The election of a new chair and vice chair, release of a new Policy Brief on airport networks and, of course, two days of lively debate about everything from leadership challenges to the sustainability of aviation ensured that this year’s ACI World Annual General Assembly in Mauritius will be fondly remembered by all 600 delegates lucky enough to attend it.
‘Bold leadership in a time of change’ was the theme of this year’s event – hosted by AML and held jointly with ACI Africa’s Regional Conference, Assembly & Exhibition – and it didn’t waste much time getting on topic after the formalities of the opening ceremony.
During her welcome address, ACI World’s director general, Angela Gittens, said: “We cannot help but reflect on the fact that over the years the pace of change has continued to accelerate.
“This year’s conference theme, ‘Bold leadership in a time of change’, recognises that whatever their cause, airports must react to them.
“Airports play a crucial role in the economic and social health of communities, countries, regions and the world at large, and we must craft a strategy for their sustainable development to continue those benefits.”
Keynote speaker, president of the ICAO Council, Dr Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu, stated that the aviation industry’s continued growth also presented it with its greatest challenges.
Regarding growth, he noted that the projected doubling of flight and passenger volumes by the early 2030s poses significant risks to air transport safety performance, network capacity and efficiency, security preparedness, and emissions mitigation targets.
He also remarked upon the risks it poses to air transport’s role in supporting enhanced sustainable prosperity wherever States have established ICAO-compliant aviation connectivity.
Aliu added: “One of the most important prerequisites for future air transport sustainability depends on the quality and extent of the infrastructure and human resources development commitments which governments make today.”
Others key figures to address the audience during the opening sessions of the conference included the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth; AML chairman, Johnny Dumazel; ACI World chairman, Declan Collier; and the managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and president of ACI Africa, Saleh Dumona.
In his opening remarks, Collier noted that global passenger traffic “continues to dance to the beat of its own drum”, posting growth rates of 7% in 2016. He added that international travel and tourism, in particular, remained “irrepressible” despite the geo-political risks that persist in many parts of the world.
Collier, who forecast that global passenger traffic would exceed eight billion by the end of 2017, told delegates that the world’s airports generated almost $152 billion in revenue in 2015 with 55% being generated by aeronautical sources and 41% by non-aviation related activities.
“These figures reveal a familiar narrative, that more and more people are travelling, globalisation is growing and the airport industry is in overall health,” he said.
“While the objective continues to be on ensuring that air traffic is managed safely, securely and efficiently, that must be done with due respect to our sector’s concrete environmental commitments.
“Despite that, as Angela said, change is ever evolving and as many of us know all too well, the challenges and opportunities that we faced yesterday are not the same as those we face today, and will certainly not be the same as those that face us over horizon.
“For this reason we must continue to be analytical, data driven, and most importantly be wiling to co-operate. Quite simply, that’s why we are here in Mauritius, to collectively take bold steps and craft a sustainable way forward amidst continual change.”
Next up was ACI Europe’s director general, Olivier Jankovec, who used his time in the spotlight to highlight the incredible progress of ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme to help combat climate change, which he called “humanity’s biggest challenge”.
He revealed that a total of 201 airports across the globe are certified under the programme today.
“From May 2016 to May 2017, the 189 accredited airports succeeded in collectively reducing their carbon emissions by over 200,000 tonnes of CO2. That’s equivalent to the CO2 emitted during the lifecycle of over two million iPhones,” Jankovec informed delegates.
The final morning session before lunch on ‘Bold leadership’ was arguably one of the highlights of the conference as it contained some of the best known names in the industry in the shape of Los Angeles World Airports CEO, Deborah Flint; Fraport’s executive board chairman, Dr Stefan Schulte; and Sydney Airport’s managing director and CEO, Kerrie Mather.
In response to a question about what is bold leadership, Schulte stated: “For me, leadership is setting the company’s path and developing its strategy, giving direction, looking for returns on investments and, of course, motivating and inspiring people.
“Bold leadership is sometimes about making the difficult decisions. It is often about dealing with a lot of criticism and convincing sceptical people in the company to buy into your vision and then get them to persuade others to do the same.”
Mather noted that her company’s decision to decline the government’s invitation to develop a second Sydney Airport could be considered a bold decision.
While LAWA’s Flint quoted former boxer Mike Tyson when talking about the qualities needed to be a good leader when plans change. “I am a big sports fan, and the boxer Mike Tyson used to say that everyone has a great plan until they get punched in the mouth,” she said.
“That’s when you have to figure out how to be really resilient. The leaders job is to say we are going to be resilient and we have smart enough people to work out how to deal with this blow, pivot if necessary, but continue to look forward and drive towards that ultimate vision.”
Other big names on the panel – moderated by ACI World’s deputy director general, Michael Rossell – were Ezequiel Barrenechea, executive vice president of Aeropuertos Andinos de Perú and director general of Corporación América; and ACI Africa’s Saleh Dunoma.
New Policy Brief
ACI World also used Day 1 of the conference to officially launch its new Policy Brief on airport networks and the sustainability of small airports.
The ACI Policy Brief focuses on one specific management model: the airport network and the sustainability of airports with low traffic volumes, and provides an overview of the state of airport networks worldwide, based on a robust data set and inventory of the world’s networks.
It also puts forth practical policy recommendations to ensure that airport operation and development is sustainable and beneficial to airlines, passengers, communities and national economies.
ACI World chairman, Declan Collier, noted that an estimated 1,900 airports or almost 50% of the world’s airports belong to airport networks of some kind, between them handling just under three billion passengers a year or 40% of global passenger traffic.
While in Africa, almost 90% of airports belong to an airport network and they cover 80% of the traffic handled in the region.
“The Policy Brief proves that the sustainable operation and development of the world’s airports remains a challenge,” he said.
“While the airport industry as a whole is profitable, financial statements show that as many as two-thirds of the world’s airports, most of which are small, operate at a net loss. The airport network model, however, is one management option to overcome this challenge as it allows cross subsidisation from profitable, larger airports.
“This is often key to the sustainability of smaller airports and provides benefits in terms of safety and social and economic development as well as the airlines serving the networks.”
Summing up, he noted: “We believe that airports should be free to consider the management model that is best suited to the public policy and commercial strategic objectives of their business.”
ACI World’s director general, Angela Gittens, told Airport World that ACI had taken the decision to issue the new Policy Brief now to demonstrate to policymakers how important airport networks are as some in the industry want to end the practice of cross subsidisation.
“Airport networks are a viable and cost effective way of keeping connectivity within a region, country or area because the smaller airports are subsidised by the bigger airports in the network, and this is really not that different from how the large hub carrier airlines manage themselves,” said Gittens.
“Not every airline route makes money, indeed most routes don’t, but they are necessary in order for other routes to make money.”
Security and customer service
The first session after lunch, moderated by ACI World’s head of security, Nina Brooks, was about the importance of creating a strong security culture, and the panel made up of airport operators and the TSA’s Gary Seffel, offered a variety of views.
Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Corporation, noted that last year’s terrorist attack on his airport had made airport staff more aware than ever before about the need for a security culture and that all employees had a role to play in combatting threats.
“At Brussels Airport we have 1,500 security and police officers but we have 20,000 staff working at the airport every day, so it is obvious that having that many people aware of, and sensitive to security matters, multiplies your chances of addressing any threats early on, and this is especially true for insider threats,” said Feist.
Others on the panel included SSR International Airport’s head of security services, Rajeev Lollbeharree; Greater Toronto Airports Authority CEO, Howard Eng; and South African Civil Aviation Authority’s director of civil aviation, Poppy Khoza.
The conference part of Day 1 ended with a customer service focused debate called ‘The road to success: learning from the world’s best airports in customer experience’, chaired by ACI World’s airport customer experience and technology director, Antoine Rostworoswki.
On the panel were Malta International Airport’s Alan Borg; Quiport’s Allan Padilla; Halifax International Airport’s Joyce Carter; AML’s Romesh Bhoyroo; and Haikou Meilan International Airport’s Zhen Wang.
Top performing ASQ airports
Award ceremonies for the 2016 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) winners and the gateways inducted into the Director General’s Roll of Excellence were held later at the Gala Dinner.
“These airports have dedicated themselves to delivering a stellar customer experience,” enthused Gittens. “Promoting a culture of continuous service improvement has become a matter of gaining competitive advantage and optimising non-aeronautical revenue performance.
“ACI proudly recognises these accomplishments and we look forward to seeking more effective, efficient and profitable ways of serving the flying public together.”
Business partners and ACI World Assembly
Day 2 began with a session that showed how ACI’s World Business Partners (WBPs) are helping airports innovate and be successful in an ever demanding environment.
Panellists included SITA’s Catherine Mayer; Airbiz’s Greg Fordham; Arconas Corporation’s Pablo Reich; and Global Exchange’s Angel de Léon. The session was enthusiastically moderated by Tunde Oyekola, CEO of the El Mansour Group and WBP observer on the ACI World Governing Board.
New chair and vice chair
ACI World’s annual Assembly followed and, as usual, it was a busy one and included the election of a new chair (Bongani Maskeo) and vice chair (Martin Eurnekián) for a two-year term beginning on January 1, 2018.
Maseko, the CEO and executive director of Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) is the current vice chair and is being succeeded in that role by Eurnekián, who is president of Corporación América and president of ACI’s Latin America and Caribbean (ACI-LAC) region.
Speaking at ACI’s annual assembly, Maseko, said that it “was an extreme honour to be elected chair of ACI World” and promised to give it “his best shot”.
Eurnekián proved he was a man of few words by simply saying “thank you very much” to ACI members in attendance at the annual assembly.
However, afterwards he revealed that he was proud to accept the role and expressed gratitude to ACI World’s Governing Board and ACI members for their confidence in supporting his election.
On the new appointments, ACI World’s director general, Angela Gittens, noted: “I congratulate Bongani Maseko and Martin Eurnekián on their appointments. Be aware that the bar has been set very high and I am used to receiving wise, strategic direction, and will expect no less from both of you.”
Outgoing chair, London City Airport’s CEO, Declan Collier, who completes his two years stint in the hot seat at the end of the 2017, said it had been an honour and privilege to lead the organisation.
The Assembly was followed by Gittens’ self proclaimed favourite event of each year, the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP) graduation ceremony for all those to have obtained International Airport Professional (IAP) diplomas in the last 12 months.
This year 51 of the 133 graduates were in Mauritius to receive their certificates on the tenth anniversary of the launch of the AMPAP programme.
Reflecting on the first 10 years of the initiative, AMPAP programme executive president, Dr Pierre Coutu, revealed that a total of 700 people had graduated over the last decade.
He noted that the very first graduate, Macau International Airport’s Suning Liu, completed the three-year course in a remarkable 10 months and those that have followed since have included 131 staff from the Airports Authority of India, 41 from Malaysia Airports and 26 from the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta.
Final sessions of the conference covered ‘Taxes, connectivity and sustainable tourism: barriers and opportunities to grow’; and ‘How airport CEOs view the digital transformation’.
The latter session featured Munich Airport CEO, Dr Michael Kerkloh, who despite noting that he was from “the analogue generation”, demonstrated that his gateway was indeed a pioneer in the delivery of digital services from both a B2B and B2C perspective.
Warnings about restrictions on alcohol sales and the danger of losing tobacco related revenues altogether from airport duty free operations were highlighted by several speakers during the Commercial Revenues Forum, one of four mini-summits held the day before the conference began.
In a session designed to flag up some of the challenges facing airport retail, Sarah Branquinho, president of the European Travel Retail Confederation, urged African airports to “proactively assist in resisting any new regulation that impeded commercial revenues”.
She insisted that the threat of a worldwide ban on the sale of tobacco products in airport duty free shops is very real, primarily due to the World Health Organization (WHO) wrongly assuming that duty free retailers are a major source of the illicit trade of tobacco. An accusation, said Branquinho, for which they had “no proof whatsoever”.
A ban, she told delegates, would cost airports “significant revenue” as tobacco currently accounts for 11.4% of all global duty free sales.
She pointed out that Bénin, Gambia and Uganda are among the African nations to already impose bans, although none have been enforced yet.
Clara Perez, travel retail research director for Swiss research agency, M1nd-set, reminded delegates that the duty free and travel retail business enjoyed global sales of $63.5 billion (+2.4%) in 2016 despite the fact that only around half of the 43% of passengers that visit a duty free shop actually buy something.
See you in Brussels
Next year’s ACI World Annual Assembly, Conference & Exhibition will be held jointly with ACI Europe in Brussels on June 18-20. Host, Brussels Airport Company (BAC), promises that it will be memorable.