Maybe it was the weather or maybe it was all the upbeat talk and aviation activity, but Norm Mineta, beset by illness during his five-and-a-half year tenure as Transportation Secretary, looked and sounded in fine fettle at ALTA in Cancun. Now a Hill & Knowlton consultant, Mr. Secretary, as he is universally called, spent two days at the Latin American Airline Leaders Forum, working the crowd, giving a luncheon speech and chatting with reporters and others at the event.
And Mr. Secretary was more candid with reporters than his government post had allowed him to be: in his years at DoT, and in his years on Capitol Hill as chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, Mineta was almost always the soul of tact. But chatting with a reporter after lunch, Mineta was candidly and charmingly pessimistic about the possibility of open skies with the EC: the new House Transportation Committee chairman, Minnesota Democrat Jim Oberstar, "is against it and isn't going to be moved." Oberstar will become chairman of the committee in January but has already pronounced the EC/US tentative agreement on investment liberalisation and open skies a 'dead' deal.
"It's going to be tough", Mineta said of reviving transatlantic liberalisation. Recalling one of his last duties before stepping down from DoT in July at age 74: "You know, Jim (Oberstar) nearly bit my head off when I went in to see him. And he is one of oldest and closest personal friends on the Hill". The two served in Congress together for more than a decade and earned the nickname "the dynamic duo" when each hold leadership posts at the committee. Mr. Secretary was slyly humorous: when first asked about open skies, he smiled broadly and said "oh yes, I have high hopes", all the while shaking his head in an even more telling bit of body language in that universal sign of 'no way'.
While in Cancun, Mineta's long interest in aviation was commemorated: after the luncheon spech, Mexicana chief executive Emilio Romano presented him with a silver plaque to mark the efforts Mineta made to get direct Mexico City service for his hometown of San Jose, California, where Mineta was mayor in the 1970s before going to Congress. The airport got the flights and many others; it is now the Norman Y. Mineta International Airport.
And while Mineta was in Cancun, two airlines - JetBlue and a Mexican startup, Viva Airbus - began service to the resort and another Mexican startup - Aladia - announced plans for Cancun flights.