Can you explain what MWAA is and your role with it?
MWAA is the acronym for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority—the governing board for two of the region’s major airports: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and Dulles International Airport (IAD). I am a member of the Board of Directors and co-chair the Finance Committee. There are 17 members of the Board: seven members from Virginia, appointed by the Governor; three members from Maryland, appointed by the Governor; four members from the District of Columbia, appointed by the Mayor; and three members appointed by the President of the United States, and by statute creating the Authority, cannot be residents of the DMV. I have served on the Board as a representative from Virginia two different times: 2003-10, appointed by then Governor Warner; and 2016-present, appointed first by then Governor McAuliffe and reappointed by Governor Northam. Serving on the MWAA board is a non-remunerative position.
What is important to know about the significance of MWAA to the region?
Beyond the obvious—that DCA and IAD are two of the premier airports in the country to fly from or to—they are a critical economic engine to the region. 187,200 jobs, directly and indirectly, are supported by MWAA and produce about $23.6 billion in economic output. Note: These numbers are all pre-pandemic, so a critical focus for the Finance Committee as well as the entire Board and management is to restore passenger traffic and the jobs and businesses that depend on the thriving airport.
What is something that most people don’t know about airports and air traffic?
That’s a great question. Over half of the revenue for IAD and DCA (also true for most major airports) comes from non-aviation sources: Concessions, restaurants, shops, parking, rental cars, and so much more that is essential to MWAA’s financial stability. Obviously, revenue from flights—airline fees, passenger fees, etc.—is a critical part of our operations, but the synergy between aviation and non-aviation business cannot be understated.
What are the challenges facing airports and airlines due to COVID and what can travelers do to help the recovery?
Those are two very important and interrelated questions. At the simplest level it is just rebuilding confidence in flying, which will not happen by wishing for it. Our focus is on safety, comfort, convenience, and affordability, and I suspect that you would get the same answer from anyone in the aviation business. Interestingly, during the pandemic, technology has been both a benefit for business and an impediment to restoring business travel—a major source of revenue—especially in the mid-week. The use of remote business connectivity (e.g., Zoom) has made organizations, both large and small, less reliant on in-person meetings. The MWAA Board has not had in-person meetings since March 2020, and although I miss the human energy of being in a room with my colleagues, we have not been limited in any way from conducting business. As far as the role of travelers are concerned, it is pretty straightforward: We want travelers to choose flying to get from point A to point B because that is their preferred way to travel. So, a little “soapbox advice” for travelers flying during the pandemic: Wear masks, maintain social distancing in the airport, follow the instructions from the flight crew, and be a little Zen and try to relax.
Is serving on the MWAA Board a career move, and, if so, how did you transition from a career in finance to this?
I have had what looks from the outside like four careers. Two were how I earned a living: Education—I was an administrator and faculty member at The George Washington University for eleven years; and Finance—I started an investment advisory practice in Old Town Alexandria from which I retired at the end of 2016 after 35 years. Two were voluntary: Politics—I was an elected member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Alexandria City Council; and MWAA. In the case of the latter two, although the time commitment might have felt (or does feel) sometimes like a job, they were not. No one makes you run for office or accept a political appointment, but both are no less rewarding. There is an old saying, trite as it may sound, that if you love what you are doing, it is never work.
Looking back, what are the experiences you remember from being a part of the Saints community?
Enduring friendships is the first thing that I will always reflect upon. I began at St. Stephen’s as a junior and on literally my first day of football camp, when I really didn’t know anyone, David Bill (Class of ’62) introduced himself, showed me around, and made sure I was welcomed as though I had been there forever. We have been great friends ever since. Every few months, some of my Saints contemporaries meet for lunch. What we talk about operates under the cone of silence, but after almost 60 years since we graduated, we still maintain that bond. However, there is one other thing I want to mention: In the cafeteria, near the serving area, there is a plaque honoring Bessie Livingston, who ran the cafeteria for many years. I hope those who are students now will look at the words inscribed on the plaque and reflect on the message, and maybe someday I can visit and tell you why she was so special.