Let's All Work Together

Airport Business checks in with Gregory Principato as he steps down as president of ACI-NA, with advice that the more aviation industry works together the better off we’ll be

Gregory Principato might aptly be referred to as a member of the dead president’s club, not because he’s read the Harris Baseman novel of the same name, but because he is a student of history and his hobby is visiting the grave sites of dead presidents; something he hopes to complete before his life journey gets too complicated.

While this pastime isn’t the reason Principato, who succeeded David Plavin in the ACI-NA hot seat in July 2005, recently stepped down as president of ACI-North America, it is the pursuit of his personal passions that made it the right time for him to do so. He states it is time for him to “seek new challenges and opportunities” and to travel the world “without having to pack a suit.”

“I just didn’t want to wake up some morning at a certain age and say ‘Gee I wished I’d taken a step back,’ ” he explains.

Airport Business recently caught up with Principato before he closed the chapter on his eight-year ACI-NA term to tap into his insight about the future of the association and the aviation industry in general.


Your plans to retire came out at about the same time as a memo about the ACI-NA’s intent to explore a possible partnership/joint venture with AAAE. What is the possibility of this happening in the near future?

One of the first things my predecessor handed me was a briefing book (from the 80s) about the relationship between the two organizations. The book posed questions like: Should we work more closely together? Should we merge? With Chip Barclay’s retirement, and mine as well, there is a unique opportunity to look at this again.

Both airports and the airport business community are asking if there is a better way to do things, a more streamlined way. It makes sense to look at whether there should be two organizations, with duplication on the meeting side, the training side and for sponsorships. On the policy side, there is a sense among members that if we could present a more unified front in Washington, it would benefit the industry in achieving its objectives.


What do you see as the biggest issues facing the aviation industry?

I think the over-arching challenge is that people don’t really understand how important the aviation industry is for our economy. In other parts of the world—Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and parts of Africa—aviation is not taken for granted because they know what it’s like not to have a successful industry. And they are making smart decisions on how to invest in the infrastructure, looking at their place in the world and how to make the best use of it. Here in the United States, and to an extent in Canada as well, the entire aviation industry (airlines, airports, manufacturers) is totally taken for granted and as a result the policy choices we make are often short-sighted.

Frankly, this challenge is one of the reasons I’m very concerned about the paths that Airlines for America (A4A) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) are going down. They are advocating a national airline policy and “leveling the playing field,” and it seems to me that they’re doing what the steel and automobile industries did after World War II when people said, ‘Oh my goodness, other countries are eating our lunch; they’ve got more efficient ways to make cars and to make steel, we need to protect ourselves and we need special favors.’ It was only after the auto and steel industries stopped whining about protection and started investing and competing that they did well. I think we need to go that direction in aviation. The best way to beat foreign competition is to make strategic smart policy decisions and invest in modernizing infrastructure.


How do you get around the mindset that the government owes the industry special favors?

It’s hard to change that mindset, and it’s a work in progress.

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