“Beyond the Horizon: Further in Flight Begins at the Airport” Remarks by Kevin M. Burke

March 1, 2018


“Beyond the Horizon: Further in Flight Begins at the Airport”

Remarks by Kevin M. Burke

President and CEO

Airports Council International-North America

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

2018 Aviation Summit: Further in Flight

Thursday, March 1, 2018  //  Washington, DC

As Prepared for Delivery


Good afternoon.

I would like to congratulate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and especially Carol Hallett for another successful Aviation Summit.  Year after year, I look forward to participating in this event and exchanging innovative ideas with the broader aviation community.

This year’s theme, “Further in Flight,” is at the heart and soul of our work at Airports Council International-North America.  Celebrating our 70th anniversary this year as the Voice of Airports®, our members have charged us to continually look beyond the horizon in anticipation of the next opportunity to enhance the travel experience, to mitigate risks, and to bolster the role of the airport in serving its local community.

As the foundation of America’s aviation system, the airport voice is incredibly important to today’s discussions about the future of flight.  After all, every flight begins and ends at an airport.

In my view, every person in this room is an airport stakeholder.  Whether you manufacture the planes that land on our runways or work at an airline which operates out of our terminals, or whether you are a shipper who relies on our intermodal connections or the driver for a ground transportation company that uses our access roads to drop off passengers, airports across the country appreciate your partnership as we work together to ensure a safe, secure, and economically viable aviation transportation system.

As I have heard here and in my ongoing conversations with you – our airport stakeholders – there is broad consensus that our industry must confront complex challenges today and in the years ahead that will impact our collective ability to improve air travel for the benefit of our passengers, customers, communities, and to ensure our global competitiveness.

In my short time with you today, I would like to focus on the key issues facing America’s airports, which include workforce planning, security, facilitation, and infrastructure.  Solving these challenges will contribute to our shared goal of making air travel better for everyone.

Let’s first talk about workforce planning.  Just as the airlines mentioned in the prior session, airports are also preparing for a major shift in the composition of the airport workforce.

The Baby Boomer generation is reaching retirement during a time when the airport industry is growing significantly. Many airports are turning their focus on how to attract and retain new talent to move the industry forward. We are also taking a hard look at the new skills the industry will require for the years ahead, especially in the areas of technology, capital planning, concessions management, and airport design.

When it comes to planning for tomorrow’s workforce, airports have been very active in partnering with community schools and universities to introduce students to the airport industry through valuable internship programs.

ACI-NA has also been proud to support Edge4Vets, a program through Fordham University that helps veterans translate valuable skills learned during their military service into civilian life.  We are thrilled so many of our airport business partners have joined us in this important program, especially as we look to develop tomorrow’s workforce.

In addition to workforce planning challenges, airports operate in an uncertain landscape filled with evolving requirements to address concerns about ever-changing global aviation security threats.

We will continue to collaborate with DHS, TSA, our airline partners, and global stakeholders to ensure security requirements are not only effective but can be tailored to the unique operating environment of individual airports.

In order to maintain the safety and security of the traveling public, airports continue to deploy the latest trends in technology. To keep up with increasing international traffic into the United States, airports have launched innovative technologies including Mobile Passport Control at 24 of our nation’s busiest airports and Automated Passport Control kiosks at most others to help expedite entry into the United States.  The success of Mobile Passport is directly attributable to the strong partnerships between airports and Customs and Border Protection.

But many airports are still challenged with delays in processing passengers from international destinations despite these innovations. Airports and airlines agree biometric entry has the potential to change the way passengers travel through airports but there are still many questions to be answered.  In 2018, we look forward to continuing our work with airlines, Customs and Border Protection, and TSA as they upgrade their equipment and processes to improve the passenger experience.

An airport’s commitment to technology and the passenger experience are not stand alone issues.  These issues speak directly to the need to modernize airport infrastructure.

I have long held the position that airport infrastructure isn’t just an airport issue.  It isn’t even an “airports vs. airlines issue” as many who have read recent press reports might think.  Airport infrastructure is an issue that impacts everyone in this room.

From the airlines to the manufacturers and airport business partners to passengers, our outdated airport infrastructure is a common source of frustration.  As such, it represents the greatest opportunity to come together and solve this issue once and for all.

We applaud IATA’s Director General Alexandre de Juniac for his recent statement that we are on the verge of an aviation infrastructure crisis – including in the United States – if we fail to act.  His call for a modernized infrastructure that is both “efficient and affordable” is a welcome acknowledgment from an industry that has hidden its head in the sand for too long.

Simply put, we have 20th-century airports supporting a 21st-century economy.  With nearly $100 billion in well-documented infrastructure needs through 2021, America’s airports face unprecedented challenges when it comes to accommodating rapid growth in passenger and cargo activity and rehabilitating existing facilities.

And because our needs continue to outpace our ability to invest, we will only see costs increase and passenger satisfaction decrease the longer we wait to make these changes.

The benefits for modernized airport infrastructure could not be more clear.  In addition to increased price and service competition, our passengers will have a better experience with safer, more comfortable and efficient facilities.  Our airline partners will reduce costs through greater efficiency.  A modernized infrastructure does not come with a loss of profitability for our airport stakeholders.

Our current airport system was designed for half the traffic volume we have today. That’s why it is more important now than ever that we modernize airport infrastructure and improve the security and screening facilitation process to ensure a competitive 21st-century airport system.

Airports don’t just exist for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.  We exist to serve our communities as economic generators.  We exist to spur innovation.  We exist to connect people, including our airport stakeholders.

The challenges we face as an industry – workforce planning, security, facilitation, and infrastructure – are challenges we can no longer ignore.

We must act quickly and decisively to ensure a safe, secure, and economically viable industry.  We must come together and find common solutions that allow us to leave an industry we love so dearly better than we found it.  The collective industry is stronger together.

Thank you.


About ACI-NA

Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) represents local, regional, and state governing bodies that own and operate commercial airports in the United States and Canada. ACI-NA member airports enplane more than 95 percent of the domestic and virtually all the international airline passenger and cargo traffic in North America. Approximately 380 aviation-related businesses are also members of ACI-NA, providing goods and services to airports. Collectively, U.S. airports support more than 11.5 million jobs and account for $1.4 trillion in economic activity – or more than seven percent of the total U.S. GDP. Canadian airports support 405,000 jobs and contribute C$35 billion to Canada’s GDP. Learn more at www.airportscouncil.org.