A Podcast Series Hosted by Andy Tellijohn
Welcome to the AXiNsider podcast!
AXiNsider is an interview-style podcast featuring in-depth discussions with the professionals, leaders and wave-makers working to steer the industry toward growth and innovation.
Stephen Van Beek, Steer
AXN’s Andy Tellijohn engages Steer’s director and head of North American aviation, Stephen Van Beek, in a discussion of the possibilities 2021 holds for traffic and profits.
The city of Kansas City is moving forward with plans for the concessions program inside the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport (MCI). An RFP will be on the street in mid-January. Whether it results in a single operator running the entire program or a dozen operators splitting the space, the proposal will result in a single contract that city officials think will be more palatable to financial markets offering support. The city and its consultant, ICF, will host a virtual meeting on January 12 and 13 through the virtual reality platform Virbela, where bidders can learn more. Firms can register at: www.FlyKCI.com/Concessions.
Sam Whitehorn, Principal & Co-Founder, Elevate Government Affairs
This episode is an update to our pre-election conversation with Sam Whitehorn, episode 7 released on October 29, 2020.
The election is, well, likely almost over. Most of the prominent races that featured candidates with a history of supporting transportation funding were won by the incumbent candidate. The election of Joe Biden likely means negotiations with Congress will be at least a bit calmer over the next four years. And, even if the Georgia Senate run-offs in January result in divided government, infrastructure is generally a bipartisan issue, with influential members of both parties in favor of putting money into projects in all phases of transportation, including airports.
Lise D’Andrea, President, CEO & Founder, CXE
While there’s still a lot of uncertainty around when airports might start truly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated it since March, there are some positive signs in terms of hiring. A survey of its clients conducted by CXE earlier this year indicated that nearly two-thirds were starting or planning to start bringing back substantial portions of its pre-pandemic work force. Many of those companies also have started spending more time focusing on improving the employee experience, with plans to communicate regularly, train aggressively and regularly recognize and show them appreciation for their work. These strategies, in both the short- and long-term, could help improve the overall travel experience for passengers.
Sam Whitehorn, Principal & Co-Founder, Elevate Government Affairs
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have both promised significant infrastructure bills during their campaigning for president. There aren’t a lot of details as to what their plans would include or how they would be funded. But the need for significant upgrades to roads, bridges and airports across the U.S., coupled with the ability to stimulate the economy and get people back to work, make it likely that either candidate, if elected, would make such investments an early priority.
Roddy Boggus, Vice President and Aviation Buildings Service Group Leader, RS&H
As the industry prepare for eventual recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, several other factors are affecting what the industry might look like in the future. Millennials are becoming more prominent and powerful and they’re less likely than older passengers to spend money on food or retail when they travel. So, as airports look to find ways to convince travelers they are safe, they also must deal with the likelihood of changing passenger habits that could affect the layout and mix of the entire experience.
Christina Cassotis, CEO of Allegheny County Airport Authority
Traffic at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) is running at about 30 percent of 2019 levels. But that doesn’t mean the airport has nothing going on during the industry-wide COVID-19 crisis. The airport delayed the groundbreaking on a $1.1 billion modernization project, but spent time rethinking design aspects of its future terminal that airport officials hope can mitigate the impact of potential future health outbreaks. PIT also has begun development of its Pittsburgh Airport Innovation Campus, which aims to attract participants in the 3D printing industry to the airport, furthered its solar and natural gas developments on the way toward unveiling its self-sustaining microgrid, and diversified its non-aeronautical revenue formula with a foray into the cargo business.
Bill Swelbar, Chief Industry Strategist with Delta Airport Consultants
Initially, Delta Airport Consultants’ research indicated the possibility that by the end of 2020, traffic could be back as high as 40 percent of 2019 levels. The recent second-wave of COVID-19 cases around the U.S., however, and the accompanying announcement by several carriers that they would shrink capacity after Labor Day, indicate a slower recovery, with regional air service likely to experience the greatest suffering. A slow return to flying by businesses and ongoing restrictions on international travel also represent a drag on a potential recovery, meaning it’s likely three or four years or more before traffic even approaches the record year that 2019 was for many airports.
Rian Burger, Senior Principal specializing in Airports for Stantec Architecture
While COVID-19 has had a disastrous effect on travel, it’s pushing airports to make many changes that have been talked about for years. Enhanced cleaning processes and touchless transactions are among ways the industry is getting healthier. Airports should consider furthering those enhancements and going a step further by diversifying revenue streams going forward to ensure that pandemics or other disasters don’t have the same kind of impact in the future.
Julie Wienberg, Vice President of Aviation Infrastructure, HNTB Corp.
The COVID-19 health pandemic will eventually be in the past and signage reminding travelers to socially distance and wash hands may go away with it. But this is likely not the last pandemic this country will see. Whether it’s building with materials that are easier to clean, increasing the availability of touchless options for passengers or designing security measures that ensure the health and safety of travelers and those who work at the airport, increased awareness of the implications of health-related incidents will create long-term change in the airport experience.
Nick Baker, CEO and Creative Director, SmartDesign Group
Vancouver-based Smart Design Group has benefited significantly from its work in aviation design. So, as the effects of COVID-19 ravaged travel counts across the world, Nick Baker wanted to give something back. He’s offered his company’s services for free to members of the Airport Minority Advisory Council in order to help smaller businesses navigate changes necessary to consider reopening. While he’s optimistic and hopeful that the effects of COVID will be a memory in the next couple years, he’s also got some ideas on how the industry can evolve to win back the confidence of travelers and emerge stronger as travelers return.