Airport Policy News #100, June / July 2014 – emphasis added.




ISSUE NO. 100 – JUNE/JULY 2014
By Robert W. Poole, Jr.
Director of Transportation Policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow
Reason Foundation
Bob Poole’s Bio
More Airport Policy News
In this issue:

CRS Provides Overview and Options for Airport Privatization
Like quite a few observers, I have been disappointed in the relatively small interest in the federal Airport Privatization Pilot Program (APPP). Congress enacted it back in 1996 to see if U.S. airports and infrastructure investment companies were interested in privatization or public-private partnerships. The new law came after nearly a decade of airport privatizations in Europe and elsewhere, which is still continuing today.
The Congressional Research Service was asked to provide an overview of what has occurred under APPP in the 18 years since the law was passed, to assess why there has not been more activity, and to suggest changes that might increase interest in airport privatization. The resulting “Airport Privatization: Issues and Options for Congress,” provides a good overview of the subject, and can serve as a quick primer for those who have not been following its ups and downs. (CRS-7-5700, R43545)
First, the report explains that nearly all airports of any size receive federal grants, with conditions attached that basically preclude privatization. So the purpose of the APPP is to grant exemptions from those conditions. The most important of these exemptions are (1) that sale or lease payments can be retained by the city or county that owns the airport, rather than being restricted to use for airport purposes, as is normally required, and (2) that the acquiring party is allowed to seek a profit from operating the airport. Without these two exemptions, it’s hard to see why a city or county would want to privatize its airport, or why anyone in the private sector would seek to acquire it. Table 1 in the report provides a side-by-side comparison of how various issues are treated under privatization enabled by APPP and hypothetical privatizations entered into outside APPP.
The report summarizes the four most serious attempts to use APPP, two of which succeeded (Stewart International in NY and Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan), one of which is still pending (Airglades Airport in Hendry County, FL), and the last of which was withdrawn after two failed procurement attempts (Chicago Midway). Table 2 lists these and six others whose applications were withdrawn for various reasons. Incidentally, Airglades seems to be making slow but steady progress, with a positive review by FAA of its draft management agreement and airport purchase and sale agreement, and increased support from key South Florida stakeholders.
After providing some useful context about airport privatization in other countries (where it has become almost routine), the report discusses various disadvantages of operating a U.S. airport after it has been long-term leased under APPP. Among the most important of these, in my view, is the unequal tax treatment of airport revenue bonds. As of now, a privatized airport can issue only taxable revenue bonds, compared with tax-exempt revenue bonds routinely issued by government-owned airports. This is quite unlike the situation that prevails today with long-term concession agreements for highways. Congress in 2005 authorized up to $15 billion in private activity bonds for highway public-private partnership financing, and that bond financing has been critically important for a number of billion-dollar-scale highway PPPs—including the highly visible express toll lanes on the Capital Beltway in northern Virginia. In the same spirit of providing a level financial playing field between privatized and government-run airports, Congress could also make federal AIP grant matching requirements the same, regardless of the airport governance model, rather than requiring a higher match from privatized airports, and allow per-passenger fees (PFCs) on the same basis for both types of airports. With FAA reauthorization on tap for next year, enacting this set of level playing field changes to APPP would be appropriate.
Thinking about this issue reminded me of a commentary that appeared at in May. Eamonn Fingleton’s piece was headlined, “If the United States Is a Serious Country, Why Can’t it Build a Serious Airport?” That’s a legitimate question, given the low rankings of U.S. airports in the latest Skytrax international rankings of the world’s best airports, none of which are American until #27, Cincinnati. All other U.S. airports were ranked considerably lower. What’s responsible for this dismal performance?
According to Fingleton the decisive factor is “free-market ideology.” He writes that “Modern American ideology makes it almost impossible to run a serious airport.” His model appears to be airport central planning in China and East Asia, in which large amounts of tax money are spent building airport Taj Mahals to showcase national glory.
But on the contrary, it may well be the non-profit, politicized state-owned-enterprise model for U.S. airports that is the real culprit in their relatively low rankings. There is evidence for this in the list Fingleton based his article on. Two of the top 10 airports on Skytrax’s list are privatized Zurich and Heathrow. Nine of the top 25 best airports are privatized, as are 17 of the top 50 and 30 out of the entire 100-airport list. Skytrax may or may not be the definitive source for “best” airports. But if he’s going to use that list to make a point, Fingleton should at least be honest about what the list shows. And it clearly shows that among the world’s best airports are those run at a profit as business enterprises.
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Growing Pains for Trusted Traveler Programs
On April 30th, TSA Administrator John Pistole testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, providing an update on the agency’s risk-based security (RBS) efforts in passenger screening. He stated that more than 40% of air travelers are receiving some form of “expedited screening”—including PreCheck members, people under 12 and over 75 years of age, and others selected by “real-time intelligence-based” programs that “identify passengers eligible for expedited physical screening on a trip-by-trip basis.” The latter may be referring to cases in which air travelers find the PreCheck symbol on their boarding passes for particular trips, without having applied for membership or being a premium-level frequent flyer program member (as reported to me by quite a few friends).
Unfortunately, it appears that TSA is also still using its Behavior Detection Officers to select passengers seemingly at random from those waiting in screening lines, moving them over to the PreCheck lane (where they generally don’t understand the expedited screening and hold everyone else up). In addition, a May 8 Bloomberg Business Week piece by Justin Bachman said TSA is also using a “randomizer” app at about 100 US airports. TSA uses software to “randomly choose whether travelers in the PreCheck lanes go left or right,” supposedly to deter terrorists from joining PreCheck, by creating the possibility that they might not get expedited screening after all.
My own recent travel experience suggests that PreCheck lanes are not handling anywhere near 40% of daily passengers, though I increasingly encounter lines waiting for access to that lane (or sometimes lanes). So there is room for improvement as TSA continues expanding the risk-based efforts. Pistole also told the Senate committee that “I see the future of TSA being the majority of passengers going through expedited screening through the TSA PreCheck or one of the other programs we have.”
But here’s a new problem, brought to my attention last month by former American Airlines Chairman and CEO Bob Crandall: expiration of membership in risk-based programs. As Bob related the story, in December 2008 he joined NEXUS, the Customs & Border Protection trusted traveler program for expedited crossing between the United States and Canada. Once TSA’s PreCheck began, he found that he started getting the PreCheck symbol on his boarding passes, without having applied or been notified by his primary airline (American, of course). In summer 2013 he also signed up for Global Entry, paid the fee, did the interview, and got the card. But in late December 2013, returning from a Caribbean trip, Global Entry did not work: the notice on the screen said his membership had expired.
After that happened, he also found that PreCheck no longer appeared on his boarding passes. After some digging, he learned that the following chain of events had occurred. First, NEXUS had been transformed into Global Entry Lite, and the two programs use the same membership number. Second, when his original five-year NEXUS membership expired (December 2013), he also expired from Global Entry itself, despite having been signed up for less than six months. Third, apparently that “expiration” also got him deleted from TSA PreCheck!
Being Bob Crandall, he was eventually able to get things resolved, he recently told me. But he has also concluded, based on this experience, that so far “there is no established procedure to notify Global Entry members that they need to renew, nor any agreed-on procedure for them to do so. New interview? New fee? No one seems to know.” And he’s concerned that the same seems to apply to PreCheck.
I paged through the GAO’s new report on Trusted Traveler programs run by CPB (GAO-14-483), to see if they had any awareness of this lack of renewal procedures for NEXUS, SENTRI, or Global Entry. While the report has lots of information and suggestions about enrolling in these programs, there is not a word about renewal. And as Crandall’s experience makes clear, that problem extends to TSA’s PreCheck, as well.
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Protecting Airport Approach and Departure Paths
I was surprised by a recent FAA announcement that they are considering changing their policy on “encroachment protection” for airports. Since here in Ft. Lauderdale we recently witnessed the demolition of a hotel near FLL, to provide adequate approach and departure clearance for the new south runway (to open later this year), I thought FAA pretty much called the shots on ensuring safe arrival and departure pathways.
But at least on the safety issue of dealing with one engine inoperative (OEI) scenarios, the agency apparently has only advisory authority, as explained in recent articles in Aviation Daily and the Wall Street Journal. Existing hazard determination for obstructions beyond runway ends assumes “nominal” aircraft performance. “Even upon the issuance of a Determination of Hazard, the developer is free to continue construction,” the FAA’s explanation of its proposed change says. And if the developer goes ahead with building such an obstruction, FAA then puts the burden on airlines to “mitigate the impact” by changing departure routes, reducing takeoff weight, etc. So the agency puts the burden on airlines to cope with potential safety obstructions to an OEI situation.
Because more and more obstructions are being built near airports, FAA has decided to integrate the OEI requirements into its regular Part 77 process for dealing with hazardous obstructions. The proposed change has been posted online, with a due date of June 27th for comments. Needless to say, many developers with planned projects near airports are objecting, and there are calls for FAA to do a benefit/cost analysis before proceeding any further.
The same day as the Wall Street Journal article on the proposed changes (April 28th), I also read a New York Times article about a related issue: a long-standing problem affecting the shorter of two runways at White Plains/Westchester Airport in New York. The airport is hard by the border between New York and Connecticut, so one of its neighbors is tony Greenwich. On the Connecticut border is a stand of trees, some of which have recently reached 75 feet. Greenwich officials consider the airport a nuisance, and required the land-owner many years ago to plant the stand of trees, nominally to protect an adjacent wetland. But the growth of the trees has already forced much steeper approaches to the runway, and might eventually make it unusable. But there is no chance of Greenwich allowing the trees to be cut shorter, which the local government of nearby Rye, NY did recently to help protect the airport’s main runway. The Times story quoted the Greenwich land-owner saying he cannot imagine the city’s land-use board lifting conditions (planting the trees) they imposed on him just to appease a “New York airport.”
Something is terribly wrong with this picture. The U.S. Constitution charges the federal government to prevent states from interfering with interstate commerce, which aviation definitely is. Why doesn’t the FAA have the authority to remove obstacles deliberately created to reduce the utility of airport runways?
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DHS Testing Biometric Exit Devices
Most of the discussion about people being in the United States illegally focuses on those who cross the Mexican or Canadian border without permission. But many others who are here illegally entered the country legally, on a valid visa. The problem is that they overstay their visas, and there is no system in place to check that visa travelers actually leave the country when their visas expire.
I was therefore intrigued to read an April 28th story on Fierce Homeland by Zach Rausnitz. In response to a congressional mandate to do something about people who overstay their visas, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing an automated system intended to verify that visa-holders leave the country. DHS’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) discussed various options at an April conference hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). CBP’s primary focus is airports with international service, and they are researching various alternatives for collecting biometric data from passengers on their way out of the country. Options being considered are fingerprint scans, iris scans, and facial recognition software. Such technology could be installed at a central airport location, at the entrance to each concourse, or at each boarding gate.
To test these various options, DHS is building a mock airport facility in Upper Marlboro, MD, which it hopes will be finished by the end of June. With a bit more than 25,000 sq. ft. of space, the building will allow DHS’s Science & Technology Directorate to test several different technologies at once. After testing them with people playing the role of passengers, CBP plans to select the best two approaches and test them at a real airport.
I see two conceptual problems with this effort. First, from what was described at the NIST conference, CBP apparently plans to take faceprints, fingerprints, or iris scans from all passengers at airports with international service—or at least all passengers making overseas trips. I’m surprised civil liberties groups and other privacy activists aren’t jumping all over these plans as yet another way for government to keep tabs on people’s travel and invade their privacy.
Even more fundamental is the plan’s basic flaw. The problem is not people who return home when their visas expire–the only ones this new effort will identify. The problem is those who stay behind without legal permission. This costly and intrusive new program, if implemented, will do nothing to find those who stay behind. And even getting a full count of all those who exit legally would require equipping not only all international airports but also all seaports and land border crossings—a much larger and more expensive task. Yet this would still do nothing about the actual problem of those who don’t leave. This reminds me of the old joke about the drunk looking for his keys under a lamp post—because that was the only place where there was enough light.
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Central Planning Picks a Winner for Love Field Gates
Two different kinds of central-planning interventions led to last month’s decision that Virgin America would gain control of the two gates at Dallas Love Field which American Airlines was required to divest as a condition of the AA/US merger.
The first intervention was the Wright Amendment, enacted by Congress back in 1979 to protect the brand-new DFW Airport from competition by Love Field-based Southwest Airlines. That federal law limited airline flights from Love Field to the states immediately contiguous to Texas. It was a compromise between supporters of DFW as the replacement airport to serve the entire metro area, on one hand, and Southwest and nearby Dallas residents who wanted Love to remain open with no flight restrictions, enabling Southwest to serve longer and longer routes as it grew.
Eventually, as DFW became one of the world’s busiest airports, the Wright Amendment was increasingly seen by most observers as an anachronism, especially since Southwest’s longer-range 737s enabled it to fly nonstop to both coasts from similarly small Hobby Airport in Houston. Eventually, in 2006, Congress agreed to phase out the Wright Amendment over eight years, with the last restrictions to disappear in October 2014. But part of that political deal was that Love Field would be permanently capped at its existing 20 gates. At the beginning of this year, 16 of those gates were leased by Southwest, two by American, and two by Delta.
The second central planning intervention was the Justice Department’s antitrust settlement, allowing the creation of today’s American Airlines via the merger of the bankrupt old American and US Airways. In the DOJ’s central planning framework, the merger could only be allowed if the two airlines gave up many slots at capacity-controlled LaGuardia (LGA) and Reagan National (DCA) Airports. But the merging airlines were not allowed to sell those slots to any willing bidder. In DOJ’s view of the world, they could only be sold to carriers DOJ considers “low-cost carriers”—a small set that it defined as JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America. So it was that those airlines eagerly bought up the LGA and DCA slots.
That left AA’s two gates at Love Field, which for reasons known only to itself, DOJ also required AA to divest. Since gates, unlike “slots,” are owned by the airport in question, Love Field’s owner, the City of Dallas, naively assumed that it could make the decision on who would take over AA’s unexpired lease of the two gates. That fantasy was in play during several months of sparring among Delta, Southwest, and Virgin America—each trotting out studies and projected service plans aiming to show that it would provide better value to the Dallas area and its air travelers than either of the other two.
On April 25th, Virgin America announced that it had reached a deal with American to sublease the two Love Field gates. The USA Today story that day said that “the Justice Department apparently advised American [that] it saw only one suitable candidate—Virgin America.” Dallas officials expressed umbrage at that, saying in effect that these gates belong to us, and we will decide who gets to use them. While the city talked bravely about nothing being final until the city council could deliberate and decide, American’s CEO Doug Parker spilled the beans on May 1st. In a speech at an aviation conference at UT-Arlington that day, Parker said, “We are using our best efforts to get those gates to Virgin, as we have been directed to do. . . . We have a signed agreement . . . to get the gates to the one airline we’ve been told is acceptable.” (emphasis added)
Despite Dallas City Council discussions following that event, by May 12 it was all over. The city manager approved the sublease by American of the two gates to Virgin America. The winning carrier will shift its Dallas-area operations from DFW (where it must compete for runway space with gargantuan American’s largest hub operation) to Love Field, where it will be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, competing largely with Southwest.
Entirely ignored by DOJ’s central planning approach to the airline industry were a number of other potential competitors: Alaska, Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit, to name just four viable players. Likewise ignored was the right of airport owner/operator City of Dallas to decide on the best use of its politically limited facilities. This is not how airline deregulation was supposed to work.
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Some Airport Subsidies Under Fire, in USA and Europe
On both sides of the Atlantic, government subsidies for smaller airports are under fire—at least to some extent. House Republicans are trying to reduce the scope of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, using new data from the Government Accountability Office, while the European Commission has released watered-down rules for state aid to airports.
In this country, GAO’s Gerald Dillingham told Congress on May 1st that EAS has ballooned from 94 small airports in 2002 to the current 160 airports, which has increased the annual taxpayer cost from $89.5 million in 2002 to $225 million in 2012. Planes providing service via EAS subsidies have average load factors of just 49%, compared with an average industrywide load factor of 83%. Part of the reason for such low occupancy is that many of the carriers are using planes too large for the traffic, such as 50-seat regional jets, because most of the older 19-34 seat planes have aged out and been retired over the past 20 years. DOT’s Susan Kurland notes that some EAS flights are now being operated with nine-seat planes that are a better match for the low traffic. The DOT proposed in late April that 13 small airports that don’t meet current EAS guidelines be dropped from the program, saving about $25 million per year.
Meanwhile, in Europe the final version of the state-aid rules that I reported on in the January issue have been released by the European Commission. The original draft would have restricted operating subsidies to airports handling fewer than 300,000 annual passengers. After vigorous lobbying efforts, the new threshold for operating subsidy is 700,000 passengers, but airports with up to 3 million annual passengers can continue to receive “transitional” operating subsidies until 2024, by which point they are supposed to be fully covering their operating costs out of their aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenue. State funding for infrastructure projects is allowed for airports up to 5 million annual passengers. And new restrictions will be imposed on special deals to induce airlines to start new routes to airports with fewer than 3 million annual passengers.
Nick McFarlane, in a white paper for U.K. consultant Helios, suggests that one way smaller airports can cope with a phase-out of operating subsidy is to share costly services such as control towers, by opting for the relatively new remote tower approach, under which several airports are equipped with various video and other sensing devices to enable surveillance and control of landings and takeoffs from a single remote location.
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News Notes
Airlines Signing Up for Electric Taxiing. Four airlines have signed agreements with the Honeywell/Safran team to do operational testing of its electric motor taxiing system, to power the main landing gear wheels using electricity generated by the plane’s auxiliary power unit (APU). Mexico’s Interjet in April joined European carriers Air France, EasyJet, and Go Air in testing the system. Under these agreements, the airlines will share data on taxiing procedures and operations, to understand the operational parameters needed at all the airline’s airports. Honeywell and Safran estimate that the system can save as much as 4% of fuel consumption on every flight of a typical single-aisle twinjet. Airbus signed an agreement with them in January to explore the possibility of integrating the electric taxiing system in its A320 line.
Unions Perpetuate 9/11 Screening Myth. In criticizing the FY 2015 budget proposal from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R, WI), the American Federation of Government Employees (the TSA screeners’ union) took aim at the increased outsourcing of airport screening proposed in the budget. The union falsely alleges that this would mean “returning airport security to where we were when private screeners failed to stop 9/11 terrorists from boarding the planes.” That is flatly untrue, since screening on 9/11 functioned exactly as it was intended to, given the lack of meaningful performance requirements from the agency responsible at the time, the Federal Aviation Administration. The real problem was one of intelligence agencies failing to connect the dots about the terrorists, as well as a political-correctness ban on “profiling” that made it impossible to use the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) as it was intended, to separate higher-risk passengers for additional screening at the checkpoints.
Cross-Border Airport Moving Forward. Making the Tijuana airport a dual-use (U.S. and Mexican) facility moved a big step closer to reality in April when developer Otay Tijuana Venture (OTV) reached agreement with U.S. Customs & Border Protection under which OTV will pay for inspection facilities on the planned pedestrian bridge across the border, as well as the salaries of the U.S. border inspectors. Many U.S. travelers already fly via Tijuana, but have to cross the border at congested crossings and then take a taxi to that airport. Construction is already under way on an expanded terminal at the airport, and may have begun on the U.S. side of the border by the time you read this. OTV is a joint venture between privatized airport owner/operator Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP) and Chicago-based Equity Group Investments.
Departure Management System for SFO Runway Project. Saab Sensis is deploying its Aerobahn Departure Manager at San Francisco International Airport to reduce delays while parallel runways 1R and 1L are closed for reconstruction from May 17 through September. The system will generate optimized gate departure times to minimize queuing on taxiways. Saab and Robinson Aviation will operate a departure metering coordination center to manage requests from airlines and terminal operators. The same Aerobahn Departure Manager system was used at JFK International in 2010 during a four-month runway closure, and because gains in efficiency were so large, the system has remained in operation ever since.
Texas A&M Outsources Airport Management. If you’ve ever flown to Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, your flight made use of university-owned Easterwood Airport. Given the airport’s out-of-date look and facilities, A&M has decided to outsource its management. It has signed a 10-year contract with Astin Limited (run by former FBO operator John Clanton) under which Astin will invest $7 million in capital improvements and $600,000 in marketing. The contract, which takes effect in June, also includes two optional five-year extensions.
DFW Expands Real Estate Developments for Added Revenue. Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport sits on land of several cities, including Coppell, Euless, and Grapevine. As a public-sector entity, its huge land area is exempt from local property taxes. Yet many companies would find it useful to locate facilities on the edges of this land, with convenient access to both the airport and local expressways. But the cities did not want competition from DFW for businesses that would pay property taxes if located on non-DFW land in their city. With help from Ricondo & Associates, DFW has figured out how to solve this problem. The key is negotiated agreements with these cities, such that developers on DFW land pay property taxes to the jurisdiction in question, while DFW receives lease rental income. An article in the April 2014 issue of Airport Business offers a detailed look at DFW’s success with this effort, which has helped it to achieve 65% of annual revenue from non-aeronautical sources.
Toronto Port Authority Launches Study of Runway Extension. In response to Porter Airlines’ proposal to launch jet service from Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport, airport owner Toronto Port Authority has issued RFPs for both a preliminary runway design and an environmental assessment of the project. The controversial runway extension would be required for operation of Porter’s planned fleet of next-generation passenger jets from Bombardier. Porter’s current fleet is entirely turboprop.
Charlotte Airport Governance Still Unresolved. It’s still unclear whether the airport commission created last year by state legislation will become the operator of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. The city government filed suit to prevent the commission from taking over the airport, and the judge hearing the case said he needs the FAA to decide whether or not to grant an operating certificate to the new body. In May the FAA responded that it cannot make a decision until either a state judge or the state’s attorney general decides whether or not the commission is part of the city government. “The governance structure must be addressed at the state and local level before FAA could determine” whether the commission can run the airport, the agency wrote.
Greece Seeks Proposals for $1 Billion Airport in Crete. The Greek government is seeking proposals from the private sector to finance, build, operate, and maintain its planned $1 billion New International Airport at Heraklion on the island of Crete. The new airport would replace the existing one at Bodrum, which is considered obsolete. The government has offered $301 million toward the cost of the project, which is planned as a 37-year concession.
Body Scanners Recycled to Prisons. The Los Angeles Times reported (May 17th) that 75 of the 171 backscatter body scanners that TSA removed from airports last year have been transferred to law enforcement agencies in a number of states, with 96 others at this point stored in the manufacturer’s warehouse. The agencies paid only a fraction of the original $130-170 million each, under a program for the disposal of surplus federal property.
Feedback on Detroit City Airport. Two readers provided additional information in response to last issue’s article about the prospects for restoring airline service to Detroit City Airport. One noted that due to a narrow main runway, Southwest (when it served the airport) could not safely land a 737 during wet conditions with crosswinds, and that adjacent cemeteries and a railroad line made it difficult to widen the runway. Another pointed out that Southwest had been promised a fenced employee parking lot and other security enhancements, which were not provided, leading to the airline’s decision to withdraw.
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Quotable Quotes
“Flying is safe and secure, and we should say it more often. Although we do not wish for further attacks on the industry, flying will remain the safest and most secure means of transportation, even after the next attack. However, that state of security came at a high cost. Before spending more money on an already very secure industry, let’s assess the value provided by each layer of our security model and find ways, through innovative approaches like passenger differentiation, to be more effective and efficient. Finally, let’s address head-on the irrational fear that is tainting the security reputation of our industry, through a more robust and focused communications strategy.”

—Yves Duguay, President, HCiWorld, “Risk-Based Security: What Is Acceptable or Tolerable?” International Airport Review, April 3, 2014
“Airports need additional funding, and the primary source of this funding—particularly for our large hub airports—is the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). The PFC’s maximum of $4.50 per segment, however, has not been raised since 2000, which has reduced its purchasing power by roughly half. To put it another way: the longer the PFC’s purchasing power continues to be stalled, the more expensive the necessary capital improvement projects become.”

—Kevin M. Burke, President, Airports Council International-North America, “Airport Priorities at Forefront of Infrastructure Week,” Aviation Daily, May 15, 2014
“Shooting is a muscle-memory thing. We got to shoot 200 rounds at the range a month—if you were lucky. You need to be shooting every single week to be accurate, and we weren’t. We were tested on the practical pistol course, which is used by most police agencies. You’re shooting targets from three, five, seven, 15, and 25 yards. We didn’t test on a tactical pistol course, which is harder and was designed specifically to train a guy to shoot in an airplane. On that one, you’re shooting everything from seven yards, but it’s in quick succession. That got phased out in the summer of 2002 because it was too difficult to pass. They couldn’t get enough guys through. So you have no way to say, we have this number of guys who are qualified to shoot a gun inside an airplane. I’m not trying to say these guys weren’t good guys, and I’m not saying these guys couldn’t shoot well. But if something bad happens, they’re not going to say that our standard of training was too low. They’re going to say that the field agent hit an innocent bystander, and that’s inexcusable. They’re not going to blame it on their own administrative decisions. I’m coming forward because all of this needs to be said, if it’s ever going to be fixed. These problems have existed for a long time, and people need to be held accountable.”

—Allen Robinson, retired Federal Air Marshal, “How Air Marshals Make Flying More Dangerous,” New York Post, May 4, 2013
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