American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said Thursday that he hadn’t noticed any change in international travel in the weeks since President Donald Trump announced his support of an executive order suspending immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
“What we do know, over the last few weeks we haven’t seen a material decline in travel from international destinations,” Parker said. “But at the same time there has been a lot of capacity added, so there’s lower fares too.”
American Airlines, Fort Worth’s largest employer, does not fly to any of the seven countries listed on Trump’s initial travel ban, which was blocked in court. The executive order spawned protests at American Airlines’ hub, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
“We don’t fly to any of those countries, but certainly we had some customers who were transiting over some places we do fly to . . . and there was some difficulty, but it wasn’t so much by airline employees,” Parker said. “They arrived and there was some confusion over if they could be in the country or not. That led to some events going on in airports that made it difficult for some of our customers tmno get into airports, things like that, but that was a one-time event. I certainly hope that won’t happen again, but it was handled much more by government officials than airline officials.”
Parker was in Washington on Thursday for the 2017 Aviation Summit, a gathering of aviation industry leaders. He scrapped his prepared remarks to take questions from the audience assembled at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on a variety of topics, including revisions in air traffic control and the influence of Middle Eastern carriers in the U.S. market.
Parker, along with executives from United and Alaska airlines, stated his support for privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system and opposed the expansion of government-subsidized carriers like Emirates in U.S. markets.
“You’re taking a lot longer to get from one place to another because of the system we have in place,” Parker said of air traffic control. “It’s archaic versus what’s in place in other countries.”
Commercial airline carriers support a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania that would turn over control of air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private nonprofit with congressional oversight. The bill made it out of the House Transportation Committee last Congress but did not move to the House of Representatives’ floor after some Republicans objected.
“I know that will continue to be a major piece of contention,” said Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, who opposes the legislation. “It divides the aviation industry.”
Opponents of the legislation include general aviation pilots and groups that would see increased fees if a private entity took over. Parker argued that private jets would save money in the form of decreased fuel usage due to a more efficient air traffic control system if the legislation passes, which would also have benefits for the environment.
Hours before Parker’s remarks, Bob Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, welcomed Trump’s Twitter attention to help change the air traffic control system.
“Clinging to the technical residue of another age is the last thing we want to do. The people in this room can make this happen,” Crandall said. “If you’re a member of Congress, lend Chairman Shuster your support. If you’re part of the administration, grab this and run with it. It’s a classic example of the kind of forward-looking investment on which you ran for election. And tell your big boss to start tweeting out those who claim to want smaller government and more efficiency.”
“The airlines need a safe and reliable system and they, like the controllers, want the better tools,” Crandall said. “This concept has been adopted by more than 50 other countries in one form or another. No country that has made the change has ever sought to change back.”
Trump had unnerved Fort Worth’s third-largest employer with a series of tweets in December, threatening to move business away from Lockheed Martin unless the cost of F-35 fighter jets went down.
Curtis Tate contributed to this report.