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All aboard – Highlights of ACI World's Annual General Assembly in Hong Kong

Innovation, capacity challenges, sustainability and the customer experience were just a few of the topics on the agenda at this year’s ACI Asia-Pacific/World Annual General Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in Hong Kong, writes Joe Bates.

Hopes were high that this year’s joint ACI Asia-Pacific/World Annual General Assembly Conference & Exhibition in dynamic Hong Kong would be one of the biggest and best yet, and with a varied and busy conference programme, 900 delegates and 60 exhibitors from across the globe, it didn’t disappoint.

The event began with welcoming addresses from Seow Hiang Lee, ACI Asia-Pacific president and CEO of Changi Airport Group; Fred Lam, CEO of Airport Authority Hong Kong; and Martin Eurnekian, chair of ACI World, president of Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 and CEO of Corporacíon América Airports.

Lee got events under way by welcoming delegates to Hong Kong, outlining the importance of aviation to the economic development of cities, countries and regions and highlighting some of the challenges and opportunities facing airports going forward.
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“The Asia-Pacific region has been a key driving force contributing to the world’s robust air traffic growth for the past decade, although with growth, comes challenges,” he said.

“ACI forecasts that eight out of the top ten fastest growing countries for passengers from 2017-2040 will be from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. There is no one-size-fits-all in how we manage, fund or invest in our airports, although recent trends show that where there is sound regulatory framework, privatisation is a viable way to finance much needed infrastructure investments as a means to increase capacity.

“Amidst the anticipated growth and building capacity, we in the aviation industry, in co-operation and collaboration with government and stakeholders, need to provide a good passenger experience, keep the system safe, secure and efficient and economically and environmentally sustainable. It is important that we listen carefully to the needs of the communities that we all serve.”

He was followed by Lam who spoke about the importance of his airport to the growth and future prosperity of Hong Kong and some hugely ambitious development plans that ultimately revolved around “transforming Hong Kong International Airport from a city airport to an airport city”.

Talking about Airport Authority Hong Kong’s airport city plans, Lam said: “Infrastructure aside, passengers today are looking for a total travel experience, this is why we developed the idea of SKYCITY. Located a short distance from the airport, it goes far beyond the traditional notion of a shopping mall and will provide a full range of retail, dining and entertainment facilities plus offices and hotels.”
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He noted that HKIA had recently taken over responsibility for managing and developing AsiaWorld-Expo, which hosts sporting and entertainment events as well as conventions, and revealed that he thought that both “mega developments” would help make HKIA a destination in its own right for both locals and tourists.

Lam added: “Technology will shape the future of all airport operations, so we are embracing the latest technologies to offer travellers a seamless and comfortable airport experience. In the coming years, HKIA will transform the passenger journey into a fully automated, self-service process that will revolutionise the travel experience with innovative services and enhance our operational efficiency.”

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In terms of the bigger picture and the challenges facing airports worldwide, fellow keynote speaker, Eurnekian, remarked: “Collectively, the airport industry has done a good job in staying ahead of the game, but we also acknowledge that the pace of change is accelerating and the airport industry must continue to anticipate and adjust to the wider world as it fulfils the demands of its customers and communities safely, securely and sustainably.

“In light of future air travel demand, this event provides aviation leaders and industry stakeholders with the opportunity to put our heads together and to think critically and creatively about key topics.

“We will seek solutions including the task of accommodating growth, major developments in aircraft operations, resilience and adaptation to climate change, the customer experience revolution, new experiences in travel technologies, and innovations in security.

“In an age of disruption, how can we embrace a proactive approach to providing services to customers and what are the best investment decisions during a paradigm shift in the airport business?”

In her welcome address to the attendees, Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, said: “With our airport sitting right at the heart of the ‘double gateway’ connecting the Greater Bay Area at the one end and to the world at the other, Hong Kong offers seamless air-to-land and air-to-sea connections with a huge number of nearby destinations.
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“It makes perfect sense to leverage on the unique advantage of our airport to foster a wider network of inter-related business activities. Indeed, our vision is to engineer our city’s airport to become an aerotropolis with huge and high economic efficiency and diversified employment opportunities, so as to enhance Hong Kong’s position as an international business centre.

“The development of an aerotropolis is in line with worldwide trends, and we are embarking on various novel and exciting developments to make this happen.”

Dr Fang Liu, Secretary General of ICAO, highlighted the organisation’s close links with ACI, which she revealed have gone from strength to strength since ACI World moved its headquarters to Montréal.

“Since ACI moved to Montréal it has been able to engage with ICAO much more meaningfully and cost effectively on all aspects of our political, policy and technical mandates,” enthused Liu.

“Its close physical proximity has helped immeasurably in terms of our experts and senior management developing closer working relationships. A dynamic, which has produced clear benefits for both governments and airport operators.”

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A superb start to the conference continued with a must attend leaders forum, which featured some of the most high profile airport bosses in the business – Dick Benschop (Royal Schiphol Group); Deborah Flint (Los Angeles World Airports); Elena Mayoral (Madrid Barajas); Sheikh Aimen bin Ahmed Al Hosni (Oman Airports Management Company); and AA2000/Corporacíon América Airports’ Eurnekian.

Outlining the current challenges facing Los Angeles International Airport, LAWA’s Flint revealed that road traffic congestion in Los Angeles often meant that car journeys to LAX were long ones, and having got there, it can take anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes just to circle between the terminals, which she admitted was a “significant problem”.

She, however, noted that the airport wasn’t shy of updating its facilities, with over $15 billion being spent on projects to modernise LAX to make it more efficient and passenger friendly before Los Angeles welcomes the world for the 2028 Olympic Games.

The enhancements are needed as phenomenal passenger growth – the airport has added an extra 20 million passengers in the last five years – meant that an airport originally built for less than 50 million passengers per annum handled a record 87.5 million in 2018.
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Al Hosni revealed that passenger numbers across Oman’s airports has soared by 27% and 10% in the last two years, hot on the heels of operator, Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) opening new state-of-the-art terminals at Salalah and Muscat airports.

The new additions have helped transform the country’s airport system, but he reminded delegates that costly new infrastructure might not necessarily be the solution to an airport’s capacity constraints.

“Advancements in technology continue to make it possible to process more passengers with existing facilities, so new terminals and runways aren’t always the answer to capacity issues,” noted Al Hosni.

Schiphol’s Benschop told the audience that Europe’s airports faced severe capacity issues both in the air and on the ground in terms of limited space to build new infrastructure and airspace constraints, and that Amsterdam Schiphol was no exception, having reached its 500,000 aircraft movements per annum capacity.
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However, in spite of its constraints, he revealed that passenger numbers increased by a healthy 10% in 2018 due to higher load factors and the use of bigger aircraft, and he is confident that the gateway will continue to grow in the future through a combination of new facilities, enhanced landside access, embracing innovative new technology, and improving productivity and passenger flows.

The only non-airport person on the panel was Cathay Pacific CEO, Robert Hogg, who was generally sympathetic to the capacity challenges faced by airports.

Next up was a panel discussion entitled ‘A New Era in Aircraft Operations’ involving Joe Wilding, co-founder and chief technology officer of Boom Supersonic; Dorothy Reimold, the FAA’s director of strategic operations for commercial space transportation; and Vincent Loubìere, director of city integration and infrastructure for Airbus Urban Air Mobility.

The final session before lunch was a ceremony to commemorate 10 years since the launch of ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme and, of course, the presentation of awards to the latest airports to prove their environmental credentials and either become carbon accredited for the first time or improve on their previous performance and go up a level.

An impressive 264 gateways across the globe are carbon accredited under the scheme, which has become the global standard for airport operators seeking to address their carbon footprint.

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ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, noted: “The global airport industry is committed to reducing its carbon emissions and, in 2009, the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme was launched in Europe to empower airport operators with a detailed, multi-step path to carbon neutrality.

“We are delighted that the programme quickly gathered global momentum, which is a reflection of how airport operators think local and global. Running an airport is a complex business and airport operators are one piece of this puzzle with many stakeholders on the airport site.

“Working relationships need to be fostered and maintained and airport operators are addressing their direct carbon emissions, but also engaging partners to address theirs.”

The afternoon of Day 1 comprised a debate about customer service innovation called ‘The Customer Experience Revolution’; the launch of two unique programmes designed to help airports promote service excellence and improve the customer experience; and ACI Asia-Pacific’s annual Regional Assembly.

Speaking during the customer service debate moderated by Plaza Premium Group’s Mei Mei Song, Sydney Airport’s service strategy and customer experience manager, Claire Donnellan, revealed that feedback from ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) benchmarking programme had helped “drive the changes that passengers were asking for” at her airport.
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“Customer needs and passenger expectations change over time, meaning something that was a basic [requirement] before, may not be considered so important today,” she commented.

“Having a space for customers to break away and relax and recharge is important today as are bathrooms, although whereas years ago a standard bathroom was fine, now people actually want a sense of place experience when they go there.”

Fellow panelists in the session included Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Muna Al-Ghanim; Corporacíon Quiport’s Carlos Criado; San Antiono’s Karen Ellis and Airport Authority Hong Kong’s Chapman Fong.

The two customer service related programmes launched by ACI World at the event were its new Customer Experience Accreditation programme – which offers a common definition and framework for customer experience management – and the Airport Customer Experience Professional Designation Programme for airport employees.
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Launching both, ACI World’s deputy director general for programmes and services, Antoine Rostworowski, said: “The Customer Experience Accreditation is really a management tool. It’s a gap analysis to assess the level of maturity that your airport has in terms of customer experience management. So, it’s a look from within.”

The Airport Customer Experience Professional Designation Programme has been developed for airports subscribing to the new accreditation programme.

As part of the accreditation process, each airport must nominate a number of employees to take the course so that they have a clear understanding of customer experience and are competent to lead the airport in terms of customer experience management.

The programme can also be completed as a stand-alone programme, and any airport can also designate additional employees to take the course.

A busy and exciting day ended with ACI Asia-Pacific’s Regional Assembly followed by a Gala evening on top of one of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong – the indoor observation deck on the 100th floor of the impressive International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon to be precise!
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ACI World’s Annual General Assembly, followed by the now traditional ACI-ICAO AMPAP Graduation Ceremony, ensured an upbeat start to Day 2.

They were followed by a keynote address from futurist and CEO of Prescient, Dr Amy Zalman, who then handed the stage over to KMPG’s Anson Bailey who presided over a panel that contemplated what might be next for the industry in terms of the passenger experience and new technologies.

Steve Lee, Changi Airport Group’s chief information officer, said that he believed that airports increasingly had to “think outside of the box” when it comes to new innovations such as Singapore Changi’s pioneering Jewel Changi Airport development and planned Terminal 5.

“Innovation is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration,” stated Lee, noting that Changi Airport Group would carry out “tons of experiments to prepare for T5,” which is due to open in the 2030s.
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“It is all too easy to talk about it [Terminal 5], but it is hard to do it. It is hard to convince people to do it. It is hard to make changes, and it is hard to do on so many other levels at the time as remaining 100% focused on the customer,” he said.

He added that how “man and machine” work together in the future in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence, will also prove crucial to the future growth and prosperity of airports.

Vancouver International Airport’s vice president for planning and innovation, Steve Hankinson, talked about the success of YVR’s ‘FutureXPRESS’ Living Lab, which it created in 2018 to help senior government officials from Canada and the US better understand the benefits of biometrics technology.

The lab, he said, gave them a glimpse of what the future could hold and, just as importantly, the need for internationally adopted standards across the globe.

Hankinson told the audience that such was the success of the decision that YVR was still having conversations with the Canadian government today about the biometrics they witnessed in the living lab.

While facial biometrics, which he described as the future of identity management, is set to be adopted by the US-Canada trusted traveller programme, NEXUS, later this year.

“We, as an industry, really spend a lot of time talking about innovation and technology, but I urge you to go back and make sure that your regulators are coming on the journey with you,” said Hankinson. “FutureXPRESS has paid massive dividends for us.”

Fellow panelists in the session called, ‘The NEXTT Generation’, included Northern Kentucky International Airport’s chief innovation officer, Brian Cobb, and Arup’s director for advanced digital engineering, Alan Newbold.

The futuristic theme of the day then switched to Google’s industry leader for finance and travel, Lucy Werner, who shared her thoughts on the growing role technology will play in people’s lives going forward.
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ACI World’s security, facilitation and IT director, Nina Brooks, then helped launch new ACI Handbooks on the Insider Threat and Cybersecurity, before her head of security and facilitation colleague, Nathalie Herbelles, moderated a fast-moving session on Innovation in Security.

Her panel was made up of Adelaide Airport Limited’s Emma Boulby; NUCTECH’s Daniel Goh; Aviation Service Security’s Ben Smith; and Heathrow Airport Limited’s Simon Wilcox.

All that left time for was the presentation the latest ACI Airport Excellence (APEX) in Safety and Security Awards before some closing remarks by Gittens and Chau and the customary handover of the ACI World flag from this year’s host, represented by Fred Lam, to next year’s host, represented by Martin Eurnekian.

Next year’s joint ACI Latin America-Carribean (ACI LAC)/World Annual General Assembly, will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As host Eurnekian acknowledged, Hong Kong will be a hard act to follow, but as anyone who was in Argentina last time AA2000 hosted the event in 2007 will know, it will do all that it can to rise to the challenge!

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