Nevada Sen. Dean Heller told the story Monday morning of how Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., invited some airline executives to his office, seated them on a couch, then jammed a coffee table up against their knees.
It is an example of how lawmakers are lobbied to legislate consumer protection because airlines won’t address it voluntarily.
This was one of a score of travel and tourism issues that Heller and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter addressed at the opening session of Boyd Group International’s 22nd annual Aviation Forecast Summit at Wynn Las Vegas.
Evergreen, Colorado-based Boyd Group International CEO Mike Boyd used an interview format in the nearly hourlong presentation with Heller and Ralenkotter.
It was the first time Boyd scheduled a sitting senator to address his four-day conference, which began Saturday with pre-summit workshops.
Heller said key issues for the 400 airline, airport and aircraft manufacturer representatives in attendance include the planned reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of September, tax reform by Christmas and President Trump’s plan to invest $1 trillion in transportation infrastructure next year.
Heller said the biggest roadblock in the FAA reauthorization is the question of increasing passenger facility charges — the $4.50 tacked on to the cost of each segment of a flight that finances airport infrastructure. It hasn’t been increased since 2001.
Heller said Democrats are pushing to increase the charge, but the Republican majority would only press for an increase, viewed by many as a tax, if the majority party backs it.
The senator predicted a tax reform package would be approved by Dec. 23 or 24.
As for transportation infrastructure, Heller said his goal will be to improve highway construction, specifically Interstate 11 between Phoenix and Las Vegas with an eventual expansion north of Las Vegas to Reno.
On the issue of legislating consumer protection, Heller said lawmakers would only take that up if airlines fail to act on their own.
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Other tourism issues addressed by Sen. Dean Heller
• He said the governments needs to streamline its visa process in foreign countries. Chinese travelers are more inclined to travel to Europe — or gamblers, to Macau — under existing visa rules.
• Heller predicted the National Basketball Association would be in Las Vegas within five years. He said he’s proud of Las Vegas’ emergence as a sports hub with this year’s initial season of the Vegas Golden Knights National Hockey League team and the arrival of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas in 2020. He said he’s placed a Raiders banner in a window at his office, which has been met with some derision by his California colleagues.
• Heller said while Las Vegas is attracting new airline routes from destinations worldwide, it’s still a problem for Reno-Tahoe International where there’s no nonstop service to major East Coast cities, including Washington. Mike Boyd, CEO of Boyd Group International, said that problem should ease as airlines add more diverse fuel-efficient aircraft to their fleets in the years ahead.