Ground Clutter

Oct. 29, 2008
Day at the Forum

I do love to watch professionals argue in public. There’s something about the way they maintain civility while holding absolutely opposite positions that I admire and envy. (Politicians do this, too, but allow more than a little animosity to slip through when addressing a long-time rival as “my esteemed colleague.” Airport professionals manage to leave you thinking there is no animosity, but only a difference of opinion.)

A good example took place at the Congestion Management Session of the Airports Council International World/North America conference in Boston in late September.

The influential panel included moderator Bradley Livingston (airport director, Dane County Regional, Madison); Nancy LoBue (acting assistant administrator for Aviation Policy, Planning and Environment, FAA); Edward Faberman (executive director, Air Carrier Association of America); David McMillan, (director general, Eurocontrol); Doug Lavin, (regional VP for North America, International Air Transportation Association); and Mylene Kishi, (airport planning manager, Sao Paulo/Gaurulhos International Airport, Brazil).

They discussed handling airport congestion in the future, and they all had opinions. Edward Faberman, for example, maintains that we need to cut back (cut out?) small regional jets. He gave the obvious and oft-cited reason that one aircraft carrying a few pax is not as efficient as a wide-body carrying hundreds. I thought that subject would bring about great arguments — it just sort of slid on by.

The big argument was about the feds selling gate slots at auction. LoBue seemed to be all by herself on this one, as others spoke against it. The guvmint seems to think auctioning slots could increase competition. Others felt it would lower competition, as only big airlines could even afford to bid on such slots. Some thought the guvmint didn’t have the “right” to make such sales. I believe it was Lavin who doubted the auction would be legal, and opined that he didn’t believe the guvmint could “get away with it.” LoBue held her guns, basically stating that the feds had always had such rights and that they could “get away” with it.

When the floor was opened for questions, one fellow addressed LoBue directly, saying everybody — airports, airlines, et al. — dislikes the auction idea. What, he asked, does the FAA know that the rest of us don’t? Her response: We’re all hunting solutions and that all possibilities must be considered.

I’ve seen several such high-level panel discussions (those on user fees come to mind) and it’s fascinating to watch these influential folks discuss problems that must be solved and that, one way or the other, will touch the lives of all of us. The European and Brazilian panelists provided information on how these things are handled in countries with different attitudes and different governments (I only use the word “guvmint” on our own guvmint).