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ECONOMICS Last modified on August 8, 2013

Investor spotlight

Samsung C&T Corporation’s vice president, head of strategic development, Kwan Young Chung, talks to Airport World about Incheon International Airport and his company’s aviation investment strategy.

When and where was Samsung founded?
Samsung C&T Corporation was founded as a trading company by Lee Byung-Chull in Daegu, South Korea, in 1938. Today we comprise an Engineering and Construction Group and a Trading and Investment Group, which, between them, employ more than 10,400 staff in 133 offices in 50 countries across the globe.

What did the company initially do and how has it diversified/grown over the years?
The Samsung Group started as a trade company in the late 1930s. Over the next three decades, the company diversified into areas including food processing, textiles, insurance, securities and retail. We entered the electronics industry in the late 1960s and the construction and shipbuilding industries in the mid-1970s and these areas drove signficant growth. Since the 1990s, Samsung has increasingly globalised its activities becoming a leader in a wide range of businesses.

What is the appeal of the aviation industry?
The aviation industry is appealing to Samsung C&T for three reasons. It is global. This translates into visibility and exposure to our brand and capabilities. It is multi-disciplinary and long-term. It also provides opportunities to integrate Samsung C&T’s Capabilities throughout the life-cycle. And it is dynamic and technology-driven, requiring advanced technology, systems and solutions that Samsung understands, develops and manages.  

Did Samsung effectively build Incheon International Airport?
We participated in the construction of Incheon International Airport and acted as lead contractor for the main terminal building, the satellite terminal, the multi-modal transportation centre and one of the runways. But, we haven’t just helped build Incheon. Indeed, there are many other projects in Korea and overseas in which Samsung C&T undertook a major engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) role. These include other airports of different sizes and operational capabilities such as Gimhae (Busan) in Korea.

What services/technology/facilities does the company provide for airports today?
As a conglomerate, Samsung is in a position to provide numerous services and products to the aviation marketplace. This portfolio includes technology, systems, commercial and infrastructure solutions that aim at providing specialised support to the airports throughout their lifecycle.
The best showcase would be Incheon International Airport where, besides the construction work that Samsung C&T performed, the group is involved in security systems, display systems, ICT solutions, passenger-processing technology and duty free, to mention just a few.

What is Samsung’s ‘Smart Airport’ solution?
I would define it as the provision of systems which are able to capture and transform the information generated by the interaction of traffic flows, processes and different stakeholders into business opportunities, and to provide guidance to efficiently implement and operate the airport as a whole.

Does Samsung have any direct equity investments in Incheon or any other airports?
We do not have any direct equity investment in Incheon or any other airport as it is not normal practice for the private sector to invest in airports in Korea.

How important to the company is your airport property portfolio?
As Samsung C&T is a relevantly new entrant to the aviation industry, aviation has yet to become a major and established business for our company in revenue terms. What counts is our commitment to the industry on developing and delivering top-notch capabilities that exceed our customers’ and partners’ expectations.

What criteria/investment potential does an airport need to appeal to Samsung?
There is a set of common criteria that investors, operators and major players in this industry require. A business case would include an analysis of the market, the aviation industry, the investment and legal framework, the operational environment, the necessary licenses, and the commitment and role governments undertake in the execution of airport projects. We also look at where to place value enhancing synergies.

What is your airport investment strategy?
We have a two-fold investment strategy for airport projects. First, to contribute to the bankability/profitability of the airport project through the implementation of our wide range of businesses and capabilities. Second, to have access to stable revenue sources with considerable margins.

Does the company have any investment partners?
Yes, Samsung C&T does have regular investment partners, but we are, nonetheless, open to working with others.

Do you believe in the airport city/aerotropolis concept and does this appeal to Samsung?
We view an airport city/aerotropolis as an opportunity through which Samsung C&T can integrate our wide range of businesses and capabilities throughout the lifecycle of the airport. The concept is indeed appealing to Samsung C&T in spite of the limited number of successful projects to date.

How important is it for airports to be environmentally friendly?
It is very important, and I think we are in a good position to help airports as technology and innovative solutions will inevitably play a pivotal role in helping the industry in its mission to be environmentally friendly. Samsung C&T, for example, already provides a number of ‘green technology solutions’ which would help airports more effectively manage water and energy consumption. We can also provide support with solutions that manage waste and air quality and acoustics in terminal buildings.

What would you say to those that say that aviation is a risky investment?
There are risks to any investment and the aviation industry is no exception. As in any other form of business, investors need to choose their projects, partners and business models wisely. Understanding of market dynamics, politics, the robustness of mitigation plans and feeing comfortable to operate under certain risks all come into play.
Having said that, aviation has a bright future with forecasts predicting that traffic will grow at a considerable rate for the coming 30 to 40 years. This effectively means that air transportation provides certainties and guarantees in traffic terms that therefore lessen the risk profile of the investment in general.
The growth forecasts ensure that the industry is healthy enough to sustain major airport infrastructure development projects for decades to come.

Is Samsung in it for the long-haul?
Rest assured that Samsung C&T is a long-term partner the aviation industry can count on.

Other than Incheon International Airport, what is your favourite airport and why?
I cannot answer this one as I like most of the airports I travel through, especially those which provide top-notch experiences and access to multiple destinations to its end-users. My work at Samsung C&T requires extensive travel, and for this reason I have become an expert when it comes down to understanding the mismatch that often exists between what the airport is, what it offers and what the passengers require in terms of services and connectivity. It’s worth noting that airports in Asia and the Middle East are considered top performers when it comes to delivering tangible travel experiences and working under optional operational environments. 

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