Opening Remarks for Kevin M. Burke
President and CEO
Airports Council International – North America
2021 ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition
Reno-Sparks Convention Center
Monday, November 8
State of the Industry
As Prepared for Delivery
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Reno for our 2021 Annual Conference and Exhibition.
For many of you, the last time we saw each other in-person was in Tampa for our 2019 conference. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here with you in-person. Nothing makes me happier than being in room with our members.
Before I begin this morning, a few thank yous:
First and foremost, thank you to each and every one of you in this room for your support and active participation in your association this past 18 months. We have nearly 1,400 industry participants at this year’s event. While it may be a smaller conference this year, this is going to be our best annual conference ever.
I want to thank our exhibitors and sponsors who continue to support ACI-NA. I look forward to seeing you on the show floor, and I encourage all of our airport members to spend as much time on our show floor as possible to check out the latest innovations and solutions available to airports. That’s why we are here, folks.
A big thank you to Daren and the entire Reno-Tahoe International Airport team for your incredible support as our 2021 host this year. When Daren first took this job, I called him to congratulate him, and in the same breath asked him if he wanted to host this meeting. He immediately said yes, and we couldn’t thank him enough.
A very big thank you to our chair, Lew Bleiweis, for your friendship your leadership, and your tremendous advocacy during these uncertain times. I know this isn’t what you envisioned for your time as chair, but you rose to the challenge and led us forward. As a bonus, I can’t think of another trade association chair in Washington who can say you helped to secure $45 billion for your industry. That’s quite an accomplishment in any year.
Thank you to our Executive Committee, our Board of Directors, our Policy Councils, and our committees for your leadership, expertise, and guidance over the course of the pandemic.
And, thank you to the talented professional staff at ACI-NA. Many of you are in the room this morning, and each one of you is essential to the work we do. Working alongside you despite the challenges of this pandemic has been a great privilege and honor for me.
So, what have we learned over the last 18 months?
I can tell you one of the lessons I particularly took to heart is how intertwined the U.S. and Canadian airport experience is – and how much we can learn from each other. I always knew this to be true, but our experience during this pandemic has further cemented this belief.
Case in point: Early in 2021, Canada lagged far behind the United States in getting vaccines out. Today, the picture is reversed, with Canada opening its international borders more quickly than the U.S. and having over 80 percent of its adult population fully vaccinated. If that isn’t a formula for growth, I don’t know what is.
But it wasn’t an easy road for our Canadian friends. Federal support of Canadian airports came months and months later than in the United States. We can thank the ceaseless efforts of Daniel Gooch and our talented team in Ottawa for finally getting the government’s attention and action, but it was a painful process compared to how relief was handled in the United States.
I know this mutual exchange will grow even stronger when Sam Samaddar, airport director of the Kelowna International Airport in British Columbia, becomes our chair in January.
Over the last 18 months, I spoken to you virtually about the many challenges we’ve faced as an industry and while things have certainly improved in many areas, we remain focused on numerous challenges we continue to face as we move forward.
The fears and concerns of passengers and employees, the issues related to safety and public health, the general uncertainty around the future of air travel overall — none of it has been easy. I think all of you can agree with that.
But, through it all, the industry has risen to the challenge. I see it firsthand everyday.
Our industry has helped calm fears and concerns. Our industry has helped ensure the health and safety of individuals and families. Our industry has proven the services we provide are essential. And — maybe most importantly — our industry has made it possible for so many across the world to finally begin to reconnect.
During this pandemic, our industry was there for everything. We helped transport essential medical personnel and supplies. We helped deliver must-have online purchases. Now, we are helping to reconnect loved ones and grow businesses. As we like to say, every journey begins and ends at an airport. Our industry makes so many things possible.
I also continue to be so impressed with the way you all have helped each other — to learn, to adapt, and to keep this industry moving forward.
Of course, while COVID-19 has dominated much of our work this year, we have also continued to focus on many issues that our industry faces — issues that have not taken a back seat.
One of our biggest priorities in the past year has been restoring confidence in air travel and reopening international borders.
We have called for industry and government partners to increase coordination – which will help all of us resume and improve the flow of people and commerce – to implement a plan to safely reopen our borders to international passenger traffic.
So, why am I so happy today? Our industry secured a significant win just a few weeks ago when the Biden Administration announced it would begin easing international travel restrictions — a policy that is effective as of today, November 8, 2021.
Now, this is a really promising step forward and one that we hope is the first of many. It has taken a joint industry and government approach to make this a reality.
And we will continue working with the Biden and Trudeau administrations, Congress, Parliament, and all stakeholders to help us successfully emerge from this global crisis. If we have learned anything, the importance of partnership cannot be understated.
As we look to the industry’s financial recovery from the pandemic, we know this pandemic was not cheap.
We expect the pandemic to cost U.S. airports more than 40 billion U.S. dollars and Canadian airports more than 5.5 billion Canadian dollars in lost revenues through March of 2022.
So what has the industry done?
ACI-NA and our friends at AAAE pushed very hard to help secure that funding because we knew what it meant for our members and our industry—keeping the lights on, saving thousands of jobs, and ensuring the health, safety, and security of the traveling public and airport workers.
On the U.S. side of the border, we were able to secure three rounds of major financial support, totaling $20 billion for U.S. airports. And to the North, we secured over $1.3 billion in various supports for Canadian airports during the pandemic. This was truly a team effort led by our members. Kudos to all of you.
As you hear from me each year, we all know how important investments in aviation infrastructure are — and they’re more vital today than ever before.
Every two years, we publish an infrastructure needs study that outlines our ongoing needs as an industry. Currently, U.S. airports face a backlog of more than $115 billion of necessary projects.
We welcome the relief funds Congress approved to keep our industry afloat. Now, we need policymakers in Washington to take additional steps to address that shortfall and provide passengers in the U.S. with the modernized facilities travelers in most other countries enjoy.
Since we’ve been here in Reno, we secured another $25 billion in aviation infrastructure funding when Congress finally passed the long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill, including $20 billion for airports and $5 billion for air traffic control towers. In Canada, we are working to ensure that the government extends the financial supports until traffic has recovered and debt levels are reduced to sustainable levels. None of this could happen without the combined advocacy of our airport members and their trade association.
This funding is necessary to help make much needed improvements to runways, terminals, and air traffic control towers — benefiting passengers, workers, and businesses across the country. Just as airlines are modernizing their aircraft, we need modern facilities to accommodate new aircraft and the eventual return – and growth – of passenger and cargo traffic.
When the average airport facility is more than 40 years old and designed pre-9/11 and now pre-pandemic, investing in airport infrastructure is a mutually beneficial opportunity for our passengers, our local communities, our concessions partners, and the airlines who use our facilities.
We need to make certain this issue remains a top priority for policymakers on both sides of the aisle — as well as the White House.
ACI World recently published a global infrastructure needs study that says the world’s airports will need more than $2.4 trillion in investment through 2040. $400 billion of that is here in North America. If we don’t make it easier to invest in airport infrastructure – either through modernizing the PFC or some other solution, our airports will fall far behind the rest of the world. There’s no denying that fact. We need solutions that work.
Investing in modern airport facilities will also help us with industry priorities focused on creating a more sustainable future for air travel.
There are many factors that contribute to those efforts and much work left to be done, but one important step that ACI-NA’s global organization took this year was setting a goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
It is an ambitious and aspirational goal. It is also a worthwhile goal, and we are working collaboratively across the industry and government on this initiative to combat the threat of global climate change.
We have made enormous progress and scored some important wins, but we haven’t been in it alone. The importance of collaboration has never been more important.
Over the course of the pandemic, ACI-NA has helped bring aviation and government partners together to find common solutions and the best possible approaches to very large and very complex challenges. It’s never been more important than it has been over the last 18 months.
I extend a heartfelt thanks to our government partners, our airline partners, our concessions partners, and our colleagues from other aviation associations, for strengthening this collaborative effort. We look forward to continuing our work together well beyond this pandemic.
Thank you — all — for everything you do to support and improve our North American airports.
Thank you for everything you do to support and encourage each other — even under the most challenging circumstances.
And thank you again for putting your trust in your trade association.
Thank you for the privilege of your time today.
I would now like to introduce Tyler Subasic, US Airports Lead, for Amazon Web Services and sponsor of this morning’s session to introduce our keynote speaker.