The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task sat down with JetBlue CEO David Barger earlier this week. In addition to speaking about fuel prices (see: JetBlue Sitting Strong Despite High Oil, Tough Economy, CEO David Barger Says) and air travel safety (see: Business As Usual at JetBlue Following Bin Laden's Death, CEO Says), the two discussed the state of America's air travel infrastructure. As is apparent among international travelers, airports in the U.S. look and feel outdated compared to newer and more technologically advanced hubs in emerging markets in Asia. To that point, GE CEO Jeff Immelt was noted at this week's Milken Conference saying, "Fly from Terminal 3 in Beijing to JFK and tell me which is the emerging market!" "
He is right," says Barger, though he notes there are several U.S. airports such as Boston and Orlando that are making welcomed upgrades.
Even more integral to our air travel system are the needed upgrades to the air traffic control system, Barger says. And he doesn't mean simply having controllers that don't fall asleep on the job. He's referring to the need to implement newer technology in the towers. "Let's use the technology that you and I have in our cars to move these airplanes from A to B, efficiently," he says. "Whether the weather is down or whether the weather is good, the technology is there. We've got to make the investment."
The son of an airline captain, Barger also discusses the state of airline pilots. The glamorous, well-paying jobs at many airlines been replaced with jobs that boast lower wages and fewer benefits. But Barger says attracting quality pilots is not a problem for JetBlue for several reasons. "You've got to be competitive with comp benefits and I think, most importantly, with quality of life," he says. And, of course, any new pilots have to believe in the future of the airline.