Southwest’s Kelleher Receives the 2017 ACI-NA Downes Award

September 19, 2017


FORT WORTH –Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) today announced Herb Kelleher has been named the recipient of the 2017 Williams E. Downes, Jr. Memorial Award.  The Downes Award, the highest honor given by ACI-NA, is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting the cause of airports and aviation throughout the local, national and worldwide communities. The award was presented during a special ceremony at the 2017 ACI-NA Annual Conference and Exhibition in Fort Worth, TX on September 19, 2017.

“ACI-NA is proud to recognize Herb Kelleher as the recipient of the 2017 William E. Downes Jr. Award,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke.  “Herb paved the way for low-cost air service, bringing price competition and new routes to medium and small communities. The modern aviation industry owes a great debt of gratitude to Herb for his leadership, wit, and long-lasting contributions to aviation.”

Each year, ACI-NA presents the Downes Award to an aviation leader who has demonstrated strong and outstanding leadership and action in the cause of airports and aviation as a vital part of the local, national or worldwide aviation community; successful work for acceptance, development and support of needed airport programs; cooperation among various segments of aviation, with the goal of bettering airports; or, conceived or fostered a creative or innovative approach to solving today’s problems and planning for future airport and aviation development.

Kelleher led Southwest Airlines as CEO since its launch in 1971 to 2008. He has a legacy as an aviation pioneer with his innovative introduction of low-cost airlines that increased air service to many small and medium hub airports.  Southwest’s competitiveness brought fares down to make air travel available and affordable to all. He also recognized that airport and airline cooperation was critical to providing passengers with the best travel experience possible.

Kelleher created a paradigm bringing in new passengers, new economics, and a new fleet. This translated into Southwest providing great service to passengers, schedule flexibility, low-cost solutions for a great brand that fostered a positive environment for employees.


About the William E. Downes Jr. Memorial Award

As ACI-NA’s most prestigious award, the “William E. Downes Jr. Memorial Award” is the namesake of Bill Downes, the former commissioner of aviation for the City of Chicago from 1959 to 1975.  The Downes award recognizes outstanding leadership and action in the cause of airport or aviation management.


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