While the forecasted doubling of air traffic demand in the next 15 years is a challenge for every segment of the industry, a question that needs to be answered well before then is how airports are going to accommodate that level of growth and what can governments do to enable that accommodation?
At a minimum, three objectives must be targeted:
With respect to efficiency, ACI and the industry have worked at the global level to introduce data-driven aerodrome design provisions to enable airports to gain more capacity with existing airfield infrastructure.
As well, we are working now with IATA on a strategic review of the worldwide slot guidelines with the intent on our end to bring airports into the decision-making so as to gain better use of existing airport infrastructure.
Innovations in processing enabled by rapidly-developing technology will help. We have already seen drastic reductions in passenger screening and passport control at airports where governments and airports have instituted pilot projects. ACI and IATA have collaborated with governments on a programme we term as Smart Security to encourage and monitor such projects and to propagate the lessons learned to other governments, airports and airlines.
ACI believes that we have now all accepted that substantial change in the way we conduct common processes at airports is required if we are to meet future demand.
Protection of the infrastructure, mainly against constraints on use due to concerns of noise, emissions and other local impacts means working with communities and governments to keep airports as good neighbours as well as to encourage effective land use planning to avoid encroachment of incompatible uses on airport environs.
We have seen over and over local governments yield to the short-term seduction of incompatible development near airports which ultimately lead to restrictions on airline operations or operating hours.
The aviation industry has committed itself to tough environmental stewardship goals, with airports striving for carbon neutrality and dedicating considerable resources to reduce the adverse impacts of noise on surrounding communities and to avoid degradation of local air and water quality. At the same time, airports need to become more resilient in the face of adverse weather conditions that result from climate change.
Even with advances in efficiency and the protection of the use of current infrastructure, there will still be a need for additional infrastructure, as well as replacement of old infrastructure, both of which take years to plan and construct.
Globally, airports project a need of some $430 billion in capital expenditures to welcome the passenger of the future and provide the best experience possible. This requires primarily the State to have the vision that air transport can continue to play a strategic role for the economic and social health of the country.
Funding airport investment may come from the public, the private or a mix of the two. The last 30 years demonstrates that privatisation is a useful means to fund needed infrastructure development, with airports with private sector participation investing 14% more in capital expenditures than airports with only government sector participation.
Securing the overall bankability and financial sustainability of a project from the private investor perspective requires setting the right legal framework from the very start of the privatisation process and ensure transparent and competitive bidding processes to award the investor.
Any economic oversight, if needed, should provide for the appropriate tools for recovering the cost of the investment including a reasonable return proportionate to the level of risk taken. On the contrary, disproportionate efforts to restrict or regulate the airport business should be avoided, especially considering airport charges have remained both stable and reasonable in response to the strong competitive pressures that now shape the airport industry.
Air transportation is a system and, as such, works best when all stakeholders and partners work together to meet the needs of the world’s communities.