’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.

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.

 

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.

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?

Philadelphia International Airport Offers a Helping Hand to Federal Employees

The 35-day government shutdown impacted thousands of federal employees across the country, leaving many without the resources to properly care for their families. Individuals, organizations and airports sprung into action in their local communities to help those affected. One of those airports was Philadelphia International Airport.

In the Jan. 25 episode of the “Taking Off with Chellie Cameron” podcast, Philadelphia Division of Aviation CEO Chellie Cameron spoke with community partners about the resources and opportunities available to help federal employees in the area impacted by the government shutdown. Representatives from the airport, TSA Philadelphia, PHL Airline Managers Council, MarketPlace Philadelphia joined Cameron to talk about the initiatives they led to offer support.

“The airport is really a big family,” Clarence LeJeune of MarketPlace Philadelphia said. “So when things happen as in a family, everybody kind of gets together and figure out how we can help. And the shutdown has been a concern for everyone.”

MarketPlace Philadelphia organized a weekly “Meals on Monday” event to feed more than 500 employees.  Airlines and their industry partners hosted a sit-down lunch for all federal government workers. Fresh Grocer, Wawa, ShopRite, Philadelphia CVB donated coupons, gift cards and other items to help those affected.

Philadelphia International Airport has also opened a food bank to help employees and their families. Mahoney explained that they’re not only collecting food, but baby items, household products, pet food and other items that programs like food stamps will not cover.

“When one of our family members is in need, this community comes together,” Cameron said.

The food pantry at Philadelphia International Airport will remain open through Thursday for those in the area who need assistance.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.