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Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at Memphis International Airport De-Icing Facility

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Well, thank you very much, first of all, to Congressman Cohen, who I'm sure you already know is a relentless advocate for this region. I do mean relentless and would expect nothing less. But, also is one of the reasons why we are able to talk about more funding headed to the roads and bridges and airports and transit systems of Memphis, of Tennessee, of Arkansas, of the entire United States of America. There is a direct line of cause and effect between the legislation that he supported, President Biden's vision for a generational investment in our country's infrastructure, and the work that is taking place now in every part of the United States. And so, we are thankful for that support and that attention to the importance of our transportation infrastructure. We really appreciate it, Congressman. Thanks very much.

It is a pleasure to be here with Mayor Strickland, son of South Bend -- we will always claim you -- and somebody who is doing the work of mayor that is so important and has only become even more demanding since I had the honor of wearing that title in my hometown. I'm pleased to be here with Deputy Administrator Brad Mims, with Shannetta Griffin, and so many colleagues from the FAA -- the thousands of men and women of the FAA who make it possible for millions of passengers, and millions of packages, to get to where they need to be, safely, every single day.

And I'm so pleased to be with CEO Scott Brockman, with Chairman Mike Keeney, with leaders from FedEx, all of the people who make this facility and this airport what it is. And also, so glad to be among the people associated with the Luke Weathers Flight School, the instructors and the students. We had a great visit with OBAP in Arizona during the gathering there -- saw the extraordinary work that is taking place to cultivate a new generation of leaders in aviation. And it's never been more important, first of all, to make sure that the sector looks like the country. And secondly, because this is a country that in today's economy cannot afford to leave any talent on the table. And I'm so glad to see the work that's going on there and to partner with you. So, thank you for what you do.

And congratulations to everybody who has been part of building and delivering this major difference-making investment here in Memphis because this is a key, key hub to the entire country and, indeed, to global logistics.

I appreciated the chance I just had to meet with a number of workers, including pilots, truck operators, tower operators, all of the workers here who are not always seen -- don't always get credit for their hand in making sure things get to where they're going, especially this season. But it isn't just reindeer: it is essential workers who make sure that people get what they need. And now that everybody in the country has, maybe, belatedly come to appreciate how important supply chains are, we want to make sure we're supporting you with the right kind of infrastructure. Because it is human beings who make supply chains work every day. So, thanks for everything that you do.

We are now in the thick of the holiday shopping season. I know parents everywhere are ordering the toys that their kids are talking about non-stop. Or in the case of our one-year-olds that aren't yet able to articulate what they want, all of the things that their parents and their grandparents can't wait to see them wearing and playing with. And of course, all across the country every day, businesses are ordering all of the things that they need in order to have a successful season.

We saw record-breaking sales Black Friday and we know across all of that that air cargo operations like this, the biggest and busiest in America, are absolutely essential. Now, before we get more into today's good news, I do want to do a quick "Ghost of Christmas Past" just to remind us of where we were a year ago in the last holiday season.

Americans then were understandably very concerned about whether they would get the things they needed. The pandemic had stressed our global supply chains, we had about 100 container ships bearing down on the West Coast at any given moment, and there were some political and media voices proclaiming, breathlessly, that Christmas was going to be "canceled" last year.

But of course, we weren't going to let that happen. Partnering with the private sector, the administration got to work bringing together players from across the supply chain -- longshoremen, truck drivers, state leaders, local governments, and a number of supply chain oriented businesses, notably including FedEx, who was at the table with us early and often, finding ways to address many of the biggest disruptions.

People received almost 99% of their packages on time or with minimal delays from major shippers. Retail sales hit an all-time record high, and so did throughput at our ports. So, Christmas last year was very much not canceled. And this year, we are down to single-digit numbers of ships waiting at the Ports of LA and Long Beach. Many rates, including some Pacific shipping costs, are down 80%, which should ultimately serve to reduce the prices that Americans are seeing at the store at this moment where we're fighting inflation with everything that we've got, and help people get what they need on time. So, I just wanted to remind us of that arc.

But now we're working on further strengthening our supply chains to ensure the goods can move efficiently today, and next year, and for years to come. So, let's be clear: we are going to continue tackling every issue that comes up. But this is no longer just about fixing the immediate-term supply chain disruptions that we have seen in the wake of Covid. This is about making sure our supply chains are more resilient and our economy is more competitive in the face of any challenge in the coming decades, including from increasingly extreme weather.

And that brings us to the terrific project that we're celebrating today.

We are so proud to join you to mark the successful completion of this 3.3 million-square-foot airport de-icing project at Memphis International Airport, the biggest cargo airport in the country... congratulations on this terrific work.

This is a facility that will be able to de-ice 12 wide-body cargo aircraft at the same time, right before they hit the runway, helping to get toys and food and medicine and so many other things where they need to go quickly and efficiently. And it's also about reducing the cost of shipping those goods. Because modernizing our supply chains is a critical element in that fight against inflation.

I also want to congratulate the project sponsors here for finding a way to separate the drainage of that de-icing fluid so that it can be used in helping to sanitize the city's wastewater. And as every mayor knows, getting wastewater right is one of the most important things that very few people know and everybody counts on. It's an example of how the environment and taxpayers can benefit at the same time.

It is a real state-of-the-art operation and I know most people aren't maybe the supply chain buffs that so many of us in this room are, but there's a subset of us who find as much to get excited about in Memphis at a great de-icing facility, as there is at Graceland.

Now, our focus today is goods traveling by air, but I do want to give a quick update on the passenger side as well, because we know that airlines this summer struggled to keep up with the surging demand. Things got better since early summer, with cancelation rates across the busy Thanksgiving holiday week down below 1%. But we're looking to airlines to continue to take steps to address these challenges.

Now I want passengers to know: if you are flying this holiday season and you're worried about what could happen to you if your flight gets delayed or canceled, you should know that you can go to our Airline Customer Service Dashboard to see exactly what every major airline will do when there’s a disruption – whether they‘ll offer free rebooking, hotels, meal vouchers, and the like.

You also ought to know that if your flight is significantly changed, the airline -- in the event of a major change or a cancelation -- is required to give you a full refund if you ask for one. And if you're having trouble getting one let us know because to date we have helped passengers recover hundreds of millions of dollars in required refunds.

And for the long term, we are also making big investments in airport terminals nationwide. We funded a new terminal in Pittsburgh, new gates in Orlando, more bathrooms in Chattanooga, better escalators in Huntsville, faster security checkpoints, baggage drop-offs, check-in counters, custom areas, and boarding zones in dozens of airports. And I know there's been a lot of terrific work taking place here in Memphis on the passenger side as well, and we know that applications will be coming in -- I'm sure with enthusiastic attention from your member of Congress -- to look at that what that program can do for this community.

And it's not just airports, either. As we think back to the last time I was here, as the Congressman mentioned, looking at the I-40 DeSoto Bridge and how important that is to this region. With the historic funding that we have – thanks to the Congressman and his allies, including a number of people who crossed the aisle to work with Democrats and work with the President to get this done – we are modernizing the transit buses in Memphis, so workers here and across the region have new options to get to work. We're building new truck parking outside of Nashville so that truck drivers coming to and from this hub can get the safe rest that they need.

It's all an example of what building a better America looks like in practice. And that is the President's infrastructure vision brought to life in ways that make everybody's lives better.

So again, I want to thank all of the workers who are so instrumental to the economic lifeblood of this nation, whether people realize it or not... who are an indispensable part of the holiday season and every season... and who will now have the benefit of world-class physical infrastructure to help you do your incredibly important jobs.

Thank you again, have a great holiday, and I look forward to seeing more great news out of Memphis.

Thank you very much.