Greg Principato

Season's Greetings 2017

It's the end of 2017 so this will be the last article we publish this year. Today, we'll share with you audience stats (of loyal readers like you) and highlight the best read articles of 2017. Let's get started.

Airport Workforce Development is Hotter Than Ever

Some time back, I wrote Airports Compete for New Talent about the challenges presented to today’s airport industry by the continuing need to attract, retain and develop airport talent.

Whereas most people think the biggest airport challenge is security or air service (important, of course), what really occupies the minds and conversations of airport executives is meeting this challenge. As Dan Parsons said in the first of his excellent three article series, “At some point, the job (of airport executive) becomes less about technical expertise and more about leading people.”

The question has become, where are those people coming from? Why are they different than what I am used to? And, how do I deal with all this? THOSE are the questions I most hear airport leaders discussing in the bars and restaurants – places where they can feel free to talk about any subject on their minds.

As I wrote back then, this was once an industry in which most talent came through certain pipelines and tended to stay through their careers. All of that has been upended. Many of those pipelines exist, certain schools still have good programs, and many people still obtain certain certifications. But the overall picture is uncertain and unsure.

Airport People Power: Diversity

People top view

People top view

This is part three of a series where I explore concepts associated with people management, inspired by Greg Principato's post on the key concern of airport executives: people. Part one is on discipline and part two on development.

So far, we’ve discussed people management techniques that apply to your current workforce. This article relates more to building or replenishing your team in a way that should see its output increase. It is also a relatively controversial concept.

The reasons why workforce diversity is still a “special interest” activity rather than part of our “day to day” varies. It is likely to be a combination of poorly implemented corporate policy, fearful entrenched management and, even cultural prejudice (be it racism, sexism, agism, etc.). It might also be because diversity interventions can conflict with a person’s morals and values.

To help us avoid some of these problems, we’re are going to look at two limited premises - the benefits of diversity and unconscious biases - and one technique leaders can use to embrace and promote diversity. And unless otherwise stated, this article considers diversity across multiple domains including gender, disability, ethnicity, etc.

Diversity is Better Business

There appears to be at least two different types of arguments that diversity is not only good business but better business. The first category puts forward that diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams. The second category argues that with society becoming more diverse generally, businesses need to embrace diversity in order to maintain their workforce.

In the first case, research abounds with comparisons between businesses said to be more diverse and those considered less with results said to show that the first group outperforms the second. The diversity being examined includes numbers of women on the board, gender in the general workforce (.docx file), and ethnic diversity in the general workforce.

Since the numbers all vary, readers are encouraged to explore these and other links to satisfy themselves on whether performance and diversity correlate.

On the second point, demographics of western society typically show that the representation “traditional” white, male workforce is shrinking relative to other sections of society. In non-western societies, change is also occurring due to globalisation and an increasingly mobile society.

In order to attract and retain this “new” workforce, business has to embrace diversity (often referred to as diversity’s twin, inclusion). In a competitive job market, those companies and those teams that work to foster an inclusive environment, will get their pick of the talent. Why would you want to shut out a growing segment of the labour pool?

Barriers to Better Business

And yet people, leaders and team members, still put up barriers to diversity. The reasons may vary with fear, apathy and ignorant bliss as examples but this author believes that they are always rooted in some internal bias.

These biases may be deep-rooted prejudices or they may be rather superficial rules of thumb based on experience or the cultural context in which one has grown-up. Sometimes, they might be rather explicit and conscious or they can be quite unconscious. It could be argued that all biases have an unconscious root*.

It’s Not Your Fault

Unconscious biases are a product of our experiences. As we have travelled through life, we have learnt things, who to trust, what works well, where danger lurks, and we have constructed mental models of the world to guide us in future decisions. Interestingly, it is just as much about what we don’t experience that can bring our mental models undone when the world changes around us.

Take for example the Australian business leader that was “humiliated” in front of a large audience when a strong diversity trainer called him on stage with a Torres Strait Islander woman. In turn, he was shown that the woman on stage struggled in life due to personal characteristics he didn’t share and that he had never even thought about them, either positively or negatively.

This often manifests in an attitude that there isn’t a problem in need of fixing and even minorities are not immune. At a Women in Airports Breakfast held a couple of years ago, the panelists, three very successful airport leaders, were asked about pay disparity between men and women. In response, all three stated that they had never had a problem with their own remuneration and, in the aggregate, dismissed the questioner's concerns. Those familiar with this issue will be able to point to research that shows that "women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio".

The Challenge is to Challenge

So, if we accept that diversity is essential to future success and that we may be operating on unconscious biases, what can we do about it?

The answer is to challenge our decisions regarding our team. Obviously, this relates to selection decisions but it also includes the requirements we set for positions, the feedback we give our current team and the individuals we identify for development opportunities.

At first, it is worthwhile to just challenge your own decisions and choices. Ask yourself, why do I prefer Dave over Ramona? The answer might not even be that you have always had a man in that role. It could be that your childhood friend was named Dave or that your first ex-girlfriend was named Ramona**. Once you have identified any biases, you should be able to look past them.

In organisations actively promoting diversity, they may have implemented procedures designed to challenge potentially biased decisions. In some HR departments, they have been instructed to challenge essential requirements put forward by hiring managers. They are asking questions like why is a degree from particular colleges required and why do they require past experience with certain companies? And in other cases, job advertisements must pass an additional stage gate where an independent manager must review the content for potentially biased language.

In all these cases, the result of the challenge may be that nothing changes. Dave might be the best candidate for the position and that job might require a Stanford education with experience at a management consulting company. The point is that these decisions were challenged and, over time, a more inclusive bias will become the norm.

From Decisions to Concepts

The natural progression from challenging decisions is to begin to examine the concepts behind these decisions. For example, if we go back to Dave and Ramona and our essential requirements for their job, through the process of challenging these decisions, we might end up challenging the concept of “best candidate for the position”.

Let's say that Dave is better at the job. You can pick the measure by which this assessment is made, past performance, advanced qualifications, original research that has progressed humankind’s understanding of the field, but the assumption is that he is better. If selected, Dave will become a part of your team and a social dynamic now comes into play. How will Dave contribute to the team environment as compared to Ramona? Are we even considering this as part of the selection process?

In the graph below, we are assuming that Dave is “better” at doing the job and that Ramona is “better” in terms of contributing to the team. What constitutes “better” now depends on the role and the dynamics of the existing and even future team. This picture is not a rule for assessing men versus women, experience versus new ideas, or Anglo-Celtic versus Latin heritage, it’s just a hypothetical example.

Airport People Power: Diversity Graph

Airport People Power: Diversity Graph

The graph offers three ways of comparing the two of them and coming to a decision of which to select for the role in your team. The left hand version could be described as the “best person for the job” approach and, interestingly, could be considered the most anti-discriminatory. It doesn’t consider gender, age or ethnicity at all. The middle graph considers the potential impact of diversity on the team and considers it in tandem with the traditional approach. Maybe Ramona becomes the “better” choice and maybe Dave is still your preferred candidate. On the right hand side, the technical aspects are reduced to the minimum requirements, a simple tick of the “can they do the job” box with the diversity score added to the base. Here Ramona is the clear choice because of what she may add to the team.

Which approach to take is always the choice of the hiring manager but at least now they might be challenging their approach within the context of what they want to achieve. If diversity is important to them they’ll tend to the middle or right. If performance is important to them, where might they go?

If there is one thing that is true for this field of business, is that discussion is necessary. If we are to do diversity “right”, we need to bring in a range of points of view. To that end, we welcome your comments and feedback below.

* Some very introspective or mindful people may have explored all their own feelings to establish their biases but I would consider these people relatively rare.

** After writing this, I became completely aware of how biased towards a male reader this article is. Perhaps this is because this is the audience that needs to read this, or that I perceive that female leaders are under represented in the airport sector generally or that I am a closet misogynist - I hope its not the latter.

Photo: Header by 

Timon Studler

/Unsplash, graph by author

Airport People Power: Development

This is part two of a series where I explore concepts associated with people management, inspired by Greg Principato's post on the key concern of airport executives: people. The first article in the series looked at discipline.

There seem to be a million internet memes on developing your staff with the “what if we don’t and they stay” posting on LinkedIn on a seemingly four-week cycle. So, it seems almost needless to discuss why we need to invest in our teams but we will, briefly, and then will move into some ideas on development that won’t break the bank.

Faster, Better, Quicker

Continuous improvement is a hallmark of modern business and it doesn’t just relate to safety. Stock holders in publicly-listed airports expect growth & returns, customers expect increased service & amenity and executives want to deliver on these expectations. One of the biggest problems for airports, is that the infrastructure to deliver on some of these expectations takes time to build. In the meantime, we often expect our people to do more with what they have.

But this is only the start of the story. You can’t just dump these expectations on people without creating an environment that encourages and supports the growth in the people we need to support the growth in the business.


A second big argument for developing your people harks back that well-trodden meme I mentioned earlier. The third point in that discussion, for me, would be, “if we don’t invest, they (the good ones at least) will leave”. Part of what people think of as being talented, is having the drive to learn, grow, progress. If our people aren’t getting this from their job, they will look for it elsewhere.

Development as an incentive is a great retention strategy. This author has definitely stayed on with a company offering a development opportunity where alternate career paths were available. It must be remembered, however, that it’s not a guarantee. Some people will leave after having developed a new skill at your expense. The goal is to, with respect to your overall program, think in the aggregate rather than the specific.

Personal Satisfaction

Another great reason for taking a strong stance on development is that it can be greatly rewarding from a purely personal point of view. In spite of all the worry associated with people leaving after you have invested time and money in them, seeing a team member that you have supported and developed leave to take a new opportunity; one that they wouldn’t have dreamed was a possibility before, is exciting and extremely satisfying.

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The Three Es

In a lot of internet and company literature, development activities are often broken down into experience, exposure and education. They even have a rule regarding how much of each but we’ll get to that in a moment.

  • Experience can be described as learning by doing. At its most basic level, this is on-the-job training of new team members to bring them up to the minimum standard. Moving beyond this, experience involves assigning team members work beyond or outside their current duties.
  • Exposure is similar to experience in that it is often a workplace setting but it doesn’t involve any actual doing. It often includes work shadowing or even mentoring. It can also include attending a networking event or a conference.
  • Education is the more traditional view of development typically involving off-site training in either short or longer term, formal settings.

Now the rule often cited in relation to the three Es is 70:20:10 - as a breakdown of the ratio between the three activities. Some sources seem to cite this rule as descriptive rather than prescriptive but it's not a bad guide to use in development planning.

So which ratio relates to which activity? Experience should represent 70% of the development plan, exposure should make-up 20% and education is the other 10%. As the bulk of development should relate to experience, let’s look at a great approach to using it in the development of a team member.


Work hardening is a metallurgical process by which a material is strengthened by incrementally straining and releasing a piece of it. Using stretch in development is a similar concept but more mental than physical, of course. A stretch project is a task or project that is thought to sit beyond the team member’s current job level.

Assigning a team member a stretch project works on a couple of levels:

  • Firstly, it challenges the team member and fights against stagnation and boredom.
  • It can (should) lead to a sense of achievement, pride and increased job satisfaction.
  • It also, perhaps selfishly, gets an important project done.

This may seem like exploitation and, if not initiated from a position of collaboration, it could be. It is, therefore very important that the development discussion involves whether the team member is looking for a stretch assignment, in what areas they want to develop and what is their current capacity to take the project on. A stretch project should always be a collaborative decision and for a manager, extra care should be taken to avoid implied expectations - i.e. if you don’t take this project, you won’t be considered for other development opportunities.

Supporting a Growth Mindset

It takes a supportive corporate culture for stretch to work. Much like the implied expectations mentioned above, a culture that doesn’t accept failure will not support stretch projects. No team member will accept a stretch project, if they see it as a poisoned chalice. A positive culture is one that cultivates a growth mindset.

A growth mindset puts learning at the forefront and, as such, comes at the world with a certain set of assumptions. The big ones associated with the discussion here are:

  • Challenge is a part of learning.
  • Effort leads to learning.
  • Criticism is for learning.

Does this mean failure is an option? It depends what you consider a failure. Mistakes are inevitable and are not be feared. Failure will only occur when the goals are not clear, the team member hasn’t fully accepted the project and the manager isn't supporting the project. This is not a set and forget activity.

Building Momentum and Keeping it Up

A support structure is essential to the success of a stretch project. If the company has a formal project management process then this is a good place to start but regular documented meetings looking at the project itself as well as the needs of the team member are a minimum. Since time is often our most precious commodity, it is also our most precious gift. Schedule time to support your team member and their success will be your success - see the personal satisfaction section above.

In the final article of this series, we will take an exciting look at workforce diversity in the airport field. As always, please feel free to contribute to the conversation below with a comment or feedback.

Airport People Power: Discipline

Airport People Power: Discipline


This is part one of a three part series on approaches to airport people power inspired by Greg Principato's post on a key concern of airport executives: people.

At some point in the careers of most airport managers, the job becomes less about technical expertise and more about leading people. There are plenty of books on leadership, business and management by more eloquent, intelligent and talented people than this author. But in recently building a new airport team and operating model in a challenging regional airport environment, three areas of focus came to the fore.

The first of these is operating discipline. This area is, by far, the most foundational. It takes significant work to set up but it has a long lasting effect.

Operating discipline isn't some militaristic objective with a view to everyone doing exactly the same thing, marching to the beat of a drum played by the manager. It should not be considered or implemented as a restrictive regime limiting the free will of frontline staff.

But we can't escape the fact that many aspects of airport operations, such as security, airside safety, customs, quarantine, etc. are highly regulated with prescribed standards. Furthermore, there can often be unforgiving consequences to errors either through regulatory sanctions or real-world impacts to people and property.

class="p1">So how do we create an environment that ensures what needs to happen happens and still lets people have some ability to exercise creativity and initiative?

Focus on Outcomes

Airport People Power: Discipline

It might seem too easy to simply say “set the destination, not the route”, but let’s consider this approach first.

The reason for anyone to do anything, in business, is to realise a desired outcome - to achieve an objective. That outcome could be to declare the runway serviceable, to confirm a passenger’s eligibility to enter your country or to have a clean floor.

By starting out from this position, you and your team members will share the “vision” of what the process is trying to achieve. This can be powerful; Especially if the subsequent process you design doesn’t result in the desired outcome or the variables outside of the original plan get in the way. Sharing the vision will help make the process more resilient and self-correcting, but more on that below.

The Verb in this Situation is Build

What you build is completely up to you but generally there would be documented descriptions of the work required - call them Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), Standard Work Practices (SWPs), it doesn’t matter what the name is.

As you build, keep in mind the old saying often attributed to Einstein, “everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”. Be critical of everything that goes into any work process. There is danger in too much, it will be too difficult, ignored or circumvented, and there is danger in too little, parts of the work missed altogether or the ramification of certain results not understood.

Sometimes there is no room for creativity. A manufacturer’s requirements on a pre-start test of a walk-through metal detector is a pretty specific process. If the equipment has to checked at 15 points with a test piece in a specific orientation, then that’s what has to happen. There is no way around that.

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Developing Processes

While not advocating a specific approach to developing these work processes, it is strongly advised that whatever approach you take, it is consistent in itself. After all, that is our objective here.

If you do go down the SOP route, make up a standard template, use code references, date the procedure, use versioning, have standard pre-task activities, icons to highlight hazards and a standard approach to numbering steps. Set a culture of meeting expectations but set them with your team.

Here are some tips to help with the process:

  • Talk to the people that do the job - Hopefully, those in your team currently doing the work know how it is done, collectively, at least. They are the best source of information for what you want to set as the documented process.
  • Observe the work - Sometimes what people say they do and what they actually do is different. This is not necessarily a comment on their honesty but often the best operators can’t articulate what they do.
  • Manufacturers’ requirements - When dealing with equipment, it is best to listen to the people that designed and built it.
  • Risk-based approach - Consider conducting a risk assessment such as a Job Safety (or Step) Analysis.

Adding in the Airport People Power

Obviously, simply having a documented process is not going to result in predictable outcomes on its own. Training in the process will be required as will time to hone skills and develop experience. Let’s save this for a future article.

Continuous Improvement

Try as you might, you won’t get everything right the first time. Even if you did, the environment might change or new tools become available. This is where a set of continuous improvement processes are required.

The first practical process to consider is how are corrections or improvements documented for changes to be made. There is probably nothing easier than using a red pen, literally. Have a supply of red pens handy and whenever anybody identifies an issue with a process, ask them to write the details down on a copy of the process using red pen and give it to the person responsible for making changes.

Airport People Power: Discipline

In addition to people learning on the job, it is also good to bring in fresh eyes on a regular basis. Observations of the work in action are invaluable but don’t focus just on adherence to the process. Have observers also consider the objective of the process too. It might be that circumstances have changed and what used to produce the outcome you wanted, isn’t working anymore.

Discipline requires effort - both to build and to maintain. When so much is at stake, safety, security and compliance, we can’t afford to lose it.

In my next article, we will explore the development of airport people beyond the basics, on-the-job training and experience. In the mean time, we are also interested in hearing about our readers experiences, please leave a comment or feedback below.

Images: Header via Flickr, dartboard by Rob Ellis, grade by Dan Parsons.

Brexit US Aviation: What is the Impact?

  Editor's Note: Although the publishing hiatus was planned for July and August, we simply could not resist writing a post on Brexit, so now the break will be in August and September. This time off publishing will be used to improve the website, launch a new airport service and relax a bit. We will be back in October with a new post. Until then!

I was originally scheduled to write a follow up to an earlier post on the increasing challenges airports are facing in attracting and retaining talent. This is an important issue, and it is the subject that is likely to occupy much of an airport executive's time and thoughts when he or she has a few moments and can think about almost anything (I always say that the best clue to what is important to you is what you think about when you can think about anything at all). And I know from experience that the search for talent is a subject very likely to be discussed when airport executives are having a drink together. But given the recent Brexit vote, and the Istanbul attack, I decided the talent piece could wait until after the summer.

Brexit Through American Eyes

The Brexit vote was barely a couple of weeks ago as I write this, and already a good deal of ink has been spilled by people writing about it (and given the backstabbing in the British Parliament, a good deal of figurative political blood as well). What I would like to do is to talk about it from the perspective of an American; and an American who has spent a great deal of time in, and dealing with, the EU and one who works in aviation.

What you first must understand about the reaction in the US to Brexit is this: It is about us. Here in America, it is always about us. While some of us (myself very much included) care deeply about what happens politically and economically in Europe and in Britain, the overwhelming majority of Americans want to know how it will impact them. The rest is just academic, elitist, detail (and in our newly populist politics, academics and elites are not very popular here, just as they have proven not to be in Britain).

So, when Donald Trump said that the falling British pound was a good thing because it would bring more people to his golf course, most Americans just shrugged their shoulders. He was looking at it the same way they were. Most Americans don't own a golf course, but those who might want to travel spent a lot of time looking at exchange rates and air fares.

Yes, the US stock market took a big hit the first couple of days. Ironically, the financial second quarter ended on June 30th and the quarterly retirement statements we get from our retirement accounts might have gotten some attention if they took a hit. This is where Brexit might have become real to us in a personal way. But the pre-Brexit stock market rally (when most people thought Brexit would fail), and the rally since have the market about where it was when this all started. So, people have started getting their statements and there was no negative impact in them. If three hundred million people shrugging their shoulders could make a noise, that's what you would hear. But shoulder shrugging is a silent activity, and there will be no noise. Indeed, those (like Trump) who thought Brexit was a good thing might even use this as evidence that post-Brexit economic fears are overblown. Your vacation is cheaper, your retirement account is fine. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Brexit and the Presidential Race

On the political side, again remembering that to most Americans it's all about us, Brexit is a sort of Rohrsbach Test. What you see and think largely depends on your predilections before the vote. If you love Donald Trump then it just shows that the elites and politicians are driving our countries into the ground and we need massive change and we need to "take our country back."  If you love Hillary Clinton, you see it as more evidence that the world is an uncertain place and we need a steady hand at the tiller.

Another thing to look for going forward, though, is the extent to which Brexit leads to distasteful outcomes, whether economic, social or political. If it leads to economic distress and social meltdown; resulting in polls showing a lot of buyers remorse, it could persuade enough independent American voters who wanted to vote Trump to send a message, figuring he could never actually win, to reconsider that choice. As Eugene Robinson said in a Washington Post column recently, "catharsis is not a plan." Absent that, though, Brexit is likely to only reinforce whatever views and leanings Americans already had going in.

Oftentimes "off year" elections (such as those for Members of the European Parliament), are used as protest votes, resulting in unusual outcomes but minimal actual consequences. I wonder if the Brexit vote was such an occasion. Except this time consequences are real. I wonder if that may be a cautionary note for some who want to vote Trump seeking to send a message.

Everyone Hates Trade

Indeed, the major loser in the US presidential contest so far is not any one candidate, but the whole idea that international trade and commerce is a good thing. Candidates are racing to the fringes on this issue over here, and the Brexit vote and resulting rhetoric will do nothing to stop that. It is lousy economics, but right now it is good politics to be against trade and international commerce.

Everyone Loves Political Intrigue

One further thought on how Americans are viewing this: The betrayal, if that's what it is, of Boris Johnson by Michael Gove only adds to the enjoyment for Americans. For those who think Britain is all about Downton Abbey, this House of Cards element is quite juicy indeed. It may even elevate the reputation of Britain around here. 

There are some of us, though, who are a bit more thoughtful about this. The Brexit vote leaves me very concerned about the future of Britain. There is a lot of focus on what Scotland might do, rightly so. Perhaps a more interesting question lies in Ireland. Once this is implemented, that is where Britain's only land border with the EU will be located. As border control seems a major motivating factor in the Brexit vote (and seems a major motivating factor in Michael Gove deciding to throw Boris Johnson under the bus) it is hard to imagine that big changes will not be coming in Ireland. I greatly fear for the roll back of progress that has been made there over the years.

Demography is Destiny

If you had told me 30 years ago that Britain would take this vote and that there would be a major disagreement between young and old on the outcome, I would have guessed the split would be exactly the opposite of what occurred. Given the success of the EU in transforming a war torn continent, and the memories my contemporaries and those older would have of the post-war years, I would have guessed they'd vote to stay, while younger people who may take their freedoms to work and travel for granted, might vote to leave. That, in the end, it was exactly the opposite, is an interesting subplot. Those who opposed the outcome the strongest have to live with it the longest. (yeah and only 30% of the young voted!)

US - British - European Engagement

This vote should call into question the wisdom of those who think NATO has outlived its usefulness. Even those in the "Leave" camp said that NATO keeps Britain and the US tied together with Europe in the most meaningful way. I would guess Hillary Clinton will try to point this out to Donald Trump (who has called NATO outdated and said the US should reduce or even end its involvement); but I don't think most people will care.

On the aviation side of things, I know the US State Department had a meeting with key stakeholders the day after the vote to talk about what might happen from here. Will Britain have to revert to Bermuda II? Can Britain be covered by the EU agreement, or some hybrid? ACI Europe has called for the internal aviation market to continue to include Britain. Several airline leaders have said the same. Indeed, airline CEOs were among the most prominent "Remain" supporters. In the end, Britain will leave the EU, but it is hard to believe the aviation landscape will be allowed to change much. But then again, a lot of things have happened this year that are hard to believe.

Many of the European low cost carriers are reassessing their plans, and even the countries in which they hold operating certificates, after the vote. For Americans this will become very interesting since many use those airlines (Easyjet, RyanAir, Vueling etc) to get around Europe on their holidays.

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I recall a conversation with a friend who works for the EU commission. I said to him that it took the US two centuries to go from a country with a barebones Constitution to one that started regulating what can go into certain foods if they were going to be called certain things. Europe was attempting to do this in a few decades. I wondered if Europe was moving too fast; especially since Europe does a poor job of explaining itself to people and getting their buy-in. My concerns were dismissed by my friend, but I do think this is a lesson.  

In a more recent discussion, I was speaking with an American friend who is much more conservative than I am. He was reading into the Brexit vote what he wanted to see, that it is a vote against elites and a vote to take their country back. To him, the EU was a faceless mass of regulations. I pointed out to him the role the EU has played in changing the political face of Europe. That in the decade before they joined, Greece, Spain and Portugal had all been dictatorships, and obviously the Eastern European members were part of the Soviet bloc (to me, this is the EU's greatest achievement). He hadn't even stopped to consider any of this; may not even have been aware.

The Brexit vote is a story of self-inflicted wounds. Cameron's disastrous decisions. The EU's reluctance to better explain itself. The untruths and distortions during the campaign on all sides. But this American thinks those wounds will have ramifications for years to come, that it is not all about whether my upcoming trip will be cheaper, that the achievements of the past are never assured, and that the future looks a bit murkier than it did a couple of weeks ago.


I can't sign off without at least mentioning the Istanbul attacks. I have previously written on security twice in this space and have always stated that attempts to ensure some kind of perfect security were a fools errand that would only mislead the public.

In my aviation security post and aviation security update I have made the point that many of the steps we take to provide "more" security are counter-productive and will only serve to provide terrorists with new and even richer targets of opportunity. In other pages, I have also criticized the media for hyping the fear we are all supposed to feel, and for feeding a sense that someone should be able to provide perfect security every day. Every now and then I get criticized for these points.  Especially after an attack.

But there is no perfect security. Everything we do to improve, the terrorists study and try to beat. That will go on forever. Now, some people want to move the security perimeter further away. All this does is move potential targets around, indeed by creating new bottlenecks in harder to secure areas, it actually creates softer targets.

One of the most frustrating moments in the post-Istanbul coverage in the US was hearing a CNN anchor express surprise that the Istanbul airport was open the day after the attack. How could they be so....resilient?! I saw a tweet from a local reporter in Washington that included a picture of an empty Turkish Airlines ticket counter the next morning. The tweet noted the Istanbul airport is open but the ticket counter is empty. It did not note that the one daily flight from Washington to Istanbul wouldn't leave for 12 hours and that's why the ticket counter was empty.

One of the best American commentators on homeland security is a woman named Juliette Kayyem. She is the author of a new book called Security Mom, and is a welcome presence on CNN, where she provides commentary. She is a welcome antidote to the voices of so many who insist we can have perfect security and must find blame when we don't. Her message is that there is no such thing as perfect security (unless we want to become North Korea or unless we just stay home, in which case incidents of bathtub falls and accidental gunshot wounds would likely spike anyway). That we must allow for our freedom and for our country to function, while providing the best security we can. And that when something happens, we must learn from it and keep improving.

That's the true lesson from Istanbul and Brussels. Learn what happened. Get better. Stay vigilant. Ensure intelligence is of the highest order. But maintain our freedom. Resolve to be resilient. Keep moving forward. And remember that terrorism doesn't truly work if we don't provide the "terror" in response to these ghastly acts.

Just prior to publication Theresa May has been selected as Prime Minister and she has appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister. Some Americans will look for evidence in the Prime Minister's ascension that might auger well for Hillary Clinton. They appear from various news accounts to have a fair amount in common. More likely though, many Americans will think it's almost as if Hillary Clinton appointed Donald Trump Secretary of State! For me, frankly, it looks as if Britain has become fortunate with this choice. A steady hand is required and the new Prime Minister appears to offer just that.


Anti Open Skies Campaign, What Happened to It?


Dedicated to Brussels Airport

Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump.

Got your attention?

For the past eight months a reality TV star, businessman, celebrity, whatever other word you want to use, has been leading the race for the presidential nomination of one of the two major parties in the United States. There is a lot to be alarmed and surprised about. But as I thought about this post, while watching another in an endless series of interviews, debates, town hall meetings with the candidates, I started thinking about…Open Skies. Seriously.

Trump has spoken a lot of words in this campaign. And a huge (his favorite word) percentage of them have been about international trade deals. About how the United States is getting ripped off by China, Japan, Mexico, you name it. Indeed, this is his major global organizing principle. It permeates everything he talks about. Why does he want Japan and South Korea and Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons (he has said this by the way, or at least said he’d be good with it)? Because they beat us at trade, have a bunch of our money, and can afford it, while we can’t afford to help them so much any more. Why does he want to re-negotiate NATO (yes, he’s said this too)? Same reason. In fact, just before I hit the send button on this piece he said that he was basically going to invoice NATO members he does not feel spend enough on defense. He believes the United States has been taken advantage of, we have been losing economically, that it is because we have had weak leaders, and he will change all of that. It is his organizing principle and he fits his views on any number of international issues into it.

Clinton and Sanders Don’t Like Trade Either

Donald Trump isn’t the only one. A candidate on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders (a self proclaimed Democratic Socialist, believe it or not) has talked almost as much about unfair deals, poorly implemented. He has even started to pull Hillary Clinton in his direction on some of those issues.

So, you would think, given the rhetoric of many U.S. airlines about the supposedly unfair deals between our country and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (or to be more precise, the unfair way in which some U.S. airlines say those countries are implementing them), that Trump would be all over this; saying it is an example of American fecklessness. This issue seems to be teed up for Trump, and for Sanders as well.

Indeed, Trump often talks about the airports in Dubai and Doha and compares them unfavorably to those in the United States (something he has in common with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden). You might recall that U.S. airlines often like to point to the level of investment in those very airports as evidence of unfair trading practices.

So, how much do you think Trump talks about this? Well, the next time he talks about it will be the first time, to my knowledge. If the situation was even a fraction as bad as some U.S. airlines like to claim, he would be all over this. And remember, this is a guy who does not normally have much nice to say about Muslims and Muslim countries either. Again, this seems perfectly teed up for him. But…..silence.

Anti Open Skies Issue has No Political Traction in U.S.

Why is that? In retrospect, it is one of the most surprising things about this presidential campaign, and it has been a campaign long on surprises. Add to this that Trump once owned an airline and was part of the industry. It’s just kind of incredible to me.

Maybe the reason is this: there is so little to the argument some U.S. airlines are making that not even Donald Trump will join in!

At this point it is useful to recall some things I said in an earlier post about this.  I first wrote about this topic in April, 2015, Open Skies: What U.S. Airlines Really Want. I pointed out then that when the airlines were using this issue largely to position themselves to gain advantage in legislative and regulatory fights, their campaign made some sense.  And I think they may have gotten someplace.  But, as I wrote in July, 2015, Open Skies: An Update they started to take themselves way too seriously, started to believe their own propaganda, forgot the larger context in which U.S. relations with these countries exist (Iran, terrorism, ISIS, etc.) and they also made it personal.  Well, maybe that last one would not have scared away Donald Trump.  But they have so over-played their hand that they are not taken seriously any more, even by Donald Trump.

Sure, they maintain a twitter account and, I guess, a Facebook page (I’m not on Facebook). But the major aviation legislation for the year has been introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress with nary a mention. No one seems to be paying attention. The airlines pushing this are getting nowhere fast. They can’t even get Donald Trump interested!

What I do sometimes hear these days is U.S. airlines using the subsidy issue; not as a way to get new routes, or lower government taxes, or a better regulatory outcome; but as a way of explaining to their customers why their own service is so much poorer than that offered by the Gulf carriers (or by other foreign carriers, for that matter). We don’t get billions in government aid, they say. So we can’t have nice lounges and spacious comfortable cabins, or high end food and beverage. Don’t get me wrong, U.S. airlines are actually making some strides in these areas, including in their airport lounges (though some of that is from competition by the likes of American Express which has opened Centurion lounges in several major airports. It is a terrific product, by the way). But their product remain inferior to that of many international carriers, especially in the Gulf and in Asia.

In retrospect, it is almost funny that so many were so concerned a year or so ago about how this debate might turn out. I suppose there may still be some life in the argument, and no one pushing it has done anything close to surrendering. But for those who worried that the United States was in danger of overturning the entire international aviation regime, and setting back a quarter century of aviation liberalization; well you don’t have to worry about that so much any more.