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ACI NEWS Last modified on November 14, 2009

Sustaining business excellence

ACI director general, Angela Gittens, writes on how airports can strategise for the future by founding strong and lasting business partnerships.

Airports from all five ACI regions will soon be convening at the ACI World Annual General Meeting and Assembly in Kuala Lumpur. This has been a tough year for just about all of us, and our theme, although chosen a year ago, goes right to the heart of the matter. How do we continue to invest in and deliver service excellence when external forces threaten our plans and shift our priorities? This may be the future paradigm – a world in constant change requiring greater flexibility in business decision-making and relationship-building.

What I am pleased to observe is that airports are rising to the challenge. In the face of the harsh economic conditions of the past 12 months, they have addressed market contraction and diminishing revenues with pragmatism and an entrepreneurial spirit. Airports have looked to themselves and their partners to collaborate on innovative solutions. We are all taking a frank and fresh look at our business processes with the objective to streamline them. In short, I see proof that airports and the ACI organisation have been seizing this down time to invest in a more flexible business model.

We are all part of a global system. The days of going it alone and ignoring the wider context are over. Our resilience will rely increasingly on standardised and harmonised solutions. We can look at our most pressing challenges and understand why they call for global strategies.

The link between airport economics and customer relations is stronger than ever. Airport and airline relations are characterised by a tug of war over who pays for what and how much. It is the normal customer–supplier relationship of any industry. So when the customer is hurting, he seeks relief, and since we are the supplier, we are one of the first doors on which airlines come knocking. Those airports that were able to respond positively have done so. Yet, it is vital that the airlines understand our constraints in terms of inflexible costs and our long-term investment needs if we are to find durable solutions that will serve them in the future. We need a strategy that turns our customers into partners, not protagonists. The same airlines serve many airports, so our strategy for working with them must be consistent and should refer to the ICAO framework that ACI is proactively pursing to ensure that it reflects the reality of airport needs in today’s business context.

At the same time, airport finances need to reflect more diversified revenue streams. Aeronautical income from our airline customers will be insufficient to provide for future capacity needs. Working with our commercial partners and seeking new ideas is a shift that has proven valuable for increasing the stability of the many airports that have actively pursued and invested in more commercial space. Future airport development and expansion plans should reflect that orientation.

Public health issues are once again in the limelight as well. Emergency preparedness and swift problem-solving help us to preserve the safety of our passengers and staff, and to minimise traffic disruption when faced with situations such as the outbreak of the Influenza A H1N1 virus. ACI has revised its emergency procedure guidelines and recommends that each airport take the opportunity to review and update its processes, renew contacts with local and national health officials and train staff so that when the next outbreak happens, we are all ready.

Improved service delivery is another strategic vector that requires our collective enthusiasm. New technologies are potential time and cost savers, moving manual processes to automated procedures, but if the universal standards and protocols do not exist, we will end up with many independent systems that do not work harmoniously across the airport platform, or from one airport to the next. The passenger or shipper needs to rely on a network that is consistent, whether that is for boarding passes or cargo tracking. What may look unimportant to your airport today will likely be an industry requirement at a later date. We all need to be involved. ACI pursues this need for agreed standards with platform partners such as the airlines, ground handlers, immigration and customer services, and a host of service suppliers who profit from common use systems. Lower costs and improved quality service are the rewards.

A continuing priority for global strategic planning is in the regulatory realm, where we must battle against poor – or even incorrect – understanding of airport operations. We know all too well that inconsistent regulations and restrictions can directly impact the passenger flow and create consumer confusion, as we have seen in the implementation of conflicting national security measures around the globe. A further example of misplaced regulatory zeal is the threat of new regulations that would adversely affect the duty free sales of tobacco at airports, amalgamating airport duty free into an “illicit tobacco sales” protocol that shows a lack of understanding of our secure supply chain.

The layering of environmental taxes presents another example of how well-intentioned governmental actions do not bring mitigation of the stated problem, but are frequently used to simply fill government coffers. ACI again calls on members to unite behind collective efforts to weigh in on these debates that tie economic burdens to regulatory measures. It is easier to avoid such errors at the ground level than to attempt to overturn them later on.

The actual mitigation of environmental concerns is yet another global strategic approach that we must adopt. Some airports are more advanced in seeking to address the issue, often those in regions where the public demands that aviation reduce its impact. Whether for emissions, noise, or general protection of wildlife and natural resources, there are many airport leaders in mitigating actions. We need to learn from their experiences. Airport operators everywhere should be adopting best practices and implementing measures that make sense for their airport – and it is important to note many of these measures have a more reasonable price tag than we imagine, particularly when they represent long-term cost savings. ACI World’s standing committee on the environment has been hard at work on a new manual that counsels airports on greenhouse gas emissions management. We have worked at ICAO and with industry partners to contribute to responsible leadership on environmental goals. We are passing on the good work in the regions to the world community of airports. Each effort we make is good for the local community and also good for the world community. Again, a global strategy drives home this dual benefit.

Last year at the world assembly in Boston, I called on members to “unleash the power of airports” by working together more closely. You have done that. Your active participation on boards, on world and regional committees, ICAO panels and working groups, and cross-industry forums, has built a unity of purpose that has made us strong.

This year I will call on each of you to take a fresh look at how your airport can work with us to define and carry out a successful strategic roadmap for the future. I know that I can count on you. On behalf of the entire ACI organisation, I sincerely thank you for sharing your time, energy and guidance for the benefit of all the worlds’ airports and look forward to increasing the added value that ACI brings to each of you.

Airport Word 2009 - Issue 5

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