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All aboard!

Joe Bates looks back at some of the highlights of the joint ACI-NA/ACI World Assembly, Conference and Exhibition in Montréal.

It was billed as Civil Aviation Week in Montréal due to the city’s hosting of ACI’s biggest event of the year at the same time as ICAO’s 39th triennial Assembly, and with a packed agenda, lively debates and a host of announcements being made it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Arguably the first highlight of the ACI-NA/ACI World Assembly, Conference and Exhibition was the attendance with over 2,200 delegates and 263 exhibitors from 63 nations descending on Montréal for the event.

Opening addresses were given by Aéroports de Montréal president and CEO, James Cherry; ACI World director general, Angela Gittens; ACI-NA president and CEO, Kevin Burke; ACI-NA chair and executive director of Salt Lake City Department of Airports, Maureen Riley; Declan Collier, CEO of London City Airport and chair of ACI World; Montréal mayor, Denis Coderre; and Canada’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Land Occupancy, Martin Coiteux.

Cherry proudly hailed Montréal’s status as home to ICAO, ACI, CANSO, IATA and IFALPA as well as numerous aerospace companies, which he said ensured its status as the world’s capital of civil aviation.

He noted: “Montréal is one of only a few cities in the world where all the expertise exists to build an aeroplane from A to Z, and the same can soon be said for aircraft recycling.”

Cherry said the conference also coincided with the launch of the Aviation Think Tank at Concordia University in Montréal, which he described as a first of its kind project designed to “foster research and multi-stakeholder exchanges on the key issues of strategy, policy development and communications for the benefit of the world aviation industry.”

ACI-NA’s Riley told delegates that it had been a good year for both ACI-NA in the US and the Canadian Airports Council in Canada in terms of their advocacy efforts on behalf of the region’s airports, collaboration with industry partners and successes. 

She did, however, admit that ACI-NA had not achieved all of its goals with regards to the newly passed FAA Reauthorization Bill in the US – specifically referring to failing to persuade Congress to raise the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) from $4.50 to $8.50 to help airports fund much needed infrastructure development projects. 

ACI-NA’s latest Capital Needs Survey states that US airports need to invest a staggering $75.7 billion in new infrastructure between now and 2019 to accommodate growth, so failing to win support to raise the cap on PFC revenue is a blow.

“We experienced tremendous co-operation and collaboration as an industry in advancing airport priorities as part of the FAA Reauthorization, and while we have not yet achieved all of our goals we have made a lot of progress,” said Riley.

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She noted that 2015 had been a record breaking year for North American airports with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta retaining its status as the world’s busiest airport, annual regional traffic growth of 5.4% and many of the fastest growing airports undertaking major capital improvement programmes to “ensure their global competitiveness”.

ACI World chair, Declan Collier, used ACI economics and traffic data to remind delegates about the size, resilience, and economic importance of aviation to the North American economy, which he pointed out grew by 2.4% and 1.2% respectively in the US and Canada in 2015.

“Despite mixed economic indicators, air transport demand in North America remained robust in 2015, with passenger traffic growing by 5.3%, which was well above historic levels,” commented Collier, noting that the upturn has continued at a similar pace this year.

“The growth rate at the major commercial airports in North America between January and June this year is equivalent to an extra 43 million passengers going through our doors, and I think that demonstrates the scale of the air transport industry in this region.”

He added: “Aviation directly accounted for 2.4 million jobs in North America in 2014 and that figure jumps to 7.6 million and generated $800 billion in contributions to the GDP if all the indirectly induced and tourism related jobs are taken into consideration.”

Gittens used the opportunity to praise the work of ACI’s founding fathers for paving the way for the success that the organisation enjoys today.

She said: “The pace of change within the industry has accelerated over the last quarter century, but one thing has remained constant: ACI’s efforts still fulfill the original vision of its founding members.

“Our ability to evolve in step with the industry would not be possible without the efforts of those that came before us.”

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Later in a press conference Gittens unveiled the ACI World Airport Traffic Forecasts (WATF) 2016-2040 – which predicts that global passenger numbers will double to 14.6 billion per annum by 2029 and soar to 23.6 billion by 2040.

The upturn is based on an annual global traffic growth of 5.2% to 2040 with the upturn driven by rising demand for international traffic, which ACI predicts will outstrip domestic passenger numbers from 2028.

Indeed, the report, which covers the short (2016-2018), medium (2016-2020) and long-term (2016-2040), states that international passenger traffic will be 1.42 times greater than domestic passenger volumes by 2040. You can read more about it on page 12.

ACI-NA president and CEO, Burke, agreed with Riley that one of the biggest challenges facing the US is the need to upgrade its existing airport facilities, stating that “modernising airport infrastructure remains a top priority”. 

“I have heard from industry colleagues – even some in this room – who have said our efforts [to raise the PFC] are in vain and that we will not win out at the end of the day; that there is no hope to modernise the PFC to help airports prepare for the future,” said Burke.  

“To those individuals, we are not an association that accepts defeat. We are not an association that settles for the status quo. We are not an association that backs down because something is too difficult. We are an association that works tirelessly, aggressively, and relentlessly for our members, communities and passengers. 

“At the same time, our success depends entirely on an engaged membership that sees industry-wide benefit in sharing their perspectives during important policy discussions. Many airports have taken their needs to Capitol Hill or shared how a modernised PFC benefits passengers and their communities. We need more airports to join the narrative on why airport infrastructure matters.”

The conference opening was followed by a fascinating session about crisis communication during which Malaysia Airports advisor and former managing director, Tan Sri Bashir Abdul Majid, talked about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370; Scott Clements, the former president and CEO of Fort McMurray International Airport discussed the devastating wildfire that swept through Fort McMurray earlier this year; and Brussels Airport CEO, Arnaud Feist, remembered the terrorist attack on his gateway on March 26, 2016, which killed
16 people and injured another 150.

All agreed that the dissemination of fast, accurate information was vital during a crisis to try and maintain control of the situation and avoid the spread of speculation, gossip and rumours – often globally, within minutes on the internet – that only added to the confusion.

Flight MH370 has, of course, yet to be found two-and-a-half years after it crashed, and Tan Sri Bashir admitted that the fact that nobody really knew what had happened to the flight at the time, and people’s disbelief that “in this day and age, a flight can just disappear”, made things especially difficult.

He said: “What we learnt is that any information you get you have to disseminate immediately using all forms of communication necessary. These efforts must be co-ordinated and done in collaboration with all the stakeholders involved. And, lastly, you must ensure that any information you give out is correct.”

Clements told delegates that his former airport acted as an essential base for fire fighters tackling the wildfire despite some of its own buildings going up in smoke in the inferno, which destroyed 3,000 homes and forced more than 20,000 people to be evacuated.

He also revealed that if the airport hadn’t chopped down 425 acres of boreal forest for an air show in 2014 the new terminal would have been lost in the wildfire.

Asked about lessons learned from how his airport responded to the terrorist attack, Brussels Airport’s Feist admitted that there were many, the biggest one possibly being that it was a mistake to hold his initial press conference outside and not in the controlled environment of the nearby hotel as it led to a shoving match between reporters/photographers that resulted in one of his female colleagues being pushed to the floor.

He said 5,000 passengers and 10,000 bags were stranded at the airport in the immediate aftermath of the incident and that staff and some passengers returning to the airport for the first time since attack, were still receiving “psychological support” from counsellors today.

During the conference, ACI revealed that 170 airports from across the globe are now certified under ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, launched by ACI Europe in 2009.

And ACI-NA held a special ceremony to recognise its 20 airports to date that have achieved Airport Carbon Accreditation. They include Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which recently became the first North American gateway to achieve carbon neutral status. 

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“It’s been an incredible year for Airport Carbon Accreditation, with applications to the programme still increasing and new developments such as the important partnership with the UNFCCC and its Climate Neutral Now initiative signed at the COP21 climate negotiations,” enthused Gittens.

“In terms of results, in the past year, accredited airports succeeded in collectively reducing the CO2 emissions under their direct control by 206,090 tonnes – enough energy to power over 86,000 households for a year.”

She added: “The momentum keeps building. As of this week, we now have 170 airports in the programme and over 36% of global air passenger traffic – well over two billion passengers – now travel through airports certified at one of the four levels of the programme.”

Gladstone Airport Corporation and Hobart International Airport (Australia), GRU Airport (Brazil) and Eugene, Mobile Airport Authority and Stockton Metropolitan Airport (USA) were among 14 new regular members welcomed to the organisation during ACI World’s annual Assembly.

New resolutions passed at the Assembly included ACI’s support of the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation as the Global Market Based Measure for international aviation; and expressed commitments to join the fight against human trafficking and efforts to stop the transportation of illegal wildlife products. It also pledged to promote a common sense approach to landside security.

Indeed, ACI World submitted working papers to the ICAO Assembly calling for a “common sense, risk based approach to landside security supplemented by clear guidance materials”, as well as others on the use of safety data for aerodrome design and the allocation of slots at airports.

Gittens told Airport World: “It is so important to make the maximum use of our existing airport infrastructure before we start spending millions and millions on new facilities, and one of the areas where improvements in efficiency can be gained is slot allocation.

“Historically IATA has managed the worldwide slot guidelines but some of the issues that have emerged, and will continue to emerge, is that this way of doing things is really based on a bygone era as it was before Open Skies and the liberalisation of the airline industry. 

“Today, airports for the most part are not involved at all in slot allocation despite it being the airport’s property on the ground.

“Our paper to ICAO is that they recommend to States that they include airports in their slot decision making and policymaking. We want to work with IATA in this process.” 

Day two featured a series of education sessions on topics ranging from ‘driving your own innovation’, ‘responding to new and emerging security threats’ and ‘breaking down silos in safety’ and ended with a memorable Closing Night at New City Gas in downtown Montréal where visitors rubbed shoulders with performance artists and danced the night away to a mixture of pop and some good old fashioned country and western music provided by next year’s ACI-NA host, Dallas Fort/Worth International Airport.

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