On the mood of airports at ACI-NA, and a word on TSA paranoia ...

Oct. 8, 2004

Inside the Fence

On the mood of airports at ACI-NA, and a word on TSA paranoia ...

By John Infanger

October 2004

As we go to press, a broadbrush overview of the news from the annual Airports Council International-North America show in Houston shows that airports continue to be frustrated by the lack of financing for in-line security systems and are concerned about pending congestion and capacity issues. The good news is that it appears the Airport Improvement Program is expected to be funded at the $3.5 billion or so funding level for ‘05 — the assumption being that Congress is going to pass the necessary appropriations bill soon before FAA is once again forced to play catch-up.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment at this year’s event was the speech by Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security David M. Stone. His appearance was highly anticipated by many; yet, as has become typical of speeches made by high level DHS/TSA officials, he offered little of substance.

Other quick highlights ...

  • Brian Flemming, who heads up Canada’s transportation security, says having private sector screeners has worked well in his country. However, he too questions who should be paying for all of this. “In the real world, governments pay for war,” he says.
  • ACI-NA president David Plavin says the capacity issue is back and that it’s time for accepting the fact that airports need to be given more freedom on how their airports are regulated and that congestion pricing is going to be needed at some facilities. “We will have no choice than to look for economic alternatives,” he says.
  • On the the opt-out program, which would allow airports to take over (some) responsibility for passenger screening, there remains no definitive guidance from TSA. No one seems to get where the motivation lies. Yet, the November 19 deadline looms for participation and TSA is silent.
  • On cargo security, Plavin cautions that the most important issue is to not do anything knee-jerk. “That’s what we need to be vigilant about,” he explains.
  • From the retiring CEO Gordon Bethune at Continental Airlines on start-up carrier Independence Air: “P.T. Barnum was right.”
  • Outgoing ACI-NA chair Patrick Graham relates that his biggest disappointment this past year was that ACI-NA and AAAE were not merged into one voice, one association. “We should be joined,” he comments.

Finally, ACI-NA ended with a session by TSA that was closed to the press. No one seems to understand why. Little wonder the majority opinion is it’s an agency that doesn’t know how to communicate.

Thanks for reading.