Highlights from this year’s AAAE Conference & Expo
By John F. Infanger & Lindsay M. Hitch
NEW ORLEANS — At this year’s American Association of Airport Executives annual conference, federal funding took a lower profile than at recent meetings and was replaced by capacity, technology, and the lengthy process involved in getting runways and other infrastructure built. Here’s our editors’ report from the event, featuring select seminar briefings and other notable news and quotes.
GA AIRPORT FINANCING
Proper financing and billing can make the difference between a successful or failing airport. The AAAE session, GA Airport Finance — Small Airports, Big Dividends, featured speakers Scott Gray, airport director for Scottsdale (AZ) Airport, and Steve Calabro, airport director of Chesterfield County (VA) Airport. Both suggested a number of ways to reevaluate and diminish costs.
Gray says that a Rates & Fees Study conducted for 1997/1998 to evaluate how rates and fees were determined resulted in a 42 percent increase in commercial activities in the airpark from 1997 to 2000. Scottsdale also conducted an Indirect/Direct Cost Review to determine what it was paying for and why. The airport was charged for municipal administrative services it did not utilize. Of $200,000 spent on administrative costs, the airport was able to save $190,000 by showing that it didn’t use the city’s functions. And of $420,000 budgeted for ARFF costs, the airport saved $230,000 by working with the city’s established services.
Calabro says that Chesterfield used its status as a county-owned airport to keep costs low. The airport uses established county departments for finance, personnel, training, etc., rather than hiring staff. In 1991 the airport turned over maintenance and fuel services to the FBO and was able to cut its staff from 18 to six employees. Calabro says that by conducting a rate analysis, running the airport like a business, and taking advantage of state and federal funding, the airport began making a profit in 1994.
HANDLING EMPLOYEE MISCONDUCT
Sexual harassment cases can affect any business, but are often not top of mind until there is a problem. Managers and HR personnel should be prepared to handle situations methodically and appropriately to avoid harassment lawsuits, recommends Stephen Hirschfeld, a partner at Curial, Dellaverson, Hirschfeld, Kelly & Kraemer, LLP.
Hirschfeld’s main point: Teaching employees how to fairly investigate sexual harassment allegations can save companies time and headaches. Whe-ther the employee is guilty or innocent, it’s critical that the investigation is conducted in a fair manner.
Hirschfeld says that most personnel managers don’t know how to handle sexual harassment allegations between employees. If an employee is speaking or acting inappropriately with another employee, there should be an investigation and consequences. The law requires companies to stop incidents from happening again, not to automatically fire employees.
Managers involved in investigations don’t have to clearly determine guilt. In a courtroom, Hirschfeld says, there must be enough evidence to conclude one way over another beyond a reasonable doubt. In court that equates to 99 percent certainty.
"So when determining employee misconduct, do you have the same standards?" asks Hirschfeld.
No, he says. In employee investigations a preponderance of evidence equal to about 51 percent certainty is enough to make a decision. It’s enough as long as the investigation was fair and objective to both parties.
Hirshfeld offers tips for conducting a thorough, fair investigation:
• Ask who, what, where, when, and why.
• Avoid yes/no questions.
• Stop when there is enough evidence.
• Plan the investigation; don’t jump into it.
• Start with broad questions, then get specific.
• Don’t use leading questions.
• Relay the impression that the accused will be treated fairly.
• Explore ill motive: Why would the accuser lie?
• Use common sense in listening to witnesses and character witnesses; assess each witness’s credibility.
• Ask reluctant witnesses why they don’t want to talk.
• The Fifth Amendment is not applicable in internal civil investigations; have a written policy stating that failure/refusal to cooperate in or interference with an employee investigation is grounds for discipline or termination.
• Employers are not required to allow employees to have legal counsel, unless employees are union members.
By being fair, weighing both sides of the story and other testimony, and determining if the accusation seems logical, the employer has done enough, says Hirschfeld. Circumstan-tial evidence can be sufficient in these cases, and handling the situation appropriately is often more important than determining guilt, he explains.
Establishing, Controlling Wireless Services
Adapting airports for wireless technology accessibility has been a hot topic lately, as evidenced at the AAAE session on wireless. It featured speakers Michael Feldman, director of aviation facilities for Seattle-Tacoma Int’l Airport, and Michael Dufton, marketing director for airport communications services for ARINC, Inc.
Cautions Feldman, get a handle on what’s already in the airport before setting up a new system. It doesn’t pay to spend money on a new system if others can obtain free access. Feldman says they swept Sea-Tac for wireless transmitters and found 120 that had not been registered with the airport. Sea-Tac is working to set up one system throughout the facility.
Dufton explains that interference with wireless may come from sources within the airport that were never considered troublesome. For example, a recent RF interference survey in Dallas determined that microwaves in a Burger King were causing major interference with wireless service.
Considerations from Feldman when setting up wireless services ...
• Should capital and operating costs be included in terminal rent?
• Should airlines be charged for access to the wireless system?
• Should airlines be charged for actual use of the system?
• Who should handle connecting the passengers? The airport? An independent third party? A wireless provider? A master concessionaire?
Dufton says that ARINC is working on developing interoperability standards and managed wireless infrastructures for airports. To learn more, visit www.arinc.com.
• FKI Logistex announces the acquisition of Stearns Airport Equipment Company. Stearns will contribute to the FKI Logistex Baggage Handling Team, along with Mathews Conveyor and Crisplant operations. FKI Logistex designs, manufactures, installs, and supports integrated supply chain solutions. For more, visit www.fkilogistex.com.
• Flight Explorer launches Flight Snapshot, a real-time graphic display of aircraft and airspace for public view in terminals and on websites. The display is updated every five minutes and can be programmed to show weather, aircraft tags, airports, origins, destinations, ETAs, and more. To learn more visit www.flightexplorer.com.
• AeroConcierge introduces a broadband touch-media system portal for entertainment, information, and e-commerce. The system can be retrofitted to fit existing departure lounge chairs and features touch-sensitive stereo 3-D screens. AeroCon-cierge offers free and pay-per-use services ranging from flight information and weather to full-length films, internet access, and live television broadcasts. For more, visit www.aeroconcierge.com.
Other News, Notes, and Quotes ...
Other topics at this year’s AAAE conference included insights from the Administrator, capacity, environmental and other regulatory streamlining, and regional airline service. Here are select highlights from several presentations.
• Jane Garvey, who soon enters her final year of the first fixed five-year term for an FAA Administrator, stresses the need for a system approach as industry looks for solutions to capacity, technology, and environmental challenges. "Funding, process, and political will," she points out, are keys to resolving environmental and infrastructure challenges. Of the three, she says, funding may in fact be the easiest.
Two keys to FAA’s perspective on some of the system’s challenges, she says, can be found in a since-released ten-year evolution plan and recommendations for slot allocations at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. For information on these, visit FAA’s website at faa.gov.
• Enhancing Airport Capacity — Streamlining the Approval Process featured Virginia Buckingham, CEO of Massport; Gerald FitzGerald, president of PB Aviation; and William Willkie, senior associate at Leigh Fisher Associates.
Buckingham says that with all the finger-pointing regarding capacity issues, it’s clear no one is in a clear position of leadership.
FitzGerald says that airport infrastructure projects require scope plus money plus time, and it is time that is often overlooked. A solution, he says, is fast tracking — reducing the delivery time on a given project — which requires thinking differently. Construction personnel should be brought in at the same time as designers, he says, so that construction management techniques are driving design. Also, shape/package the procurement strategy for what’s required. The result, partnering, also helps to reduce the number of "extras" required on a project, again saving time. And, he says, it’s important to develop project standards early on. "The longer it takes to build something," he says, "the more it costs."
Regarding airports where existing capacity is a critical challenge, says FitzGerald, the key lies with utilization of airside, landside, and terminal components. Airports can no longer think of the number of movements per hour, but instead average seats per movement. Regarding terminals, gate usage needs to take on a "use it or lose it policy," focusing on turns per gate per day. Curb frontage also needs to be more restricted.
Also from FitzGerald: "Airports are turning to a policy of qualifying the invitation to use the airport." In the past, he says, it was an open-ended invitation.
Willkie, who recently served as a consultant on the massive construction being undertaken at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), says that the master planning and environmental processes involved in such a project are normally performed sequentially, but can in fact be done concurrently. At the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, he points out, the environmental impact study was accomplished in 18 months. Similarly, Willkie says the IAH project went relatively quickly because of a common commitment by FAA, the airport, and various other federal, state, and local agencies, and due to having the planning analyses integrated with the EIS process.
• Phil Trenary, president of Express Airlines 1, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northwest Airlines, foresees a third tier of commercial service utilizing turboprops, despite predictions of their demise with the emergence of regional jets. Trenary says that "regional carriers exist for one reason, our cost structure," and need to remain lean and efficient.
Trenary notes that a major challenge today for all carriers is labor — "It’s out of control."