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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on November 29, 2012

All aboard

The vast Asia-Pacific region with its widely differing countries, economies and airport systems provide its own unique set of challenges for ACI, writes regional director, Patti Chau.

In the ACI Asia-Pacific region, we have over 96 airport members operating over 510 airports in over 42 countries. Our region spans from the Arabian Peninsula in the east to Australasia in the west.

This vast area is a mosaic of countries at different stages of socio-economic development, under different air transport regulatory regimes and speaking a host of disparate languages. 

The non-existence of a single civil aviation regulator – unlike in the US and the European Union – presents a unique challenge to the international air transport industry, for which harmonisation and standardisation are essential to continuously raise the bar on key performance areas such as safety, security, customer service, operating efficiency and environmental sustainability. 

This makes ACI’s role in helping its membership achieving these goals and representing them at other international organisations, such as ICAO and IATA, all the more important. 

The major challenges faced by the region’s airports with regards to capacity enhancement, safety and environmental sustainability, as well as ACI’s roles in assisting its members in meeting these challenges, are discussed below.

Congestion at hub airports – an increasingly acute concern
Despite ecomonic uncertainty and two major natural disasters, passenger traffic across the Asia-Pacific region recorded a modest growth of 5.7% in 2011, and the upward trend has continued this year with traffic rising 8.5% in the first six months of 2012.

In the first half of 2012, the Middle East outperformed other regions with an enviable year-on-year growth of 13.2% in passenger numbers. This growth is mainly attributed to the rise in intra-regional and domestic passenger traffic.

ACI forecasts that Asia-Pacific will continue to experience the highest passenger growth rates of any of region for the forseeable future, with annual traffic numbers expected to double in less than nine years.

The rapid economic and air traffic growth in Asia-Pacific in the last two decades has no doubt helped the funding of infrastructure and capacity improvements.

Indeed, such have been the levels of growth – double-digit at some major hubs – that, arguably, what concerns airport managers most today, is the challenge of ensuring that their facilities are able to keep up with demand.

Excessive waiting times and congestion result in customer dissatisfaction, of course, and this can have an impact on retail revenues as an unhappy customer is less likely to spend money at airport shops and restaurants than a happy one.

More seriously, the shortage of runway capacity at some airports means requests for operating new flights, which would be new business for the airport, are simply declined. 

At ACI, the capacity crunch is handled, as always, in a holistic manner.

First, ACI is working with CANSO and other industry partners on implementing Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM), a system whereby, in very simple terms, aircraft departures, both at the same and different airports, are co-ordinated to maximise the utilisation of runway and aircraft parking stand capacities. A-CDM promises to help airports fully utilise the existing potential airport capacity before additional infrastructure is available.

Second, ACI on behalf of airports, has been advocating a light-handed economic regulation model at ICAO and other forums to ensure that airports are able to operate as much as possible as commercial entities. Airports need the nimbleness of a commercial enterprise in order to provide and operate the required infrastructure in an efficient manner. This is now enshrined in ICAO’s policy for airport charges. 

Maintaining Asia-Pacific’s good safety record
According to ICAO’s 2011 State of Global Aviation Safety report, Asia had the lowest aircraft accident rate amongst all United Nation regions in 2010 – an achievement that the region’s airports should be proud of. 

At the same time, airports in Asia-Pacific are experiencing phenomenal growth in traffic, which, if not kept up with adequate safety promotion in addition to infrastructure investment, personnel training and recruitment, could pose a serious challenge to maintaining, or further improving, this excellent track record. 

ACI Asia-Pacific helps its members in this regard by identifying existing and emerging safety issues and providing guidance and training to tackle them, often in co-operation with ICAO and ACI World, to ensure a holistic approach is taken. 

For example, runway safety has long been a priority for ACI. From 2005 to 2010, almost 60% of aircraft accidents that occurred around the world were runway related and the resulting fatalities represented about 20% of the total.   

To help airports improve runway safety, ACI has published a number of handbooks, such as the Airside Safety Handbook and Wildlife Management Handbook.

The latest safety publication, the Airside Driver Training and Vehicle Licensing Handbook, was drafted by ACI Asia-Pacific’s Regional Operational Safety Committee, and is aimed at reducing the incidence of airside vehicle accidents and inadvertent runway incursions.

In addition to handbooks, ACI also provides ‘safety’ training courses, both online and face-to-face.

Looking into the future, ACI is developing guidance on the establishment and operation of Local Runway Safety Teams to further improve the safety of aircraft landings and takeoffs even at the busiest airports. 

A Local Runway Safety Team is a group, usually chaired by the airport, of safety representatives of airlines, air traffic controllers, ground handlers and pilots working at the airport, to identify and mitigate the risks that may lead to runway accidents. 

ACI is also looking into establishing safety performance indicators including an index to benchmark runway safety. The index is being developed in collaboration with CANSO and IATA, to ensure that the views of air traffic controllers and airlines are taken into account. 

In June this year, ACI and ICAO signed a Memorandum of Co-operation to provide a framework to jointly pursue the highest possible level of safety at airports worldwide and allow both organisations to join forces to improve aviation safety.

One of the objectives of the MoC is to support the development of the ACI Airport Excellence in Safety programme known as APEX in Safety. It aims at assisting airport members in improving safety level and compliance with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices.

In our region, a pilot APEX safety review was conducted at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta (Indonesia) in April this year and the Regional Office is now working closely with ACI World and ICAO to conduct safety reviews on at least four Indian airports in 2013.

Finally, ACI will be partnering with ICAO and other industry organisations to organise a regional runway safety seminar in Asia-Pacific next year in addition to ACI Asia-Pacific’s own regional safety seminars.

Strong commitment to customer service excellence
Asia-Pacific airports filled the top five spots in the Best Airport Worldwide category in ACI’s 2011 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer satisfaction survey.

Incheon won the award for the seventh year running, with Singapore Changi in second place and Beijing Capital, Hong Kong and Nagoya completing the top five to once again demonstate the commitment of the region’s airports to customer service excellence.

The 2011 result was notable as over 75% of the recognised airports are from the Asia-Pacific and Middle East region.

The ASQ survey is an effective benchmarking tool, which, together with best practice sharing and the other ASQ sub-programmes, such as ASQ Retail and ASQ Performance, ensures that ACI can help airports improve their service levels.

Embracing carbon management
In October 2011, Asia-Pacific made an important stride in carbon management when the Regional Board adopted the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme developed by ACI Europe.

The programme was officially launched in Asia-Pacific in November 2011 and by August 2012, five airports in the region had been accredited and many more are interested and preparing for accreditation.

Although airports across the region had been making efforts to reduce their carbon emissions for some time, we decided to join the scheme because it is the first airport-specific programme to recognise and certify airports that have attained the required levels of reducing carbon emissions from on-site facilities owned by either the gateway or business partners such as airlines and ground handlers. 

ACI Asia-Pacific’s ambitious mid to long-term target is for more than 50% of passengers across the region to travel through airports that are carbon accredited.

Training in the region
It has been a fruitful year for our region in terms of training opportunities provided to our members, with hundreds of executives attending ACI Global Training courses – more than any other region.

As the fastest growing region in the aviation industry, the importance of staff training and the need to exchange knowledge with airports is becoming increasingly clear, and this has acted as the catalyst for a new regional initiative.

Launched under the umbrella of our Small Airports Programme, the Financial Assistance for Training initiative will help provide the funding to allow staff from the region’s smaller airports to attend training courses and encourage the exchange of information.

Currently, ACI Global Training has collaborated with a number of member airports in the region and we have established five training centres so far.

Looking ahead, the Regional Office will continue to work towards providing more training opportunities for our members and more training centres will be available in the region to cater for the growing training needs of our members.

Key role
The vast geographical size, a rapidly growing middle class, the large population and a fragmented ‘continent’ separated by stretches of ocean, makes Asia-Pacific a fertile ground for air transport. 

You may take the train from Paris to Barcelona in Europe, for example, but for the foreseeable future, no one is contemplating the possibility of driving from Manila to Hong Kong. 

I am glad to report that the Regional Board has approved our business plan for 2013, in which we have set aside a basket of new initiatives for members.

It will certainly ensure that ACI Asia-Pacific continues to play a key role in helping our members capitalise on our historic growth and develop a network of safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable airports.

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