WORLD ROUTES: Five Minutes with… Nick Calio, President and CEO, Airlines for America

Q) How does A4A work with airlines and organisations in the US?

A) “Airlines for America (A4A) is the trade organisation for the major US carriers. We work to foster a business and regulatory environment that ensures safe and secure air transportation and enables US airlines to thrive, stimulating economic growth locally, nationally and internationally.”

Q) What are your key projects or priorities at the moment?

A) “One of our top priorities is the creation and implementation of a National Airline Policy, which will help make flying better for passengers and shippers by reducing taxes, reforming regulations unrelated to safety and modernising the air traffic control system, to make flying even safer and more efficient than it is today. Enhancing the global competitiveness of the US airline industry will enable airlines to contribute to jobs and the economy even more than they do today. A4A is working closely with members of Congress to determine how best to advance it.”

Q) Why have A4A been campaigning against the proposed pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi?

A) “For starters, it establishes a disturbing precedent in which the US government is picking winners and losers in the international aviation business at the expense of US airlines, their customers and employees, and our local and national economies. American taxpayers are also being forced to foot the bill for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to back a government-owned foreign competitor – essentially handing them a strategic competitive advantage over US-based carriers.

"Finally, this plan diverts critical resources away from an existing problem that needs to be fixed – the long Customs waits that greet travellers arriving at major US airports. Our own government is making it easier to get into the US through Abu Dhabi than it is at JFK. We started a campaign, Draw the Line Here (, which urges the public to get involved and let their voice be heard by the White House, DHS and Congress on this issue. So far, more than 3,000 people have sent letters.”

04102013 Routes News
The Latest Issue of Routes News.

Q) Why do you view this pre-clearance facility differently from existing ones at Dublin and Shannon?

A) “Shannon and Dublin airports are both served by US airlines. Abu Dhabi, which ranks 80th in average daily passenger arrivals in the US, is not served by a single US carrier. What’s more, despite the fact that airline passengers are waiting in unacceptable Customs lines when arriving into major gateway US airports, DHS plans to use US taxpayer dollars and resources to establish the Abu Dhabi pre-clearance facility. We need DHS to fix the lines here first before spending any money outside of the US.”

Q) Would you oppose any other future pre-clearance facilities at other airports around the world?

A) “Our position is that no US taxpayer dollars should be invested outside the US before Customs alleviates the long waits at our own ports of entry. We simply cannot understand why our own government would use US taxpayer dollars to pay for pre-clearance services in Abu Dhabi, which averaged only 573 passengers per day in 2012, while passengers are waiting several hours to clear Customs at some major US gateways.”

Q) How would you describe the current ‘health’ of the US airline industry?

A) “We are on the right track. It has certainly been a difficult decade with dramatic increases in fuel costs and the financial crises of 2008/2009. But the airlines came through that difficult period and are managing costs better than ever before. Profit margins, while still narrow and often dictated by factors outside their control, are increasing.”

Q) In what areas do you believe US airlines are leading the industry globally?

A) “We are currently experiencing the safest period in US aviation history. This is in and of itself a tremendous achievement. At the same time, US-based airlines are leading the world in expanding choices for passengers, allowing them to customise their journeys like never before. They are also constantly improving technologies that allow for more on-time arrivals, more seamless check-ins, and better baggage tracking. According to the US Department of Transportation, 2012 was the best year in a decade for these important benchmarks for customer satisfaction. We are committed to getting even better.”

Q) Do you work with Brand USA?

A) “Brand USA is working with A4A’s coalition to reduce wait times at customs for travellers entering the United States. Together, we are working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to put in place programmes, like Global Entry and other technology solutions, to expedite passenger processing.”

Q) Do you work with international partners?

A) “We work closely with The International Air Transport Association (IATA). Like us, they support many areas of aviation activity and help formulate industry policy on critical aviation issues. We also work closely with other regional airline associations in Asia, Europe and Latin America, and the manufacturers of products and services supporting the regional airline industry.”

Q) In what ways do you use social media?

A) “Social media has become a critical tool in our efforts to communicate with the flying public and receive their feedback. We have also used it to ensure air travellers have a voice and are heard at critical points in policy debates. When the FAA furloughed air traffic controllers earlier this year, resulting in thousands of flight delays, A4A, the airlines and airline passengers spoke directly to Congress through the Don’t Ground America campaign. A week later, Congress acted swiftly and the furloughs were stopped.

"We hope we don’t have to reactivate the campaign, but we will if necessary to protect our passengers and the safest air travel system in the world. You can follow us on Facebook at the National Airline Policy page, on the A4A YouTube channel and on twitter at @AirlinesDotOrg and @Natl_Air_Policy. My personal twitter is @nickcalio.”

Q) What is your vision for the airline industry in the US in the next 10 years?

A) "The next decade holds tremendous promise for the US airline industry. I believe they will continue to grow, continue to create jobs and continue to enhance and improve an already stellar record of customer service and safety. How much they grow will depend on whether or not the federal government re-examines the importance of the airline industry to the US economy and the burdens placed on it. At the same time, we will continue to invest in the technology updates necessary to help the industry better serve our passengers and be more competitive globally. This is the entire premise of the National Airline Policy.”

This article was reproduced and edited from an original story that appeared on our sister publication Routes News. The latest bumper World Routes edition of the official air service development magazine is available in your delegate bags or can be read online by clicking here.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…