Airports Meet at NAC

Nov. 21, 2006
The focus is on airline challenges, ATC reform, and security.

Managers from airports across the U.S. met here in November/December for the annual F. Russell Hoyt National Airports Conference. Top of mind: the changing airline industry, system funding and reform, and security. During a state of the industry session, Sharon Pinkerton, VP with the Air Transport Association, told the group that the air carriers top challenge at present is meeting projected demand. Pinkerton also echoed her boss Jim May's ongoing call for funding and air traffic control reform. In particular, what worries ATA is ATC modernization and "how to make it happen."

At the same session, however, Andrew Cebula, who heads up legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, advised that his group wants to see Congress remain in charge of the ATC system, while also calling for a continuation of fuel excises taxes on general aviation, versus ATA's proposed user fees.

James Bennett, CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, says he's concerned that just as an aging ATC system can inhibit growth, so too can security regulations. He and others express concern that actions by the Transportation Security Administration, such as not making the necessary staff available to an airport, can hinder air service to communities.

Also, comments Bennett, "I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel" regarding funding of explosives detection systems. He suggests that the answer, in time, may be to move toward more automated screening and "get people out of the system." Meanwhile, D. J. Mehagan, a financial analyst with Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc., says that alternative minimum tax reform, stalled in Congress, presents a challenge for airports. Two-thirds of airport debt, he says, is impacted by the AMT.