Transportation secretary Foxx urges airlines to work together on infrastructure, technology

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx encouraged airlines to continue to work together to address looming industry problems — such as increasing travel demand, severely lacking infrastructure and a need for cutting-edge technology — at the International Air Transport Association’s annual general meeting Monday morning.

“Our task now is to continue working together to create those connections,” Foxx said. “Because every time a plane takes off, so does a career, so does an idea, and so does business. We have challenges ahead of us, and that’s absolutely the case.”

Foxx joined a record number of attendees — about 1,000 — at IATA’s 71st annual general meeting in the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, the first time the group has met in Miami.

Highlighting the aviation industry’s infrastructure problems, Foxx said while it has its challenges, the industry is also making strides with technology like Next Generation Air Transportation System, dubbed “NextGen,” a satellite-based navigation system replacing ground-based systems.

“NextGen is already saving our planes from traveling millions of extra miles, wasting gallons of extra fuel, reducing thousands of tons in CO2 and spending time on the tarmac,” Foxx said. “But we need to finish that job. NextGen must become ‘ThisGen.’”

Among the speakers at the three-day meeting was Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, who addressed a recent report indicating Transportation Security Administration agents failed to confiscate contraband during 95 percent of tests conducted by Homeland Security.

Mayorkas said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “takes the latest test results very seriously” and reiterated previous statements that TSA will take steps to respond to the report and address its vulnerabilities.

Tony Tyler, director general and CEO of IATA, said this year’s meeting is only the fourth time in 70 years that IATA’s annual general meeting has been held in the United States.

“The location of our meeting is relevant to both our history and our future,” Tyler said. “We’re just a short distance from Havana, where IATA began. And one of the most anticipated outcomes of the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba is the reestablishment of scheduled air routes.”

In a press briefing, American Airlines chairman and CEO Doug Parker, who was elected president of the annual meeting, said American Airlines is prepared to provide scheduled flights to Cuba if travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba change.

“We very much hope that relations improve to the extent that scheduled services are available,” Tyler said. “For the industry, it’s a great opportunity. It would be great to see Cuba to take on a more normal complexion, and as to whether we’d go back there — certainly, we’d love to go back to have another meeting in Cuba.”