Principato: Industry Is United On Some Issues, But Airlines Won’t Agree On Financing

I spent much of last week in Abu Dhabi, at the World Routesconference. There were 3,000 attendees, many of them airports and airlines looking for opportunities for new air service.

Part of the event was a two-day conference organized by the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization. There were a lot of interesting things said during those two days, but two things stand out. I will admit both were from the panel I participated on, but they were really points made by others.

During a conversation about how governments all over the world seem to lack a real understanding of the economic importance of aviation was the suggestion that airports just close for a day to show the economic importance of air transportation. I’ve heard this suggestion, made in frustration, by some of my own members – “Why don’t we just park a bunch of heavy equipment on the runway and close for a day.” This shows two things. First, that it is hard to imagine a modern economy without aviation. Second, that frustration at governments not understanding it, or taking it for granted, is a global phenomenon.

Second was a colloquy I had with Jeff Poole from the International Air Transportation Association. The next day Jeff left IATA to take another job in aviation, but he ended his distinguished IATA career by making an important statement. Specifically, that it is important for all sectors of aviation to stick together, and that we will never overcome our frustration on point one, if we do not do a better job of hanging together.

This is a point that has been made by many others before here in the U.S. Most famously, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made this point in a widely noted speech at the Aero Club of Washington. It is a critical, important, point.

Indeed, the U.S. aviation community is together on a variety of issues in a way I have not previously seen. From airports to airlines to general aviation to labor to manufacturers, aviation groups see eye-to-eye on most things. And, all share a frustration at the lack of understanding of the importance of aviation.

There is one exception. Specifically, the refusal of airlines to even work with airports on a way to bring the financing of airport infrastructure into the 21st century. Some airlines understand this, but as a group there is no willingness to work this issue out. This is the one issue holding the entire aviation industry back from answering the call of Jay Rockefeller, Jeff Poole and others.

Where the board of ACI-NA passed a resolution calling for a national aviation policy, A4A is calling for a national airline policy. Fine. But in the end, we all want mostly the same things. And, if airports and airlines can work out differences on the financing of airport infrastructure, we can make great strides toward enacting the kinds of policies everyone, including airlines, want to ensure a strong competitive aviation industry.

But what holds it all back, for everyone in aviation, is one simple fact: airlines as a group do not seem willing to engage on the subject of financing infrastructure. We can accomplish so much as an industry hanging together, it just seems a shame that this one thing holds us back.