Todd Hauptli Serves the Industry

May 16, 2014
AAAE’s new president and CEO brings new ideas and collaborative efforts to the aviation industry table

There’s one thing many people probably don’t know about the American Association of Airport Executives’ (AAAE) new president and CEO. While most are aware that Todd Hauptli served as a staff leader for AAAE for 30 years before taking on this role, they may not realize the seasoned airport authority is also an avid chef with his own cookbook, The Chez Hauptli Cookbook Volume One.

They probably also do not realize that he plans to combine his experience heading AAAE’s Federal Affairs and Governmental divisions with his culinary expertise to craft a recipe for success for airports in the years to come.

The first ingredient, his background in the industry, is essential. ”Todd has a demonstrated record of success in service to our membership, a sterling reputation in Washington, and a clear, well developed vision for navigating AAAE through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, including the need to enhance coordination and cooperation within the airport community," says AAAE Chair Mark Brewer, A.A.E., airport director at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

But this recipe wouldn’t be complete without the levity he receives from his favorite pastime.”“I am a very avid chef, I like to cook,” Hauptli says. “For me, it’s a great relief because I get to focus on something that has a beginning, middle, and an end,” he says. “A lot of what I do in Washington never really has an end.”

Airport Business recently spoke with Hauptli to find out what he is mixing up at AAAE, and in the conversation he dished about the proposed Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) increase, the potential Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding decrease, customs wait times and more

Let’s talk about the work you’re doing with Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA).  How you plan to continue this momentum going forward?

There are two airport groups in Washington, D.C., AAAE and ACI-NA, which represent many, if not most, of the same folks. Recognizing that it’s vital that we speak with a single message in Washington, D.C., the leadership of AAAE and ACI-NA are fully committed to ensuring both organizations are in alignment on public policy issues.

When the AAAE selection committee was interviewing candidates for the position, they made it very clear they expected the new AAAE CEO to work collaboratively with ACI-NA and its new leadership, and that’s something that I am absolutely committed to doing. After I was selected, but before I even officially began, I flew around the country and met with each member of the ACI-NA executive committee to ensure they understood how committed I was to making sure that the two organizations worked collaboratively.

How important legislatively is AAAE’s collaboration with ACI-NA?

In Washington, particularly when you’re dealing with Congress, it’s very important that industries speak with a single voice. It’s very easy for members of Congress to dismiss industries that fight amongst themselves. If you look back to the mid- to late-90s, in the airline industry, the low-cost carriers were trying to keep the same taxation system that was in place and the legacy carriers were looking to change to a very different model that was more focused on segment fees and things like that. The airlines were divided and couldn’t speak with a single voice. Congress took advantage of that and ended up changing the tax laws in a way that cost the airlines around $3 to $4 billion a year. If the airlines had spoken with a single voice back then, chances are they would not have had the same outcome. The airport community needs to learn from that lesson and I think they have. Airports have been very good about speaking with a single voice in Washington, and I think we’re getting even better than we have been in the past.

How is AAAE working through the issues airports have with the airlines?

There are more areas of agreement than disagreement with the carriers, but one fundamental point of disagreement manifests itself in the passenger facility charge (PFC) issue. PFCs are the mechanism that airports use to make sure they have enough infrastructure investment. That issue really boils down to one of control. There is a landlord-tenant relationship that exists with airports as the landlords and the airlines as the tenants. This relationship creates tension between airports and airlines that will, frankly, probably always exist.

Airlines try to figure out how to increase their profitability, and look at things in a 90-day quarterly window for their financials. Meanwhile airports must look out into the future, up to 10 years or more, on behalf of their communities. That is a point of contention. Probably the single largest point of contention between airports and airlines at the moment is how to make sure there is adequate infrastructure investment in a time of declining federal resources.

How important is the proposed PFC increase in the 2015 federal budget proposal?

The last time Congress increased the PFC was 14 years ago. Since that time, the purchasing power of the PFC has been eroded in half. The likelihood is that federal funding is going to decrease rather than increase over time with sequestration and the pressures on the budget so airports really need a mechanism for self-help. The PFC is an opportunity for airports to ensure they have the necessary resources to build the system, not only for today, but into the future.

The same budget proposal calls for a reduction in airport improvement program (AIP) funds. What will be the impact of an AIP reduction?

The Administration has proposed, for a number of years, a reduction in AIP funding. Congress has made minor modifications to the program but has for the most part rejected the Administration’s proposal to reduce AIP funding. As a result, they’ve kept AIP funding pretty steady. It got up to $3.5 billion, now we’re at $3.35 billion. The truth is, however, that if Congress were to enact a PFC increase, you actually could recalibrate the AIP program and reduce it somewhat aiming more of the remaining dollars at smaller airports, and using the PFC increase to take care of larger airports. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking to decrease the AIP program. Airport needs are very, very high. A PFC increase and full funding of the AIP program is the preferred course of action.

What can be done to decrease customs wait times at U.S. gateway airports?

The wait time at gateway airports is a very significant issue. There has been double-digit growth in the wait times at key facilities across the country. That has an impact in terms of the first impressions of our foreign visitors and their desire to return to the United States. We have a goal as a country of having 100 million visitors a year by 2021 and if we’re going to hit that number we need to invest more in the processing of visitors and returning citizens into the United States.

There are two principal ways that we can accomplish this. One is more boots on the ground. That is more Customs and Border Protection (CBP) resources aimed at airports. In the budget proposal, there is funding for 2,000 additional CBP officers, which is a huge step forward. The second way is technology. Airports are investing significant amounts of their money to into automated passport control systems, kiosks, at airports, which primarily help with the return of U.S. citizens to the United States. That allows for a shift of airport resources to the incoming foreign visitors.

What would be the economic impact if the customs situation was allowed to continue as it is?

These are not my numbers but … international visitors spent an estimated $156 billion on U.S. travel and tourism-related services last year. $156 billion! The U.S. Travel Association reports that for every 33 overseas travelers coming to the United States one U.S. job is created. That is very significant in our economy. We have people coming into the United States who end up having a three-hour wait in the customs hall. These are people who spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get here but once they’re here, they have a bad experience.  That’s going to leave a negative taste in their mouths and they’re going to think, “Maybe next time I’m going somewhere else instead.”  We need to make sure that we have a system that is secure and safe, but much more accommodating and much more efficient that we’ve had in the past.

Why are airports looking to transition from traditional badging systems to identity management systems?

 It’s really about using technological advances to their fullest potential, whether it’s biometrics, facial recognition technology, and so on. Increasingly, airports are moving toward identity management systems to help not only with access control and compliance issues but also to introduce greater efficiencies in the badging process. You can save time, and you can save money, by using technology to do these things.

The move to identity management systems sounds like a great opportunity but what about the TSA’s recent push to take over this process?

One big blinking red light of concern for airports going forward is that the TSA believes they should take over the badging process and centralize the responsibilities for access control and identity management. Traditionally, this has been a local responsibility and it has worked very well. But the federal government increasingly has this, “Hey, if we don’t own it, we don’t control it, and we don’t trust it” mentality. They would prefer a centralized process that is more like TWIC, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. We believe a centralized approach is a big mistake because airports have been doing this for decades. They know what they’re doing and that fact offers an additional layer of safety and security.