger Facility Charge Back to its Original Buying Power

Last week, Los Angeles World Airports Chief Executive Officer Deborah Flint addressed the Washington Aero Club at a lunch event in Washington, D.C. In her speech, Flint described Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) current $14 billion investment project and how it will help to relieve congestion and improve the LAX travel experience for passengers.

She also discussed how airports across the country are using technology to improve efficiency and ease long lines.

Finally, she urged Congress to return the Passenger Facility Charge to its original buying power by updating it to be $8.50. She noted that it’s been two decades since the PFC was updated and that it’s well overdue that we modernize it to keep up with inflation.

Excerpts from her speech are below.  Her full remarks are available here.

Flint on the need to modernize the PFC:

A new level of investment in infrastructure is needed and for airports this can be real by bringing the Passenger Facility Charge to its original buying power.

“It is time. It has been two decades that the PFC has been unchanged even though there have been 26 models of the iPod, which was released the same year. It has been so long that the styles have even come back – parachute pants and tracksuits are back in again.

The ask is to increase the PFC from $4.50 to $8.50 and index it for inflation in the future. That will make a difference for airports of all sizes – large, medium, and small.”

Flint on LAX’s infrastructure projects:

We are making a $14 billion investment in an Automated People Mover train system, roadways, a Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility that will combine the 20 separate facilities that burden our neighborhoods and roadways, a connection to regional rail, and modernizing each terminal.

“And we are beginning the environmental review to improve the airfield, build a new concourse off of Terminal 1, and a new Terminal 9, which requires billions of additional dollars.”

Flint on airports improving efficiency through biometrics:

Back to my 16 year old and her airport expectations. For her, wifi and cellular are like air – as they have become for all of us. Her face is everything.

“I am talking about biometric aircraft boarding gates, self-baggage drop, TSA and CBP screening – all biometrically enabled at LAX today. While privacy and data security must have high bars, the efficiency of biometrics is astounding. We boarded an A380 using biometric facial boarding in 20 minutes.”

Flint on the future of the airport industry:

Airport by airport, working with our partners in airlines and throughout the industry, we need to be excited, energetic and chase the next evolution. We need to push for our airports to be more innovative, sustainable, to be stewards for local communities, to bring the joy and certainty back to air travel, and together get the funding to invest and let our industry shine. At Los Angeles World Airports our vision is Gold Standard Airports … Delivered.  The U.S. deserves that vision for each and every one of our airports.”

Infrastructure Week 2019: 20th Century Airports in a 21st Century World

Today marks the official start to Infrastructure Week 2019, the long-celebrated week each year when the infrastructure community comes together and engages in a broad conversation about the importance of modern infrastructure.  For us, every week is Infrastructure Week (we’re not the first ones to make that joke and we won’t be the last…), but we’re proud to join in and represent airports in such an important dialogue this week.

As part of our participation in Infrastructure Week, ACI-NA will continue to amplify our important message about the need to invest in America’s aging airports.  Beginning today, passengers in airports will have the opportunity to hear directly from ACI-NA on the benefits of an improved and modernized airport system.  Watch by clicking below.

We couldn’t think of a better way to get our message in front of those who stand to benefit the most from the improved passenger experience, increased airline competition and lower airfares, and enhanced safety and security that will come when we meet the nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs of America’s airports over the next five years.

We are proud to count CNN Airport Network as a valued ACI-NA member and an active participant in our Beyond the Runway Coalition.  CNN Airport Network’s tremendous support for our industry is greatly appreciated as we ramp up our efforts to engage in a broad conversation about the importance of modern airports to local communities.

For the latest on Infrastructure Week, visit the Centerlines NOW blog or following along on social media using #InfrastructureWeek #BuildForTomorrow.