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.

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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.

Scott Pelley to Keynote Airports Council Annual Conference

Meet our 2020 Annual Conference Keynote

Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) this week revealed that Scott Pelley, the award-winning 60 Minutes correspondent and former CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor will deliver the keynote address at the 2020 ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition on September 14.  Set to be held September 12 – 15, 2020, in Grand Rapids Michigan, this year’s conference will bring together more than 2,000 delegates from across the airport industry to exchange ideas and promote innovative solutions to emerging challenges.

After covering some of the most compelling and important national stories of the last 20 years,  Pelley is one of the most recognizable faces in American journalism today. In its first season, The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley, won a Peabody Award and was the only network evening news broadcast to grow its audience. Taking over for Katie Couric, he gained an additional 821,000 viewers in his first nine months in the anchor chair. Few journalists have made as wide and as deep a mark on broadcast news as Pelley has. He is known for covering everything from breaking national news stories to politics and wars. Since he brought that experience to 60 Minutes in 2004, half of all the major awards won by the broadcast have been for stories reported by Pelley.

Pelley also formerly served as CBS’ chief White House correspondent, where he covered the biggest domestic stories of the 1990’s. As an Emmy Award-winning journalist, he has covered the major events and moving stories that have captured the attention of the American people. He has interviewed world leaders such as President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his presentations incorporate poignant stories gained from more than 300 60 Minutes features.

During Pelley’s time as chief White House correspondent, he covered the investigation of President Clinton, breaking many original stories in the process. He has also reported on a wide array of domestic and foreign stories from the White House, covering events ranging from child homelessness in Florida to the aftermath of Japan’s natural disaster.

The Washington Times wrote, “The legacy of Edward R. Murrow lives at CBS in the daring, long-range investigations of Scott Pelley.” The Baltimore Sun called Pelley the “single face of the broadcast,” noting that he is trusted with the “biggest interviews and stories.” Allen Neuharth, founder of USA Today, noted that “Pelley threw hardballs” in his 2007 interview with President Bush, and Bob Woodward, writing in The Washington Post said, “Scott Pelley nailed the crucial question” in his interview with former CIA Director, George Tenet. Salon.com said, “He restores a little of our faith in TV news while performing hugely-important, world-bettering reports along the way.”

Pelley has won three George Foster Peabody Awards, a George Polk Award, two Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, five Edward R. Murrow Awards, the Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism Award, the Writers Guild of America Award, a Loeb Award, and a duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, among others.

Pelley received a 1996 Emmy Award for his work on the TWA Flight 800 disaster and a 1994 Emmy Award for his reporting on the Branch Davidian conflict. While his 2007 Darfur report was honored with another. Pelley has been a correspondent on many prestigious news teams who have, in total, won 37 national Emmy Awards.

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.

SLC – Designing for the Future

By Bill Wyatt, Executive Director, Salt Lake City International Airport

I’m often asked why, after a week of retiring from the Port of Portland (PDX), I decided to accept an offer to go back to work as the new executive director of the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

The reason is simple: SLC is building what will be the first new hub airport in the country in the 21st century. We’re not talking a remodel or an expansion, but an entirely new airport. The new airport will secure SLC’s position as a global aviation hub that will serve and grow with the region for decades to come.

As with many airports, SLC is experiencing tremendous passenger growth and operating in facilities that are over-utilized and well past their prime. The history of SLC goes back to 1961, when Terminal 1 first opened. Over the years, we added Terminal 2, additional concourses and an International Terminal. Our newest building is the International Terminal, which was constructed more than 20 years ago.

Our facilities were originally built to accommodate 10 million passengers and, today, SLC is seeing upward of 25 million passengers each year. We have become a thriving hub airport for Delta Air Lines and today are Delta’s fourth largest hub.

Our passengers experience congestion at SLC daily, whether it’s curbside, in the parking garage or when trying to find a seat in gate hold areas and restaurants. Plus, the lack of available gates limit new air service to SLC.

But that will all change the fall of 2020, when the first phase of The New SLC Redevelopment Project opens with a parking garage with double the capacity, one central terminal with 16 security lanes and portions of two new concourses. Once we open the first phase, the process to build the second phase begins with the demolition of current facilities, which allow construction to the east to commence. Come 2025, the entire project will be complete and passengers will travel through an entirely new, modern airport.

The advantage to building a new airport is that you can design for the future. The New SLC will be more efficient and more sustainable. The new concourses are designed in a parallel configuration, which will eliminate aircraft bottlenecks, so airlines can get their planes back in the air faster.

We are also aiming for a LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and plan to achieve this through a variety of ways, such as converting all airline ground service equipment to electric by 2023. The use of natural light will also help to achieve our energy goals.

Those who have arrived at Salt Lake City may have experienced a phenomenon that is unique to our airport and which we are addressing in the new terminal. Thousands of young men and women travel around the world on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and depart from our airport. SLC is also the place where friends and families come to greet these missionaries when they return home. It’s not unusual to see large gatherings at the luggage carousels with family and friends holding signs welcoming back their loved ones. This also presents a challenge to passengers attempting to get their luggage. In the new terminal, we will have a Meeter-Greeter Room where those waiting for passengers to arrive – whether they be military personnel, missionaries or a winning sports team – can relax in a comfortable setting.

But beyond the brick and mortar, the new airport has been designed to leave a lasting impression on travelers. Art and other elements will provide a sense of place through the use of sandstone, copper colors and native plants. The design incorporates plenty of windows to provide views of the mountains from many vantage points throughout the airport, including from an outdoor deck from Delta’s Sky Club.

Passengers will be wowed by massive art installations, such as The Canyon, which is being integrated on both walls of the airport terminal. The Canyon evokes the Salt Lake City landscape and spans roughly the size of a football field.

An expanded concessions program with 29 retail stores was recently announced and includes a mix of local, regional and national brands, including new brands such as Coach, Frye and Mac. The restaurant program announcement is coming soon and is expected to be just as impressive.

And the good news keeps on coming. The $3.6 billion-plus airport is being built without one cent of local tax payer dollars. For years, SLC was the only large-size, hub airport in the country to be debt free. That has since changed, but the foresight of those planning this project allowed the project to begin with savings. It will all pay off in the end. A recent economic impact study showed the project is contributing approximately $5.5 billion to the local economy.

SLC is currently one of the nation’s most cost-effective airports for airline operations and plans to maintain one of the lowest CPEs in the country for a hub operation.

So you can see why my plans to retire have been put on hold – so that I can be part of this remarkable program that will make traveling through SLC truly unforgettable.

Checked Facts: Airports Are Not Taxpayer Funded

Benjamin Franklin said there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.  If there’s one more thing we can be certain of on April 15, it’s the airlines continuing to spread misinformation about how America’s airports are funded.

It is common misconception that airports are funded with taxpayer dollars.  In reality, infrastructure projects at airports in the United States are funded through three key mechanisms: federal grants through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) local user fee, and tenant rents and fees.

No matter how many times the airlines repeat it, the PFC is not tax. The PFC is a local user fee that airports rely on to repair aging facilities, improve aviation safety, improve the passenger experience, create more airline competition to lower airfares, and accommodate rising demand.  With nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs over the next five years, the PFC is the cheapest and most sustainable option available.

Here’s why:  The PFC empowers those who know the most about the local airport needs, infrastructure investments, and safety upgrades to make the best decisions for the airport while balancing the passenger’s interests. The PFC is collected locally and, unlike other aviation-related fees and taxes, stays local. It never gets passed to Washington, D.C. The PFC is the only funding tool that maximizes this kind of critical local control.  The airlines’ erroneous “tax” argument doesn’t hold water.

Today’s modern conservative movement is diverse and often fractious, so it can be hard to find unanimity on almost any issue. But when it comes to support for the PFC, conservative think tanks and advocacy groups speak with a clear voice in support of this quintessential user fee.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, Reason Foundation, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, and Citizen Outreach are some of the leading anti-tax and free market organizations that agree the PFC is a local user fee.

User fees represent a better way to pay for infrastructure. Under this system, the people who actually use the airport bear the burden of upkeep and modernization. That is the most fair and equitable way to fund it – passengers who don’t use the airport will never be asked to pay for it. Americans certainly deserve to keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible.  How else would they be able to pay all those exorbitant airline bag fees?