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Delta CEO Shares Insights At ACI-NA Conference

Data sharing and an increase in the cap on Passenger Facilities Charges will likely continue to be divisive issues between airlines and airports, based on comments made by Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian on Wednesday.

Speaking at the annual Airports Council International – North America conference in Minneapolis, Bastian said privacy issues would thwart any meaningful efforts to share data. Airports and their concessionaire partners have long sought a data-sharing arrangement with airlines, because such data would allow them to enhance the passenger experience and maximize profitability.

“Not that we don’t want to share, but as soon as you start talking about customer data, you get into privacy issues,” Bastian said. “You want to make sure what data you have isn’t being sold, isn’t being marketed or being shared against the customer’s consent.”

Bastian did acknowledge the large and growing amount of data held by the airline, garnered mostly through the Delta Air Lines app. “We have tremendous amount of data around our customers,” he said, noting that the carrier is using it to improve operational activity and predictive analytics.

Regarding PFC charges, Bastian maintained that he is against a cap increase because it would add costs to passengers. Airlines, he said, “care as much as the airports about the quality of the experience and candidly, in some places, even more.”

He pointed to the significant investments Delta and other airlines have made. “We’re always pushing for more in, in terms of making that investment,” he said. “Delta has invested, over the last five years, $12 billion of its own money. This is part of who we are, in terms of taking ownership.” He added that airline involvement in the funding process is critical, but higher PFCs are not the answer. “You can’t push it on the operators and the operators can’t push it back onto the customers,” he said. “We’ve all got to work together.”

Bastian pointed to some of the major projects Delta is involved in, including infrastructure upgrades at Los Angeles International (MSP), LaGuardia (LGA) and Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP). Smaller airports gain investment “where we’re a main constituency,” he added.

Sustainability is another key focus for the airline, Bastian said, but he noted the herculean effort it will take to address the challenge.

Post-pandemic, “it’s important that we get that energy back towards sustainability and understand it is the existential question for our industry,” he said. While noting some efforts from Delta, he added, “We don’t have a replacement for jet fuel and we got to just be honest ourselves, over 98% of the carbon imprint and footprint that we leave is caused by jet fuel.” He noted some recent federal incentives but said alternative fuels are still too expensive for broad-based use.

On the issue of the ongoing pilot shortage, Bastian said he believes it to be a “short-term phenomenon. Whether that’s two years or three years, I’m not quite certain, but it will get solved.” He noted that some smaller airports might begin receiving more mainline service from carriers, but he acknowledged that other smaller communities will likely see reduced service in the future.

Bigger picture, Bastian said recovery from the pandemic is well underway, and business travel is expected to return to previous levels, or at least close to it. This counters some of the predictions made earlier in the pandemic, but Bastian said people thrive when they are together. Describing a recent Delta leadership meeting, Bastian said the content “was just an excuse just to be back together. The power of that connection is huge,” he said. “Our purpose is to bring the world closer together.”