A summit to discuss what has been called “the greatest single strategic threat to the stability of the exhibitions and events industry”—the U.S. air transportation system—is being developed by travel and events industry leaders.

The Travel Industry Association and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events are partnering to develop a conference to talk about ways to fix the broken air-travel system for event organizers and attendees. The specifics of the summit--including date, location, and who will attend--have not been hammered out, but it will likely be in June in Washington, D.C., says Steven Hacker, president and chief executive officer at IAEE.

“Events depend entirely upon a functioning, convenient, safe air transportation system,” says Hacker. “If people conclude that they cannot get to events because of the inconsistency and inconvenience of air travel, and if people conclude that the air transportation system is not safe, events are going to be imperiled seriously.”

As a partner with TIA, IAEE is in the process of rounding up a broad spectrum of event industry leaders to participate in the summit. Representatives will be sought from the meetings, exhibitions, association, incentives, travel, hospitality, and corporate sectors of the industry. “We need policymakers there, people who have the opportunity to respond with some remedies,” says Hacker. He would also like to see representation from the airlines industry, federal lawmakers and officials, and others important stakeholders. “Obviously, it’s going to take the coordination of several powerful organizations.” The meeting in June will be just the first in what will likely be a multiyear initiative.

“What we’re dealing with now is the result of decades of degradation, inattention, and underfunding,” he says. “It’s going to take an enormous national effort to turn it around, but the stakes are just as big.” It’s a daunting undertaking, says Hacker, because there are so many issues to discuss. In a bulletin to IAEE members, the association outlined some of the issues that are hampering U.S. air travel, including the volume of flights, outstripping the ability of airports to handle them; FAA oversight of maintenance and safety issues; TSA security inefficiencies; aging fleets and archaic air traffic control technology; customs and immigration inefficiencies; delays, cancellations, and lost luggage issues; and industry consolidation; and route cutbacks, to name a few. Overall, U.S. air transportation poses the greatest threat to the stability of the event industry, IAEE officials say.

The challenge will be to pare down and prioritize the issues, by consensus, and then come up with remedies. The fixes should be divided into phases, because, while some can be tackled now, others may take years to implement, says Hacker. The other goal is to advocate for the event industry and get these issues addressed by federal authorities and the airlines. “The nation has reached a tipping point in the stability, dependability, and convenience of its air transportation system, and extraordinary measures are needed to put the system on a better path,” states the IAEE bulletin.