High-performance airports invariably excel in three main areas: infrastructure, operations and human resources. All top ranking airports in the world have well designed facilities, are able to optimise the use of these facilities in real time, even in adverse conditions, and are reputed for the attitude and competence of their staff.
Historically, a substantial amount of energy and resources has been directed at airport infrastructure planning and development. Following major breakthroughs in technology, noteworthy service improvements have been brought about as a result of more efficiently co-ordinating airport logistics during normal and emergency conditions through sharing flight and passenger flow data in near real time. More recently, leading airports have started to invest systematically in the competency development of their staff.
Competency building master plans
In terms of approach and methodology, investments in ‘human capital’ parallel the logical flow of airport infrastructure development associated with airport master plans.
They rest on a thorough analysis of existing conditions, and through a systematic assessment process when determining the future performance requirements, gaps can be identified. Not all performance deficits that surface through a methodical organisational X-ray result in recommendations for training; rather, systems, procedures and facilities often need some tweaking.
A gap analysis that is conducted on airport performance must be based against two types of criteria; the first criteria comprise strategic and tactical objectives that would be specific to the enterprise being assessed and the second more importantly comprise benchmarking various elements against relevant industry standards and best practices.
Nowadays, it is important to recognise the essential role that the Global ACI-ICAO Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP), now in its 10th year of existence (www.iap.aero), has been playing by developing a body of knowledge that could facilitate comparisons and provide objective foundations for performance assessment.
It is not surprising to learn that a large proportion of the gaps identified through organisational x-rays point at human capital issues more often related to managerial competency considerations. One emerging industry best practice relates to the development of competency building master plans (CBMPs), which are specific to each enterprise and are, in fact, an evolution of traditional comprehensive training plans.
A primary difference is that CBMPs relate training activities directly to organisational performance targets which, by definition, require strong justifications for return on investments (ROIs). They constitute a fundamental element of an entrepreneurial culture that leading airports espouse.
CBMP success criteria
Successful CBMPs display the following characteristics:
- They address all three levels of management—namely, front-line, middle, and executive management—in an interrelated manner.
- They incorporate a planned, structured use of external training activities that provide access to relevant managerial best practices, whether from the aviation sector or from pertinent areas of excellence in other industries, such as aviation management graduate academic programs, the ACI-Concordia Airport Executive Leadership Programme (AELP), the Global ACI-ICAO AMPAP, the ACI-ICAO Airport User Charges course or others.
- They are an internal, organisation-specific and fully customised advanced airport management programme that combines a focus on the achievement of organisational priorities, the reference to contextually meaningful, recognised best practices and the development and/or improvement of critical, ‘high-payoff’ management tools as part of the learning outcomes. They also feature a ”coaching” dimension in all major functional areas to ensure that concepts and tools really get implemented to the maximum extent possible.
- CBMP-listed activities related to programme design and delivery are resourced using senior managers from within the enterprise.
- One CBMP component targets high-potential supervisors who are likely to be promoted to a middle-management level to provide them with a conscious opportunity to offer their suggestions for the betterment of the organisation.
- CBMPs are tied formally and transparently to the succession planning programme of the enterprise.
- They clearly identify the anticipated returns on investment (ROIs) for each training activity to be included in the plan, together with a realistic and meaningful measure of their success.
- CBMPs feature a competency assessment centre (CAC) that integrates a battery of work-related situational simulations and psychometric tests which aim to determine the learning progression of airport management personnel, identify their development requirements and support the mapping of their individual career paths within the enterprise.
Breaking down functional professional silos
From the AMPAP experience over of the years, interface with the community of participants and their nominating executives (for instance, airport CEOs) have revealed functional silos (such as airport divisions in safety and security, operations, commercial and financial management) as a central impediment to the development of the competency of airport professionals. This is therefore a serious factor to bear in mind when elaborating a Managerial Competency Building Plan for airport enterprises.