Inside the Fence

It isn’t just about security. It’s also about money ... Short term, we indeed have security, again one of the topics of discussion at this year’s AAAE convention (page 24) in tranquil Seattle. Highlights of the discussion: How do I fund it at my airport? What is the definitive answer to screening? TWIC? Biometric deadlines? All now very familiar — though not all yet resolved.

One sentiment seems to be growing that TSA is going to go away, at least in its present form. The sense is that it will be absorbed into DHS, with a probability that private screening companies would be employed ... or, it will eventually all be handed over to airports with DHS oversight. If you’re a gambler, bet on the latter. Of course, the question remains, where does the money come from? Read on ...

Regarding TSA, is this a hiatus? An in-between period? A natural transition? A catastrophe? Or genius, about to be thrust upon airports by a new TSA chief? The Congressional clock is ticking ... show us the money.

Yeah, money. Overall, the airlines aren’t making a dime, yet the system keeps moving; airports stay open. They’d like to find a better financial model (relying on companies that could file Chapter 11 tomorrow is more than Rolaids can handle).

So, where is the money?

Get ready to fight this battle. Funding authorization ends in 2007 ... just around the corner in D.C. funding circles.

Airports want/need to change their business model. Topics of interest: more freedom of business movement by easing the grant assurance requirements — something FAA is reviewing; making airport bonds more attractive to investors; a departure tax — in sum, an ability to plan/finance for the day when an airline closes its doors. (Says one consultant: Airports, don’t let an airline get behind in payments. You’ll wind up being an unsecured creditor in the fulfilling Chapter 11 process.)

Oh, and regarding FAA: We’re coming to a crossroads in how we fund it. ATC is still “modernizing,” and that will cost dollars. The ticket tax may need another redesign. Woe is AIP?

Says AAAE’s Spencer Dickerson, “I think FAA has to put everything on the table, and obviously have a dialog with the industry.”

NATA’s Jim Coyne tells Congress that, in essence, he likes the current funding system. But it isn’t working. Other groups support his point of view. But again, the message coming through is, it isn’t working.

The whole industry may need a better financial argument.