Aviation Media Logo

OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on September 20, 2016

Step back in time

Joe Bates remembers some of the milestone events, people and notable achievements that have helped shape ACI World in its first quarter of a century.

A desire to establish a single global body to speak with one voice for all of the world’s led to the creation of Airports Council International (ACI) in January 1991.

Before ACI, airports were represented on the international scene by the Airport Associations Coordinating Council (AACC), which had in turn been created in 1970 by the three then-existing international airport associations:

– The Airport Operators Council International (AOCI), which can trace its roots back to January 1, 1948, when representatives of 19 US airports gathered in New York to form the Airport Operators Council (AOC).

– The International Civil Airports Association (ICAA), established in Paris in 1962 to offer membership to all airports across geographical boundaries.

– The Western European Airports Association (WEAA), formed by airports in Western European in 1950 and based in Zurich.

The three associations had collaborated on an informal ad hoc basis before 1970 but presented the interests of their memberships to other international organisations separately.

With the passage of time, however, the growing importance of the external factors on airport operation created the need for a formal relationship with governments, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, air navigation service providers and other industry players and concerned parties.

This led to the establishment of the AACC with a view to formulating unified airport industry policies, furthering collaboration between its constituent associations, and representing them collectively with worldwide aviation organisations and other relevant bodies.

After WEAA was dissolved in 1985, AACC became a bipartite body but a single voice was really required to take airports to the next level, so in May 1989, AOCI and ICAA set up a joint taskforce led by Clifton Moore (Los Angeles World Airports) to look at the possibility of a merger. 

It included George Bean (Tampa), Paul Gaines (Houston), Ayre Grozbord (Tel Aviv) and Jack Moffatt (Federal Airports Corporation, Australia) from AOCI and Jean-Paul Beysson (Aéroports de Paris), Paul Genton (Geneva), June-Bong Kim (Korea Airports Authority) and Horstmar Stauber (Frankfurt) from ICAA. Manfred Schölch was also involved as a deputy for Horstmar Stauber.

The idea behind the merger was to streamline activities, avoid duplication and maximise the use of scarce resources, drawing on the AACC staff and resources in Geneva as the nucleus of a new secretariat. 

A merger made sense and as a result the Constitution of ACI was approved by AOCI and ICAA memberships in the autumn of 1990 and came into effect on January 1, 1991. 

It is worth noting that when approving ACI’s Constitution at AOCI’s 43rd annual conference in Chicago, AOCI chairman and the future first director general of ACI World, Oris Dunham, declared: “I believe the new worldwide organisation will significantly enhance the ability of airports to effectively participate in guiding the global growth of aviation.”

Initially structured into six regions (Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe, Latin America-Caribbean and North America), the new body was originally named the Airports Association Council International before being changed to Airports Council International in 1992.

AACC’s executive secretary, Dr Alexander Strahl, became secretary general of the new organisation at the beginning of 1991 and remained in the position until he retired in 2003.

Its transitional Governing Board consisted of 28 members nominated by AOCI and ICAA and chaired by George Bean, who had been the last AOCI chairman.

At ACI’s inaugural General Assembly in New Orleans, delegates elected a new Governing Board for 1992-93 chaired by Lim Hock San.


Objectives and roles

ACI’s mission to advance the collective interests of and act as the voice of the world’s airports and the communities they serve as well as promote professional excellence in airport management and operations, ensures that it had and still has the following objective and roles. 

  • To maximise the contributions of airports to maintaining and developing a safe, secure, environmentally compatible and efficient air transport system;
  • Achieve co-operation among all segments of the aviation industry and their stakeholders as well as with governments and international organisations;
  • Influence international and national legislation, rules, policies, standards and practices based on established policies representing airports’ interests and priorities;
  • Advance the development of the aviation system by enhancing public awareness of the economic and social importance of airport development;
  • Maximise co-operation and mutual assistance among airports;
  • Provide members with industry knowledge, advice and assistance, and foster professional excellence in airport management and operations; and
  • Build ACI’s worldwide organisational capacity and resources to serve all members effectively and efficiently. 


The early days

ACI certainly appeared to hit the ground running and made an early impression at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Conference on Airport and Route Facility Management in Montréal in late 1991 when it presented 12 position papers and the bulk of the proposals won support. As a result, ICAO subsequently updated its guidance on airport charges.

In its first five years, ACI doubled its membership in comparison to the previous constituent associations and recruited hundreds of new airports, effectively laying the foundations for the continued growth the organisation enjoys to this day. 

Other notable achievements included establishment of the ACI Fund for Developing Nations’ Airports in 1993; the launch of the ACI World Business Partners programme and opening of an ICAO liaison office in Montréal in 1994; and, playing an active role in ICAO’s Aviation Security (AVSEC) Panel and ICAO Panel of Experts on Air Navigation Services Economics in 1995.

And ACI’s influence with ICAO continued to grow with the presentation of five position papers to its Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) and a recommendation that ICAO consult with airports over the introduction of satellite based communications and air navigation technology (CNS/ATM) in 1998.


Evolution and innovation

A decade on and ACI was well and truly established as one of the key players in the aviation industry. It began to spread its wings and innovate with the launch of the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer satisfaction programme in 2006 and the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Progamme (AMPAP) a year later.

The 2007 launch of AMPAP, in collaboration with ICAO, was without doubt a landmark achievement for ACI in terms of its global training initiatives. AMPAP team leader at the time, Paul Behnke said: “This programme is a real first in professional training for airports and it is the only international airport training that leads to accreditation. Thanks to ICAO’s buy in, the programme has a stamp that is recognised by aviation specialists worldwide.”

Current ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, has this to say about the initiative: “Developing professionalism in airport management is a core priority for ACI. The Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP), jointly launched and directed by ACI and ICAO, is a best-of-class programme for committed airport managers. 

“In today’s increasingly complex and global airport business, AMPAP offers a unique international context to expand their skills and broaden their horizons. At the same time, successful candidates will acquire an international support network of key professional contacts that will serve them throughout their careers.”

More than 600 airport executives have since graduated from the three-year programme and gained the International Airport Professional (IAP) designation, which they hope will help them develop or progress in their careers in the aviation industry.

ACI’s global training programmes have since gone from strength to strength and now provides dozens of different courses across the topics of economics; environment; facilitation and customer service; leadership and management; safety; and security.

Another pioneering and hugely successful initiative pioneered by ACI Europe was launched in June 2009 – the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme. 

The scheme, which aims to reduce aviation’s impact on the environment by empowering airports to manage, reduce and ultimately neutralise their carbon footprint, has resulted in 159 airports becoming accredited to date.

Talking about the programme earlier this year, Dr Grant Kirkman of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – who is also on independent Advisory Board of the programme – commented: “It’s always good to see an industry being proactive of its own accord, but it’s even more impressive when those involved express and show real ambition in their activities. 

“Through their commitment to carbon neutrality and concrete climate action, airports demonstrate their contribution towards the achievement of the Paris agreement and the UNFCCC recognises Airport Carbon Accreditation as a robust framework for this contribution.”

Another relatively new innovation introduced by ACI World is the Airport Excellence (APEX) in Safety programme, which was officially launched at the joint ACI NA/ACI World Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in Calgary in 2012.

Speaking at the launch, ICAO’s chief of its Continuous Monitoring and Oversight Section, Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme, Henry Gourdji, said: “We believe that APEX in Safety has the potential to make a real difference in improving safety at airports worldwide. 

“It moves ACI into the realm of active safety management, a concept that ICAO is committed to and supports. We are looking forward to our continuing collaboration with ACI as the APEX in Safety initiative moves into full implementation phase.”


Move to Montréal 

To many, moving ACI World’s headquarters from Geneva to Montréal to be nearer to ICAO, IATA and CANSO reinvigorated the organisation and set the scene for the current chapter of success it enjoys today.

The move was one of the missions Gittens was asked to oversee when she took the top job at ACI World in 2008, and without doubt it was the right decision as being in Montréal has allowed ACI to extend its global influence and grow as an organisation.

Speaking at the office opening on May 3, 2011, Gittens stated: “The inauguration of our new headquarters in Montréal is an important milestone in our organisation’s development. We are confident that this move will enhance our ability to represent the interests of airport authorities to ICAO, its member states and its permanent delegations. 

“We will also be better able to co-ordinate our actions with ICAO’s initiatives in the areas of safety, security, environment and financial sustainability and strengthen our successful collaboration on training.”

Collaboration and advocacy are certainly a top priority for ACI, as Gittens reflected on in Airport World in 2011. She said: “The association’s efforts still fulfill the original mandates of the founding members: gaining recognition for airport requirements and helping our members to achieve performance excellence. 

“Through our advocacy work, increasingly the airport voice is being recognised and our message heard: airports are businesses not government agencies; we are entrepreneurial and capital-intensive; we seek a flexible business and regulatory environment in which to evolve; we need greater cross-industry co-operation to achieve operational efficiencies; and we focus on delivering high-quality customer service.

“We see the beneficial results of our advocacy efforts in all key areas including aerodrome safety, harmonised security standards, airspace and airport capacity management, environmental responsibility, and a balanced regulatory framework for airport economics and oversight.”


Annual conferences

The very first ACI World Annual General Assembly (WAGA) was held in New Orleans in 1991 and those lucky enough to attend them have been treated to some truly incredible destinations and spectacular settings over the years.

These have included Auckland, Bermuda, Buenos Aires, Boston, Calgary, Cape Town, Delhi, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, Madrid, Panama, Paris, Tokyo, Santiago, Seoul, Sydney and Washington DC.

I am not sure if anyone has been to them all, but if there is they have certainly clocked up some air miles and learnt a lot about the challenges and opportunities facing the world’s airports.


The last word

The last word on ACI goes to the late Dr Assad Kotaite, the former president of ICAO, who back in 2005 had this to say about the organisation: “I have said many times that the three pillars for civil aviation are ICAO, ACI and IATA.

“ICAO is the regulator, respecting and relying on state sovereignty for implementation of standards and recommended practices. To accomplish this work, ICAO calls for international consultation with the two principle aviation partners ACI and IATA. The dialogue between them must be positive and constructive. 

“Let me suggest a metaphor. I would say that ICAO writes the script for states and their civil aviation authorities, ACI airports provide the stage where it all happens and IATA airline members are the international players on that stage. We must all work together to produce good results.”

Wise words from a wise man! Let’s raise a glass to ACI, celebrate its considerable achievements and look forward to the next 25 years of success.

Share on social media


Mark Draper

Written by


Article Options

Latest from Mark Draper

Related items

Get the Airport World Newsletter!

Follow us on Twitter

8770 peoples are following airportworldmag