The unveiling of a new airport safety programme, the call for a new US aviation policy and some unforgettable white hats were just a few of the highlights of September's ACI-North America/ACI World Conference & Exhibition in Calgary.
Indeed, more than 100 exhibitors and 900 delegates enjoyed three days of debate about subjects ranging from cutting edge technology and sustainable design to the need to develop strategies to find the airport leaders of tomorrow.
The highlight of the first day for ACI World was the official launch of its APEX in Safety programme, which director general, Angela Gittens, described as one of the most exciting developments in the organisation's history.
"The Airport Excellence in Safety programme (APEX) is the airport community's response to the need to enhance aviation safety worldwide. The programme builds on the long-standing tradtion of mutual assistance that exists in the airport community.
"In essence, the APEX in Safety programme is about airports helping other airports manage safety better."
The cornerstone of the programme is an airport safety review, a peer review of safety carried out on a host airport based on ICAO standards and industry best practice.
Its introduction follows successful pilot programmes at Lomé-Tokoin (Togo), Ramón Villeda Morales (Honduras), Maputo (Mozambique),
Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Soekarno-Hatta (Indonesia) and Cluj-Napoca (Romania) airports.
ACI World hopes to get 100 airports signed up to the initiative by 2015.
Gittens added: "As the voice of the world's airports, ACI is pleased to facilitate a partnering process whereby each airport by virtue of its unique characteristics, strengths and knowledge can contribute to helping airports improve safety compliance and mitigate the risks of airport incidents worldwide."
Henry Gourdji, chief of the Continuous Monitoring and Oversight Section at ICAO's Air Navigation Bureau, said: "We believe that APEX in Safety has the potential to make a real difference in improving safety at airports worldwide.
"It moves ACI into the realm of active safety management, a concept that ICAO is committed to and supports. We are looking forward to our continuing collaboration with ACI as the APEX in Safety initiative moves into full implementation phase."
According to ACI World, the programme is built on the ICAO principles of information transparency, in a non-punitive, 'just culture' environment, where sharing data and best practices lead to excellence.
In his opening remarks, ACI-NA president, Greg Principato – fast earning a reputation for his no holds barred speeches – once again called for North American airports to be given more freedom to invest in infrastructure improvements.
He said: "I know the North American airport industry is filled with some of the best business minds I have ever run across, but they are being held back by federal policies and a regulatory framework that shortchanges business acumen, stifles creativity and stunts the drive of those leading our industry."
Principato noted that the goal was simply "a globally competitive aviation system that fosters economic growth".
He also poured scorn on the argument that US airports didn't need to invest in new infrastructure, as the nation's aviation system was already 'mature' and unlikely to grow in the future.
Principato said: "The US Census Bureau estimates we will add 120 million people to the US population in the next four decades. We will add, in other words, the population of Japan in that time. And they say there will be no growth!
"In the 1920s, the then-head of the US Patent and Trademark Office suggested closing the office down because everything of value that could be invented had already been invented. I hear echoes of that call in the assertion of those who believe we should not invest in the American aviation system because ours is mature."
Later in the day, Principato announced that ACI-NA's board of directors had approved a resolution calling upon the US government to create a new national aviation policy in a bid to ensure that aviation remains the nation's gateway for economic growth and development.
"Aviation is an integrated system where each part is important – from general aviation to airplane manufacturers, to airlines, to those men and women that work every day to ensure passengers are safe and secure and that packages and cargo arrive on time," he said.
"By supporting 10.5 million jobs, creating a payroll of $365 billion and an annual output of $1.2 trillion, US commercial airports are a vital part of the aviation system.
"That's why, in addition to calling for sufficient resources to ensure the NextGen Air Traffic System, our resolution calls for flexible, adequate funding sources for infrastructure improvements needed to ensure the safety and security of air travel as well as to address the forecasted growth in both passenger and cargo traffic."
Further proof of today's tough operating climate for airports was provided by ACI World chairman, Yiannis Paraschis, who revealed that its latest Economics Survey revealed that 69% of the world's airports don't make a profit.
"This is certainly a challenge for us, and we call upon our governments to refrain from imposing taxes on aviation for the sole purpose of addressing budgetary deficits," he said.
The keynote address was given by The Economist's economics editor, Zanny Minton Beddoes, who noted that the US economy was one of the best positioned for future growth despite being "stuck in a very low gear" at present.
Beddoes, who likened the US to "the least dirty shirt in the laundry basket", told delegates that worries about the European economy were warranted, fearing that a clash of visions between countries could lead to another financial crisis.
She also believed that economic growth in emerging countries such as Brazil, China and India would continue, but at a slower rate than over the last decade.
Without doubt, the lightest and most humurous moment of the opening session was when one of Calgary International Airport's 300 white hat volunteers, Norm Harvey, got all 900 delegates to put on white cowboy hats and make a pledge to have good time.
The pledge, part of the famous Calagary 'white hat' ceremony dating back to 1947, included the promise to share some heart warmin' WHERE `id` = hand shakin' WHERE `id` = tongue loosenin' WHERE `id` = back slappin' hospitality with all folk and critters, and ended with a good old fashioned "Yahoo!"
A total of six resolutions were passed during the ACI World Assembly, which marked the end of Louis Miller's eight-year stint as treasurer.
The resolutions included one urging states, all sectors of industry and other stakeholders to work collaboratively and provide their renewed commitment to work through ICAO to reach agreement on a single global market based measure to reduce aviation's impact on the environment before the 38th ICAO Assembly.
The Assembly welcomed 17 new airport members – TAV, Tunisia (ACI Africa; China's Hohhot Baita International Airport, Jiangxi Airports Group, Jilin Civil Airport Group and Tianjin Binhai International Airport (ACI Asia-Pacific; Cologne-Bonn Airport, Northern Capital Gateway LLC (St Petersburg Airport), Novaport (Russia's Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk, Volgograd, Barnaul, Astrakhan, Tomsk and Chita airports), Parma Milan Airport and France's SNC Lavalin and Vinci airport groups (ACI Europe; and Chicago Rockford International Airport, Columbia Regional Airport, Daytona Beach International Airport, Palm Beach County Department of Airports, Red Deer Regional Airports Authority and St Joseph County Airport Authority (ACI-NA).
It was followed by the traditional AMPAP award ceremony, with the bulk of this year's 58 graduates in Calgary to personally receive their hard earned IAP diplomas.
Other conference highlights included an all-star panel of Thella Bowens (San Diego), Declan Collier (London City), James Cherry (Aéroports de Montréal) and Jill Nealon (Dubai Airports) talking about their experiences of leadership and change management.
Bowens told delegates that "futuring" in terms of developing the airport's management team of tomorrow was very much part of her plans as 30% of her workforce and 50% of her leadership team are due to retire by 2015, while Nealon talked about the challenges of coping with Dubai's phenomenal growth from handling five million passengers in 1990 to over 50 million per annum two decades later.
Between 2008 and now, Dubai Airports has gone from the 27th busiest passenger gateway in the world to fourth, and it could rise even higher with a predicted 98.5mppa expected to use the airport by 2020.
In terms of staff, Nealon revealed that Dubai Airports had stepped up its mangement development programmes and "injected new skills" into the workforce with new recruits, but pointed out that it was difficult to find locals, as despite the UAE boasting a population of six million people, only 55,000 UAE nationals are available for work.
San Diego's Bowens said: "Anybody that knows me knows that I consider the workforce to be the most important part of the airport. What worries me at night is have we got the right building blocks in place to replace the current leadership team when we're gone?
Do we have a flexible succession plan in place that works for the organisation in the long-term?"
ADM's Cherry admitted that recruitment was tough, as the airport operator faced stiff competition from the Montréal-based head offices of Air Canada, Air Transat, Bombardier, CAE, Pratt & Whitney, ICAO and IATA for staff.
"For an organisation to become an employer of choice, it has to engage its employees," commented Cherry. "In my view, leadership is a very important skill and something we have to develop.
"In context of airports, the components of leadership are managing a client-focused culture that is reults oriented, to have and demonstrate interpersonal relationships, talent development and strategic thinking and political savvy.
"However, I believe the key to being a really good leader, in fact the cornerstone of leadership, is the ability to enagage your employees."
He said that in ADM's opinion, employee engagement rests on four key pillars – clarity, influence, confidence and recongition.
"Some people think that information is power and are reluctant to share it, but let me tell you that sharing that information is far more powerful," concluded Cherry.
The question of airport privatisation and PPP projects was also on the agenda, with speakers such as Neil Raynor, vice president of SNC Lavalin's Airport Development Transportation Division; Athens International Airport CEO, Yiannis Paraschis; AIG's chief financial officer, Rodolfo Echeverria, and Prince Christian Chintimwabe, director of airport services at Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda Intnernational Airport, providing their own individual insight on the topic, discussing "overbidding" and the different business models available.
Paraschis revealed that airports represent about 13% of transport related global PPP related projects, compared to roads (57%), seaports (20%) and railroads (10%).
He quoted the latest ACI World figures that show that investors have spent €31 billion on 450 airport PPP projects to date – the contracts comprising operating concessions (251), freehold [IPOs and equity partnerships] (152) and management contracts (47).
The US's failure to embrace privatisation, means that the majority of airport PPPs to date have been in Europe (170), Latin America & the Caribbean (136) and Asia (98).
On the subject of overbidding, Paraschis commented: "Tender glory doesn't necessarily mean buisness glory. As we have seen lately in Brazil, some winning bids have been high, and I am not sure if they respresent a viable business case in the long-term."
He also threw in a word of caution about PPPs. "It should also be recognised that PPPs always have to be adjusted and renogotiated during their lifetime as situations change," said Paraschis.
"It is very difficult, for example, to sign a contract on a specific date and say that it is the correct mechanism to run a partnership for the next 50 years."
While Rodolfo Echeverria noted that PPPs were becoming "too expensive" and categorically stated that they are not always the answer for airports.
At the ACI-NA's Chairman's Honors Luncheon, the remarkable Marjorie Brink Coridan received the association's highest honour – the William E Downes Award – for her lifelong contribution to aviation, while ACI World's Gittens welcomed Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad, the Israeli Airports Authority, Guayaquil Airport and Beijing Capital in to the Director General's Roll of Excellence for Airport Service Quality.
The conference ended with a Gala Evening of food, song and dance – the latter two courtesy of Canada's leading Shania Twain impersonator and the country's world champion Native American hoop dancer!
Roll on Istanbul 2013!