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ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, reflects on the importance of sustainable airport growth in the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. 

As we celebrate the United Nations’ (UN) International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, it is timely to discuss how airports should always be considered within a wider context that connects them to other industries as engines for the local economies and communities we serve. 

Nowhere is this connection more direct than the tourism industry. ACI’s preliminary data indicates that global passenger traffic grew 5.5% in 2016, with total worldwide traffic nearing 7.6 billion passengers. 

International tourism in particular continued to be irrepressible, even considering the spectre of economic uncertainty that permeated the global economy and the aviation sector throughout the year. 

According to the latest UN World Tourism Organization’s World Tourism Barometer, demand for international tourism remained robust in 2016, growing 3.9% to reach a total of over 1.200 billion tourists, some 46 million more than in 2015.

Travel and tourism allow wealth to be injected into communities in a variety of ways, from direct, indirect and induced jobs, increased economic activity and economic diversification. The World Travel and Tourism Council, of which ACI is a member, reported that travel and tourism represents 10% of the world’s GDP, supports 1 in 11 jobs and accounts for 6% of global exports.

Airports as key enablers of travel and tourism, directly contribute to sustainable economic growth, employment and poverty reduction. According to the Air Transport Action Group, 2014 saw the air transport industry generate an estimated 9.9 million direct jobs worldwide, or $664.4 billion of the world’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP). 

The airport sector specifically accounted for 5.95 million of those jobs, accounting for $398.6 billion in GDP, with airport operators employing 450,000 positions, accounting for $30.2 billion in GDP. 

But for airports and tourism to continue being interdependent generators of value, investment in the sustainable development of airports is vital. 

Both sectors need to keep up their infrastructure, exercise environmental stewardship and maintain community engagement. These areas are directly pertinent to the goals of sustainable tourism development: economic growth; employment and poverty reduction; resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change, among others. 

Resilient infrastructure is the bedrock for the sustainable development of modern economies. In many parts of the world, airport operators face capacity constraints, which have resulted in bottlenecks and flight delays. 

Airports also play their part in environmental protection and mitigation of climate change – essential to supporting sustainable tourism. 

The Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, which has just completed its seventh year, now includes 182 accredited airports in 54 countries around the world. Under the programme, more than 200,000 tonnes of CO2 were reduced in the year ending June 2016, enough to power over 86,000 households. 

Initiated by ACI Europe, Airport Carbon Accreditation is now recognised in every Region of the world. Furthermore, ACI’s Airport Carbon Emissions Reporting Tool (ACERT) version 4.0, which is a valuable tool in assisting airports in managing their GHG emissions, also helps them progress toward accreditation.

Although climate change is globally the most pressing environmental problem the world shares, other environmental concerns are particularly imperative for airports to address, noise, local air and water quality chief among them.

The ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) is a key focus of ACI’s activity as it covers a wide range of measures on environmental protection germane to aviation. Most recently, it agreed a new standard of CO2 for aircraft, and has committed to developing guidance on community engagement. 

ACI will make sure that CAEP and the international civil aviation authorities understand the importance of well structured, and constructive community engagement. 

Airports recognise that they are members of the communities in which they operate and need permission to exist and to grow if necessary to accommodate the demand for air service. 

ACI will continue to work in partnership with governments, regulators and other aviation stakeholders to ensure that we do our part in supporting sustainable tourism this year and in the years to come.

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