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Former Airports Council chief says U.S. lacks aviation facilities, policies, mindset to move forward

The retired president of the Airports Council International/North America said Monday that the nation’s aviation policy framework and mindset are overdue for a complete overhaul.

Speaking at an event sponsored by DePaul University’s International Aviation Law Institute (IALI) and Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, Greg Principato said that the United States does not have the facilities, policies or mindset as a country to position itself as an economic hub in a globalized future, noting that the recent FAA shutdown, sequestration and federal government shutdown have only underscored the need for a new approach.

“We have an aviation policy framework and mindset that were formed when the main purpose of aviation, in our minds, was just flying people around the United States,” he said. “They were formed when China was an insular communist disaster, when Korea was decidedly third world, when the Gulf Arab countries had little ability to act outside their own narrow frame of reference, when Singapore and Hong Kong were exotic places to film James Bond movies.”

While those situations changed years ago, U.S. aviation policy has evolved little since the deregulation of 1978, Principato asserted, arguing that this portends the same degree of problems that faced the U.S. steel and automotive industries in the past three decades if change does not occur.

“This is a global market, a global industry and these are global decisions with global consequences,” he urged. “Just because we invented commercial aviation doesn’t mean we have perfected it. The landscape has changed, and we have not.”

Principato stated that American people and policymakers take aviation for granted and do not comprehend the problems facing the system. He said our nation’s competitors have global ambitions and global strategies, and are looking decades ahead.

He said any vision for the future should set the 50 largest airports, including Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports, free from existing federal programs and allow smaller airports to opt in or out of the program, adding that once free, a given airport could impose a fee without limit, understanding that airlines could choose not to serve their communities if it is too large.

“That’s the incentive for airports and airlines to work more closely together,” Principato said.  “In fact, the best airport leaders around the world will tell you that having that kind of financial freedom means they work more closely with their airlines, not less.”

This is the third time IALI and the Chaddick Institute have jointly invited a major national speaker to DePaul University to discuss transportation and aviation policy. IALI Director and Distinguished Research Professor Brian Havel said, “With O’Hare’s recent opening of a new runway, airport policy is high on the city’s agenda and the two institutes brought a speaker with long and broad experience in this area who could help local transportation leaders, but also policy officials nationwide, to imagine the necessary next steps to restore U.S. dominance in civil aviation. Principato’s lecture offered a dynamic entrepreneurial approach to running the nation’s airports—an approach that fits with the mission of both DePaul institutes to encourage new thinking in U.S. transportation policy.”

For more information about the lecture or IALI, please contact IALI Executive Director Stephen Rudolph,