Inside the Fence

In Reno, airport officials talk about mergers, TSA, the regs, and silver linings ...

Reporting from the annual AAAE F. Russell Hoyt National Airports Conference as we go to press, the mood is cautious. The theme of this year’s event, Flying High Through Turbulent Times, is appropriate.

The attendance is surprising in that it is relatively stable versus 2007.

The popular opening session at the NAC features a roundtable to discuss the various issues facing industry, in a shoot from the hip environment.

Q: Is there a silver lining amid all the turmoil in today’s airline/airport marketplace?

Says Ben DeCosta, GM at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International, “We may have to reset our expectations.”

Krys Bart, president and CEO at the Reno-Tahoe International, thinks it may be that “the new Congress will have to listen” to industry and try to actually address the current challenges.

Nancy Lobue, acting assistant administrator for aviation policy, planning, and the environment for FAA, comments, “I actually think we’re seeing a major change in how air service is structured.” That will lead to a rethinking of how to tailor what the nation’s airport infrastructure looks like, she says.

Robert Olislagers, executive director at Denver’s Centennial Airport, says there are segments of general aviation that could benefit. However, another dark cloud he sees looming is the threat of EPA banning leaded avgas, led by California.

Q: The impact of the proposed Delta/Northwest merger?

“It’s complicated,” says DeCosta. He sees Northwest’s heavy iron being based at ATL, and Delta’s smaller airliners moved to DTW and MSP. He questions how two airlines that have recently emerged from bankruptcy protection, thereby eliminating excess costs, will realize any significant efficiencies. “I don’t think we really know what’s going to happen with the hubs,” he says.

Q: Major challenges coming out of Washington?

Kelly John-son, director at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, says that proposed changes to how aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) is regulated could be prohibitively expensive for smaller airports. Her ops budget will jump $1 million, she says, and personnel will no longer be able to be cross-utilized.

Q: The good, the bad of TSA?

“They understand customer service at our airport,” says Johnson. “The thing they need to improve on is being a partner.”

Comments Bart, “I agree with Kelly — it’s essential that we are partners.” She thinks that more competition should be brought into the security arena, pointing to the successful program at Kansas City International. Competition, says Bart, can help bring TSA more in touch with real life at airports and move beyond “a total lack of reality for what we have to do.”

Thanks for reading.