Big names, tough challenges are pervasive as airport managers meet
By John F. Infanger and Jodi Prill
One on One: Incoming AAAE Chair Jerry Olson
Gerald K. "Jerry" Olson, A.A.E., has been airport director for the Cheyenne (WY) Airport for 14 years. In May, he became chair of AAAE, at a time when frustration and uncertainty are the order of the day. Here are select excerpts from a recent interview with AIRPORT BUSINESS.
is a graduate of the University of North Dakota (aviation and business
management), and began his career at the Williston, ND airport.
His airport, which has undergone some $51 million in capital improvements
during the past 14 years, is served by United/Great Lakes and Frontier
On the TSA and its impact on security at Cheyenne Airport …
"We're so far down on the totem pole in terms of their priorities right now, I don't really have an answer. I think if we get a [EDS] machine, and that's a question whether or not we'll even get a machine or trace detection, we'll put it out front of the airline checkout point and have people cleared with their bags, similar to immigration in Hawaii.
"I just got the MOUs (memorandum of understanding) to get law enforcement people under contract. That's causing a lot of concern among smaller airports, because if you read the MOU that you are forced to sign by the TSA, there's no guarantee that you'll get reimbursed. They say they will reimburse you, but we're going to be spending about $6,000 a month on paying law enforcement people. That $6,000 is something we budgeted for, but we budgeted for it on the expense side and we budgeted for it on the revenue side."
On the TSA deadlines ...
"It's really a Congress-imposed, TSA implementation problem, but at local airports if it doesn't get done the press shows up at the airport manager's desk."
"I'm really worried that from a public relations standpoint, the local airports are going to take the heat on that particular issue."
"As much as we want to move forward at a rapid pace, I just think that we need to make sure and take deep breaths and look around to ensure that we get a system that works, that's efficient."
On the need for TSA to listen to industry ...
"I'm afraid we'll end up with a system that doesn't work and it will be busted on their watch. They've got to listen to airlines, they've got to listen to airports. Everyone's goal is increased security, but how you get it in place needs flexibility.
"There's tremendous frustration, especially at bigger airports; smaller airports aren't on their radar screen yet. It feels like operational control is being taken away."
On potential vulnerability at smaller commercial airports ...
"We want to make sure we have the same level of security as the hub. There has to be flexilibity by tsa, but I think [EDS] machines are the way to go for our size airports.
"We need to have a system that we can stand up to the local community and say we have the same level of security as DIA has."
On general aviation ...
"The AAAE taskforce is looking at breaking up general aviation airports by size. I think that's coming. Once commercial airports are done, TSA will focus on general aviation airports.
"Is there a need for increased security? I think there is; but it's got to be done with some logic, in terms of one size doesn't fit all, and it has to be funded."
On his other post-9/11 concerns ...
"I think the key is to keep the frustration level down and have some cooperation between the players so we do it right. Airports need to be involved with airline issues. If airlines continue to lose money at the current rate, I'm convinced there will be hearings in Congress that are generated by the airline industry, and AAAE needs to be involved and have a seat at the table.
"I'm not sure Congress is just going to allow Southwest Airlines to provide the air transportation for the entire country.
"If you look at the financials, that's not so far off."
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Reporting from Dallas - event coverage of AAAE's annual conference and exposition.