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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on October 16, 2017

Building human capital

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the importance of building a strong airport team.

It’s quite a challenge to finance, design and build the physical infrastructure for a new airport development. But once you’ve built it, how can you ensure that it works as well as you had hoped?

That’s not so much a question of the physical assets themselves, important though they are. It’s more to do with human capital – the people that lead, manage and operate the airport. And fundamental to that is having people of the right quality.

Yet, whilst the planning of airport physical infrastructure is rarely left to chance, the approach taken to developing an airport’s human capital can be more variable. With a few notable exceptions, there isn’t the same emphasis and intense focus on building people capacity and capability in airports as you find in companies like Google.

And could you imagine a world-class competitive sports team paying more attention to its stadium than the identification, recruitment and development of talented players?

The key to building a strong and capable airport team is strategic people planning. When people join an airport organisation, they can end up staying with it for a very long time. Indeed, twenty or thirty years of service is not unusual. In that time, much will change. Airports are a growth sector, becoming more complex and competitive, heavily influenced by technology, with sustainability and the passenger experience central to success.

Strategic people planning involves analysis of the future needs for both ‘own employees’ and ‘contractors’ and succession planning for key positions. It is also likely to include plans for:

  • Attracting people who aspire to senior leadership roles with the ability to manage uncertainty and complexity, as well as delivering consistently on objectives. This places strong demands on intellectual capacity, self-mastery and relationship skills in addition to the more traditional leadership qualities of drive, energy and determination.
  • Recruiting and selecting people at all levels who not only have the right technical skills, but the right attitudes and values. These are the kinds of people who are prepared to take personal accountability and ownership for their actions, are keen to develop and are open to learning.
  • Developing people already in the system to reach their full potential. A systematic approach to talent management is essential. Substantial gains can be made by identifying the hidden talent that exists in most organisations, and giving such people the opportunities for development and growth. Remember that development takes place not only through formal training but through experience in work assignments and on projects.

Investing in people is as important as investing in physical infrastructure.


Arrivals and Departures

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has decided to reshuffle its management team with the current CEOs of London Stansted (Andrew Cowan) and Manchester Airport (Ken O’Toole) swapping jobs and Collette Roche taking up the new position of chief of staff. MAG CEO, Charlie Cornish, said: “Both airports are about to embark on significant periods of development and investment, and Ken and Andrew are the right people to lead them during this critical time.”

Andrea Pal is the new chief executive officer of Fraport Brasil, the subsidiary set up by Fraport AG to operate and develop Brazil’s Fortaleza and Porto Alegre airports. Pal has served as deputy general manager and chief financial officer of St Petersburg-Pulkovo operator, Northern Capital Gateway, for the last seven years. She said: “Moving from one BRIC country in the northern hemisphere to another in the southern hemisphere is an exciting new challenge. I look forward to leading the Fraport Brasil team in South America’s largest market. Our commitment is to create two modern, efficient and customer-oriented gateways.”

Tim Clarke is the new chairman of Birmingham Airport in the UK, succeeding John Hudson OBE who is retiring after holding the position for the last 20 years. Long-standing resident of the Birmingham area, Clarke has extensive experience of the leisure and retail sectors.

In the US, David Pekoske has been sworn in as the seventh administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). He is a former vice commandant of the US Coast Guard. ACI-NA president and CEO, Kevin Burke, says: “Assistant Secretary Pekoske’s proven track record of mission-focused strategic management is essential in reinforcing the importance of a risk-based approach to aviation security.”


About the authors

Dr Richard Plenty is managing director of This Is… and runs the ACI World Airport Human Resources programme. The next one is in Abu Dhabi on November 5-8, 2017. Terri Morrissey is chairperson of This Is… and CEO of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Contact them through

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