U.S. airline and airport leaders met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday.
What follows is a summary of Thursday’s happenings and their implications.
Quotes From Public Pool Record of Trump Meeting
Trump on Infrastructure
POTUS congratulated airlines at succeeding “despite the bad equipment that the airport gives you, in many cases”
“I have a pilot who’s a real expert,” POTUS said, noting that his pilot has said airlines are often provided with “the wrong stuff.”
“Let’s order the right equipment. Probably the wrong equipment cost more.” POTUS said.
Trump on Passenger Experience
“We want the traveling public to have the greatest customer service and with an absolute minimum of delays.”
Trump on the Middle East
“We spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we got nothing.” POTUS continued.
Trump on Infrastructure (Again)
“And we have an obsolete plane system, we have obsolete airports.”
Trump on Regulations
POTUS said his polices would soon start helping companies like airlines hire more people, including “rolling back burdensome regulations” and “lowering the overall tax burden of American businesses”
Trump on Taxes
“Over the next two or three weeks” POTUS says there would be an announcement that would be “phenomenal in terms of tax”
Trump on U.S. Automotive Industry
POTUS said before the airline meeting began that automakers had praised their meeting with the president afterwards : “They left, they said it was the best meeting they ever had”
Trump on Delta
“Delta’s doing well.” POTUS quipped to Bastian when he introduced himself.
Trump on Delta’s Hub
“We’ll make it number one,” POTUS joked to the head of LAX, who said her airport was the seventh largest airport in the world.
Upon being informed that the Atlanta airport is the largest, POTUS remarked that he loves the state of Georgia.
Trump on ATC Improvements
Southwest spoke first and said the top priority for helping airlines would be to “modernise the air traffic control system” noting that money spent on the system has not helped improve it in the past.
“I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack.” POTUS said of the air traffic control system.
POTUS inquired as to why airline corporations had allowed the government to invest in a faulty system. Southwest informed POTUS that the airlines are not “in control” of those decisions.
POTUS said that the system could potentially work better if FAA was run by a pilot because it is not currently, as a meeting attendee confirmed for him.
The FAA has since responded to POTUS remarks on NextGen ATC:
The FAA has spent $7.5 billion in congressionally appropriated funds on the air traffic modernisation program known as NextGen over the past seven years. That investment has resulted in $2.7 billion in benefits to passengers and the airlines to date, and is expected to yield more than $160 billion in benefits through 2030.
NextGen is one of the most ambitious infrastructure and modernisation projects in U.S. history. Its successful, ongoing rollout is the result of rigorous acquisition, program and portfolio management, and stakeholder engagement with the airline industry and other members of the aviation community. The FAA invited airline stakeholders to help develop the blueprint for NextGen and they continue to have a seat at the table in setting NextGen priorities and investments through the NextGen Advisory Committee.
While airlines hoped to hear a clear promise that Trump would apply his “America First” strategy to airline policy, encouraging a re-vamp of Open Skies which would protect U.S. carriers in their competition with foreign Low-Cost Carriers and Gulf carriers, the President chose instead to begin the meeting by pointing out that those foreign airlines also contribute to the American economy.
President Trump conceded the point of the Fair and Open Skies Group that some foreign carriers benefit from government funding, but shifted focus to foreign carriers’ aircraft purchases and hiring of staff in the U.S.
The results of this frustrated agenda are reflected in comments issued by the groups following the meeting, which in effect repeat an appeal for intervention and argue the case again that U.S. airlines contribute the most U.S. jobs.
From the Fair and Open Skies Group
“We appreciate President Trump’s time and his attention to the challenges facing the aviation industry,” said Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies. “We are particularly gratified that President Trump is focused on longstanding trade violations by the UAE and Qatar that are costing American jobs. With $50 billion in foreign government subsidies to Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, our U.S. carriers are at a competitive disadvantage that is costing American jobs. It’s time to enforce our agreements and stand up for the 300,000 airline workers whose jobs are at stake. We look forward to continued discussions with President Trump and his team.”
From Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian
Following the meeting, Bastian shared the following: “I appreciate the opportunity to meet with President Trump today along with colleagues from across the industry and look forward to continuing our efforts to make U.S. aviation great. We had a positive discussion about many of the major issues facing U.S. travellers, airline employees and the aviation industry, which is a vital economic engine for America. I look forward to working with President Trump, Secretary Chao, Secretary Tillerson and other members of the administration on issues important to Delta, our employees and our customers. Delta has been leading the charge to expand and upgrade our nation’s airports, with extensive improvement projects planned and underway at major Delta hubs. At Delta, we plan to hire 25,000 people over the next five years with the support of a level playing field globally.”
The Competition Carries On
For now, the decision by the USDOT to allow Norwegian Air International to operate direct flights from Ireland to the U.S. stands. The stipulated period for the President to reverse the order has elapsed. That is not to say that Donald Trump couldn’t backtrack in future, but he has yet to do so.
It also seems unlikely that Donald Trump would frustrate Boeing by taking sides with U.S. carriers against Gulf carriers at this time.
The winning airline in the Trump meeting would be American Airlines whose CEO Doug Parker did not attend.
Parker “already has been in touch with the White House regarding this conflict,” Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines told Bloomberg. “Doug shares President Trump’s commitment to modernising our nation’s infrastructure and looks forward to working with his administration to ensure all Americans have access to safe and efficient air travel.”
Parker appears to have had a keen sense of the limitations of what could be accomplished at Thursdays meeting: promises of better aviation infrastructure and a rolling back of regulations already set in motion through an earlier Executive Order.
Big Win for Airports
U.S. Airports, on the other hand, had good reason to celebrate, if President Trump is to be taken at his word. The comparative length of their full statement suggests that they got the most points in during the meeting.
From Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA)
Airport directors representing Airports Council International North America (ACI-NA), the industry trade association for commercial service airports in the United States and Canada, today participated in a meeting with President Donald J. Trump, senior White House officials, and Airlines for America at the White House. During the meeting, airports and airlines discussed opportunities to improve the passenger experience, modernise airport infrastructure, and create jobs in local communities across the United States.
ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke joined ACI-NA members participating in the meeting, including William R. Vanecek, Director of Aviation, Buffalo Niagara International Airport and Chair of ACI-NA; Ginger S. Evans, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation; Deborah Flint, CEO, Los Angeles World Airports; Patrick J. Foye, Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Joseph W. Lopano, CEO, Tampa International Airport; John E. Potter, President and CEO, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; Robert R. Wigington, President and CEO, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.
We greatly appreciate the Presidents persistent, vocal support for building airport infrastructure as a key component of improving the passenger experience, rebuilding our nation, growing our economy, and creating jobs, said Burke. We had a very productive conversation today that focused on our commitment to improving the passenger experience at airports across the United States.
During the meeting, the President stated four times that America must modernise and rebuild our airports, said Burke. We can quickly fund and undertake these much needed infrastructure projects with no federal budget impact by giving airports more control of local investment decisions. We estimate that 2.1 million jobs could be created while enhancing the passenger experience simply by removing federal limits on the local user fee known as the Passenger Facility Charge.
Policy priorities raised by airports included:
- Airport Infrastructure: ACI-NA urged the President to modernise our ageing infrastructure by getting Washington out of the way of local investment decisions. These decisions should be locally controlled. The simplest policy solution removing federal limits on the local user fee known as the Passenger Facility Charge and restoring decision-making to local airports would allow needed projects to move forward quickly with no federal budget impact.
- Aviation Security: The United States can enhance aviation security and improve the international arrivals process by ensuring TSA and CBP have the officers and technology necessary to provide effective and efficient screening of passengers. ACI-NA also urged the President to expand TSA PreCheck® and other Trusted Traveler programs to reduce security screening wait times, which are a source of great frustration to travellers.
- Air Service: ACI-NA asked the President to help improve air service options by giving airports more flexibility in spurring competition and attracting more airlines to their communities.
- Air Traffic Control Reform: We shared our concerns with the President about potential reforms to air traffic control management. If the benefits are to be realised, investment is required in all phases of flight, including airport runways and taxiways, ground based equipment, satellite data systems, cockpits and control towers. The governance structure must include all stakeholders if it is to be successful.
Key Airport Facts:
- Nearly 1.2 million people work at Americas airports. Airports support nearly 10 million jobs in local communities across the country. Airports contribute more than $1.1 trillion in economic output annually.
- The average airport facility in the United States is more than 40 years old. The youngest large hub airport is 21 years old.
- Americas airports have more than $100 billion in infrastructure needs over the next five years. That’s more than $20 billion a year.
- The U.S. may see increased investments in airport construction, if the budget for this can be found.
- U.S. airlines should find other ways to compete with foreign carriers.
- Foreign carriers can continue with plans, at least for now.
- Air Traffic Control improvements will probably default to FAA NextGen program, but the Administration may run into a bit of a controversy on deployment.
- Passengers, crew, and the industry should carefully monitor the impact of rolling back of regulations under the President’s 2-for-1 Executive Order. While this sounds like a lovely idea (read cost-savings measure) we have fewer fatal accidents and incidents worldwide because of those regulations, crew already have limited rest periods and other rights, manufacturers will want to protect their IP investment on products which meet stringent requirements, and passenger legroom isn’t getting any better.
At least one item plaguing aviation and travel in recent days was resolved through a key decision in the U.S. Courts which reverses the President’s problematic Executive Order on immigration. The President has vowed to fight this decision.