The Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) has approximately 380 aviation-related organizations as members and is one of the associations that has its finger on the pulse of the issues impacting commercial airports. With their annual 2018 CEO Forum & Board of Directors Meeting being held this week, the editors at Connected Aviation Today reached out to Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of ACI-NA, to get his perspective on the current state of the commercial airport and aviation industry. Here is what he shared with us:
Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: In February, ACI-NA will host a CEO Forum that will include industry presentations and a discussion about the state of the industry. How far do you believe the industry has come?
Kevin M. Burke (KMB): When I joined ACI-NA four years ago, one my top priorities was to foster greater industry unity and broaden the airport industry’s sphere of influence to include those non-traditional stakeholders that benefit from a healthy, competitive airport system. Over the last few years, that work has paid off and supported our mission to advance key priorities and mitigate uncertainty that can negatively impact airports’ ability to operate efficiently.
One of the biggest challenges our airport members face is modernizing airport infrastructure. In the United States, Congress is beginning to come around to airport infrastructure needs. This is all because our airport members are directly telling their stories to their elected officials. In other words, airports have made great progress in having their voices heard by policy makers on Capitol Hill.
Through that hard work, the Senate Appropriations Committee delivered two key wins for passengers and airports by modernizing the local Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee and increasing funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). This is a very big “first step” in achieving airport priorities, but we have much more work ahead of us.
Through our coalition building efforts, we have expanded our Beyond the Runway Coalition to now include 85 groups that support our infrastructure priorities. It’s really helping us move the needle in Washington.
CAT Editors: What are the big trends and areas of focus in 2018 for the industry?
KMB: With a federal infrastructure bill and FAA reauthorization on the horizon in the United States, airports will be focused on a modernized approach to airport infrastructure financing. With nearly $100 billion in infrastructure needs through 2021, America’s airports face unprecedented challenges when it comes to infrastructure investment. We must take any and every opportunity in 2018 to impress on the Trump administration and policy makers the significant infrastructure needs of airports.
Airports will also be looking at the latest trends in technology to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public. In order to keep up with increasing international traffic into the United States, airports have deployed innovative technologies including Mobile Passport Control at 24 of our nation’s busiest airports and Automated Passport Control kiosks at most others to help expedite the entry process in to the United States. Airports have seen their average passport clearance times dramatically improve because of these innovations.
Biometrics also has the potential to change the way passengers travel through airports. In 2018, we will be looking to what’s on the horizon for airports as technology continues to advance including working with Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to upgrade their equipment and processes to improve the passenger experience.
CAT Editors: What challenges still lay ahead for the industry in 2018?
KMB: While modernizing airport infrastructure is a primary challenge for our airport members, ACI-NA will also work to address the challenges related to security and workforce planning.
Maintaining the safety and security of the traveling public is a top priority for airports. As always, airports continued to operate in an uncertain landscape filled with evolving requirements to address concerns about ever-changing global aviation security threats. We will continue to collaborate with the TSA and global regulators to ensure security requirements are not only effective, but can be tailored to the unique operating environment of individual airports.
Airports are also preparing for a major shift in the composition of the airport workforce. As the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement during a time when the airport industry is growing significantly, many of our airport members are turning their focus on how to attract and retain new talent to move the industry forward. They are also taking a hard look at the new skills the industry will require for the years ahead, especially in the areas of technology, capital planning, concessions management, and airport design.
CAT Editors: How would you sum up your predictions for the year?
KMB: With all the challenges mentioned above, 2018 will be a busy year for North American airports. I am continually impressed by the resolve of our industry to confront issues and seize opportunities for the benefit of passengers, shippers, and communities. ACI-NA will continue to tirelessly advocate on behalf of airports to advance key priorities and mitigate uncertainty that can negatively impact airports’ ability to operate efficiently.