The importance of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s visit to the Regional Airline Association annual convention in Nashville this afternoon is not so much what he said, but what he heard.
Truth be told, LaHood (second from left) did not really break any new ground in his comments here or comments to reporters afterward: Even with his strong words in support of Essential Air Service funding, for example, he would not specify where if anywhere the administration would draw the line against proposed cuts to the program. See story here (AWIN subscribers only).
But a cabinet-level official has never visited the RAA convention before, RAA officials say. Getting LaHood here meant he had to deliver a speech full of U.S. regional airline statistics he might otherwise not have known; it gave an RAA board full of regional airline CEOs the chance to talk to him privately and directly to emphasize the industry’s needs; and in making the rounds of the exhibit hall he got a better if still too fleeting feel for where the industry is heading.
“You account for more than half of our nation’s commercial flights” and “75% of the U.S. communities with airline service rely on you,” LaHood said in his speech, which is the kind of stat you want to have sink in with the person who is going to have a hand in the decisions that affect your industry. In his meeting with the board, RAA President Roger Cohen says, the board members talked to him about the important of EAS, NextGen, long-term funding authorization for the FAA and existing or looming shortages for aircraft mechanics and pilots. On the latter, the RAA even got some action: LaHood says he committed to the creation of a group of regional airline and Transportation Department leaders to consider ways the government can support the development and training of more people who can fill those positions.
Of course, the government has created plenty of committees and working groups that did not result in substantial action. But U.S. regional airline industry leaders can hope that what LaHood heard and learned today will stick.