Air Date

March 31, 2021

Featured Guests

Rep. Darrell Issa
CA-50, United States House of Representatives

Rep. Gerry Connolly
VA-11, United States House of Representatives

Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Ambassador to the United Nations, United States of America, Representative of the United States of America, UN Security Council


Richie O’Neill
Executive Director, GridWise Alliance

Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, one of the industries that took the hardest hit was aviation. Within days, passenger volumes decreased by 96%, and planes were parked in deserts. It’s been an uphill battle to recoup those losses.

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 20th Aviation Summit, representatives from all corners of the aviation industry discussed reopening markets, reigniting the economy, and shaping the future of the industry.

The Air Travel Industry Is Charting a Path Back to Global Travel

Representatives of three major components of air travel — airports, airlines, and flight attendants — discussed the challenges of the past year for the industry and outlined what they expect to see in the next eight to nine months as the population continues to get vaccinated.

“When we look at advance bookings, they are stronger than they have been in recent months,” said Ben Minicucci, CEO of Alaska Airlines Group. “There's still a lot of work to be done, but … I think there's a lot to be optimistic about. We're looking forward to a strong, solid summer and hopefully recovering for the fall and into next year.”

With the increases in leisure travel amid stringent precautions, a “vaccine passport” has been discussed in the industry with several pilot programs already in place. Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, maintained that “there are issues of equity … We need to have a standard about how this is being applied.”

“This needs to be something that people can choose to do to possibly speed up the process of getting through the airport … and adding a level of comfort there,” she continued. “But it must be a voluntary program and not mandatory in order to make travel work.”

Aviation Experts Are Navigating a Changed Industry

COVID-19 has given the aviation industry the opportunity to reassess processes in addition to realigning goals and collaborations. Tom Gentile, president and CEO of Spirit Aerosystems, Inc., shared what he and his team have learned over the past year that will improve the company moving forward.

“[Learning to be] agile in a crisis and listening to your workforce, to your customers, to government officials [and] to the community … were all critical for us,” he said. “We [also] learned that you have to be able to act very fast with limited information.”

President and CEO of FedEx Express, Donald Colleran, had additional takeaways from a preliminary reflection on his company’s challenges and successes the past year.

“It validated things that we thought were important to us, relative to some of our core principles,” he said, referring to the importance of planning and preparation, the collaboration between the public and the private sector, and simplifying the processes involved with moving essential services and people around the globe.

Industry Professionals Are Shaping a Bright Future for Aviation

From recruiting diverse talent to seizing post-pandemic opportunities, the future of the aviation industry looks optimistic.

David Calhoun, president and CEO of The Boeing Company, cited the booming space industry, autonomy, mobility, and the pandemic’s effects on the commercial environment as catalysts for a bright future: “There's hardly [another] industry that has so many opportunities at its fingertips.”

“[Recruiting talent] is the single most important thing any of us have to work on to ensure the future of our industry,” Calhoun said.”

“We have not seen a slow down during the pandemic with respect to interest,” added Dr. P. Barry Butler, president of Embry-Riddle University. “Even though we've seen quite a slow down in the industry in the last year, young people are passionate about their futures … and they're going at it full speed ahead. I think that's a great sign for the industry.”