Airport Execs Meet in Philly

The business of airlines, an onerous ARFF proposal, service opportunities top agenda

One on One with Incoming AAAE Chair John Duval

The incoming chair of the American Association of Airport Executives, John K. Duval, A.A.E., has had an interesting ride in his career, starting out as a parking attendant at the Massachusetts Port Authority, from which he retired in 2007 as deputy director of aviation operations. Today he serves as director of operations, planning, and development for the Beverly Municipal Airport located some 12 miles north of Boston.

In the interim, Duval earned his MBA from Northeastern University, got his private pilot’s certificate (and is current), and has been appointed to various assignments that include the DOT’s aviation rulemaking advisory committee; the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP); and president of the AAAE Northeast Chapter. He’s also a chapter in the book Reclaiming the Sky, which documents the efforts of various people who were forced to react to the events of 9/11.

During AAAE’s annual convention in Philadelphia, Duval sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss his airport and the issues facing the airport industry. Following are edited excerpts ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: One of the hottest issues at this year’s meeting is the proposed expansion of aircraft rescue and firefighting requirements for airports, as proposed in the recently passed House FAA reauthorization bill. Your thoughts?

Duval: When I heard about that ARFF issue a year ago, sitting on the oversight committee for ACRP, we came up with the idea that we could use the ACRP process to get an independent consultant to look at this issue and provide us with some data. We all knew this was going to be expensive, and we all believed that it really wasn’t going to significantly change the safety aspects of operating an airport. Airports are safe now.

We were successful in getting ACRP to donate a chunk of money and we did a quick response project where we put together an RFP and hired GRA to study this issue and to provide what I like to call a cost/benefit analysis. I’ve read the interim report; they went back ten years and looked at every fatal aircraft accident in the Continental U.S. and they determined that we would not have saved one life or one aircraft had these regulations been in place.

The other thing the research shows is how much it’s going to cost. The bottom line is it’s going to cost [up to] $5 billion in the first year, with $4 billion being in infrastructure and $1 billion annually after that in operating costs. And you’re spending that $5 billion in the first year for no benefit.

I’m completely shocked that this has gained so much momentum, but I’m afraid we’re not going to win it. I’m not optimistic that logic is going to prevail.

AB: And it’s basically a jobs issue, correct?

Duval: Certainly, it’s the firefighters union that is behind it. I don’t think I need to say any more.

AB: One of your personal hot buttons is disaster response and personnel training, based on your post-9/11 experience. How does that apply to the airport you oversee now?

Duval: I just ran a two-day disaster exercise program for the airport. It hadn’t been done before. With my background in airport operations, it’s the right thing to do, though it’s not required for general aviation airports. We had four cities involved; four police departments; four fire departments. The politicians came out as well.

We’ve done some things like giving a fire department a radio to the control tower so that they can talk directly; and, setting up some standard operating procedures. For example, the police said to me during this drill, if we come out to the airport at night when the control tower was closed and had a suspicious person that we were following, can we just drive out onto the field?

They don’t have any means of communicating with anyone on how they go out there. We’re working through the standard operating procedures to allow them to be able to do their jobs and keep it safe for the people using the airport.

AB: At Boston Logan, you and Chief Bob Donahue were heavily involved with the concept of interoperability, bringing together various agencies involved with disaster response. Are there lessons to apply here?

Duval: We talked a lot about interoperability with Beverly and neighboring towns because they don’t really have a good ability to talk with each other.

I read a very interesting book called 102 Minutes, which is how long it took from the time the first plane hit until the South Tower fell. It goes through in detail everything that happened and follows the lives of people who were in the building and of people who were responding. What you see from reading that book is that there were a lot of things that could have been done better in terms of communicating. We took that message to heart at Logan and worked hard to improve interoperability.

AB: You’re working with Tom Murphy, author of Reclaiming the Sky, who also heads up the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham University. What’s the goal of that initiative?

Duval: I’ve seen airports across the country laying people off for perhaps the first time in their histories. It’s interesting to note that we’re decreasing staff but our workload isn’t going down. We still have to provide the same level of safety and security and customer service.

But we have to do it with a smaller workforce, and the stresses that that puts on the people that are there can be incredible. When you have a delay, the opportunity to get on the next flight is diminishing; it might be the next day before you can get on a flight. There aren’t empty seats and there aren’t as many flights.

What that does is place stress on the passengers. That comes out on the employees and they have to deal with it. So, where does this go? How do you fix it?

Potentially, the solution is in this program that I’m trying to put together with Fordham University; it’s a partnership that we’re creating between AAAE and Fordham that’s aimed at employee productivity. One of the ways it addressed productivity is through resiliency — employees need to be resilient.

How do you measure productivity? How do you measure the success of the program? What are the benchmarks that we can use to measure this? If this program is going to work we have to be able to prove to people that it works.

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