Over 800 delegates from 60 countries, a host of top draw speakers and the spectacular backdrop of the Rocky Mountains arguably made the 2012 Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition in Denver the best yet.
The event got off to a lively start when ACI-North America’s president, Greg Principato, called for the US to develop a new comprehensive aviation policy that encouraged investment in the nation’s airports.
Principato warned that the US risked falling behind the rest of the world unless the government changed current legislation.
He said: “Some say it does not matter if others build modern, new facilities. It does not matter if they modernise old ones. They are simply trying to create what we in the United States already have. I say that statement flies in the face of history, and it flies in the face of our competitors’ ambitions.
“Over the next three years we are prepared to work with airlines and others to construct a new modern system to build and upgrade infrastructure.
“A system that gives airports and their communities the ability they need to invest in modern infrastructure, a system that permits our air transportation system, and the companies within it, to flourish. A system that positions our nation as a key lynchpin in the global economy throughout the 21st century and beyond.
“In short, we are talking about the need for a comprehensive aviation policy that addresses the needs of airlines, aviation infrastructure and airports.”
Principato’s address followed the opening remarks of ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, in which she once again outlined the importance of aviation to the economic growth of nations across the planet.
“Over the past 20 years, airports have evolved from simple public sector infrastructure providers into sophisticated business-oriented service providers,” said Gittens.
“This transformation has occurred mainly as a result of the realisation of governments around the world that airports are major engines of socio-economic growth in the territories that they serve.
“The uptake of the airport cities concept is one manifestation of the evolving nature of the airport business. It’s a model that recognises that an airport can do more than just provide tradtional aeronautical services.”
Gittens cited examples of dyamic growth at gateways such as Dubai International Airport – which has grown from the 80th busiest passenger airport in the world in 2000 to the 18th biggest in 2010 – and reminded delegates of China’s need to build between five and eight new airports yearly for the forseeable future to cope with anticipated demand.
“To put things in perspective, China currently has around 130 airports with regular commercial services, while the US has 400,” said Gittens. “Massive investment in new infrastructure is required.”
Indeed, it is estimated that China will have to invest $96 billion on new airport infrastructure over the next decade in order to keep up with demand.
In an action packed opening morning, the Mayor of Denver, Michael Hancock, revealed more details about Denver’s International Airport’s plans to develop an airport city on 9,000 acres of land within the gateway’s huge 53sqm site.
Denver’s plan is to create six distinct zones to accommodate everything from an aeronautical institute and logistics park to a golf course as part of a strategy designed to boost the gateway’s non-aeronautical revenues and traffic growth to ensure that the Colorado airport fulfils its potential.
The zones will comprise: Logistics (cargo, food distribution, corporate aviation and FBOs; Agro (industrial agriculture, food processing and storage; Aero (aerospace, military and cargo operations; Technical (renewable energy initiatives, and bioscience research and development; Gateway (ground transport links that will eventually include three commuter rail stations, a golf course, retail and resort hotels) and Centre (commercial and recreational facilities such as business parks, landmark hotels, offices and training and exhibition centres).
“We will create a development that thrives on the airport’s natural synergy, attracting business and jobs that benefit from a close relationship to the airport and its inherent access to national and international markets,” said Hancock.
He noted that the gateway’s ‘airport city’ master plan had been developed over the past several years in conjunction with hundreds of stakeholders to determine the most efficient way to develop the available land within DIA’s borders.
In cold, hard, facts, Hancock stated that it is estimated that Denver’s airport city will generate more than 25,000 construction jobs, more than 30,000 jobs at the airport and in excess of 40,000 new jobs throughout the Denver Metro region as a result of indirect and induced growth and development outside the airport’s borders.
It is also predicted that the airport city will generate more than $300 million in tax revenues for the region and the state as it is developed over the next 30 to 50 years.
Talking shortly afterwards, Denver International Airport’s manager of aviation, Kim Day, noted that “smart growth” was effectively the philosophy behind the airport’s development plans.
She noted that the ‘Tech’ zone was a 1,700-acre site where DIA could further develop its renewable energy initiatives (solar energy already provides around 6% of the airport’s energy).
Day enthused: “Denver has a rare opportunity to develop the most efficient and carefully planned airport city in the United States, and quite possibly the world.”
Conference chairman, professor John Kasarda – director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, University of North Carolina – noted that his institute now recognised the existence of 100 airport city or aerotroplis concepts across the globe.
He said: “Airport cities are valuable regional, and some would say, national assets as well as airport assets. Properly planned and developed, they can promote regional business efficiency as well as attracting additional passengers and cargo to airports and improving the quality of the lives of the people that live around them.”
During the two-day conference a whole host of senior airport bosses that included Munich’s Michael Kerkloh; LAWA’s Gina-Marie Lindsay, DFW’s Jeff Fegan; Taiwan–Taoyuan’s Samuel Lin; and Houston Airport System’s Mario Diaz, spoke about their airport city experience or offered advice to others based on their experience.
Diaz revealed that he believed that there were two basic principles of aerotropolis development.
He said: “The first basic principle is, if you have economic activity on airport that doesn’t absolutely, positively need to be on airport, push it off and then link it back. The second is to take a look at the economic base around the airport, the acitivity involved and the resources required and see if you can build on that and grow the airport and the local community.”
With regard to the first point, he noted that when Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta decided to locate a car rental facility off-site and link it to the gateway by a people mover system, the move proved so successful that a new community sprung up around it, including a new 400-room JW Marriott Hotel that was sold out seven months in advance of opening.