The Transportation Research Board is an incredibly impressive body composed of academics, engineers, civil servants and practitioners of all modes of movement- aviation, highways, marine transportation, motor carriers, pedestrians and bicyclists, pipelines, public transportation and rail. Its annual meeting is a “must attend” for all who participate in these businesses; the Board Chairman’s Luncheon is a moment when all stop to listen to wisdom. Words said there have impact.
Secretary Foxx, recently sworn in as the Department of Transportation’s chief executive , was asked to assume this bully pulpit. His topic sentence of his speech made it clear that he was going to use this opportunity to define his vision for his stewardship of all of the modes within his purview, as he said:
“I want to talk with you about my priorities as Secretary of Transportation.”
What he said, all of his words are on the above link, must be most disappointing for those committed to aviation. In 2,377 words of what defines what the Secretary plans to do during his tenure, NextGen and aviation/airports were hardly mentioned. There was no specific definition of an aviation project as one which he plans to move.
Secretary Foxx’s primary reference to aviation is mentioned in his opening joke. He cites his 9 year old daughter’s list of aviation goals (every seat should be first class; airplane bathrooms should be bigger; airlines should invent something to stop your ears from popping). That is very humorous, but nothing of substance.
He immediately recites the deficits which highways have as infrastructure. That statistic, Secretary Foxx states, puts the US “puts us behind Barbados – a country with one airport.” Thereafter his speech mentions transit, MAP-21, bridges, “warm-mix asphalt”, income inequality, safety, buses and other points of major concern to the CEO of DoT. He does touch on aviation, but it is again a point of reference, not a matter of priorities; his words:
“…twenty percent off the price tag of MAP-21 is $21 billion, enough to pay for airport upgrades and the cost associated with NextGen.”
This seminal speech of the Secretary before TRB sends a subtle, but clear message that aviation is not on his radar screen. That’s incredibly disappointing and suggests that all in aviation need to improve Secretary’s aviation focus.
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