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EVENTS NEWS Last modified on January 12, 2014

Smart thinking

Joe Bates and Justin Burns round up the highlights of the recent SMART Airports Conference at inter airport Europe in Munich.

Warnings about Europe’s capacity crunch, a possible 2027 opening date for a new Thames Estuary Airport in London and the importance of customer friendly security were all on the agenda of October’s SMART Airports Conference in Munich.

The warning about the capacity crunch came from Munich Airport’s president and CEO, Dr Michael Kerkloh, who stated that airports were already key economic generators for entire regions, and would become even more important in the future, if allowed to grow. 

“At present, we are seeing only very moderate growth at many European airports. However, we should not draw false conclusions from this snapshot,” said Kerkloh.

“For the next 20 years, expert forecasts are in full agreement that we will see average annual growth of 4% to 5% in passenger traffic. However, the existing aviation infrastructure in Europe is not well positioned to achieve significant growth. In particular, we lack high-performance runway systems.”

He cited the recent EUROCONTROL study, which reveals that these deficiencies could result in the inability to cover 12% of air transportation demand in the next 20 years. 

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to win acceptance in society and political backing for airport expansion projects,” warned Kerkloh. “That is why I see the issue of sustainability as so crucial to the future of our industry.”

Hans-Peter Böhner, head of the transport department at the Bavarian State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology, agreed with Kerkloh about the economic importance of airports, but noted that according to the German Airports Association, only 71 of Europe’s 462 airports were profitable.

In the circumstances, he warned that the dangers of losing State aid would pose “real problems” for Europe’s smaller regional airports, many of which would struggle to survive.

  

  

Thames Estuary Airport

Talking about the UK’s capacity crunch, Chris Moores, Transport for London’s planning manager, told delegates that with government backing a new Thames Estuary Airport on the Isle of Grain could become a reality by 2029.

“Scattering new runways across London’s existing airports will not provide the answer to the UK’s capacity problems,” said Moores, when explaining the benefits of the ambitious plans for a four-runway Thames Estuary Airport favoured by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

He said its opening would allow Heathrow to be closed and developed as a new London borough – a theme that was later taken up by Foster+Partner’s Huw Thomas, who told Airport World that he believed the gateway could be built for €28.3 billion and open as early as 2027.

Thomas said the new airport could be totally funded through private enterprise and open once Heathrow reaches a capacity of 84mppa. 

“We forecast that the airport would pay for itself within 10 years of opening,” said Thomas. “It would give London, the UK and Europe an advantage by creating a facility that can go head-to-head with Istanbul and other emerging airports around the world over the next 20 years.”

 

 

Airport expansion

London City Airport’s CEO, Declan Collier, talked about the airport’s plans to add new infrastructure that would double its capacity to 120,000 flights and 6mppa by 2023.

Collier said that his airport’s Docklands location, just 20 minutes from Central London, and unique characteristics – 61% of its customers are business passengers earning salaries in excess of €120,000 per annum – meant that he believed it could do economically for London and the south east what the London docks did for Britain in the 19th century.

The airport currently employs 2,100 staff – 70% from East London, of which 30% were born there – and Collier believes that it will add another 1,500 if its plans for seven new aircraft stands, new Arrivals Building, new four-star hotel extension to its existing eastern pier, and taxi lane get the go-ahead.

He said the introduction of the next generation of aircraft, such as the Bombardier C series would allow London City Airport (LCY) to accommodate non-stop flights to the Gulf, Middle East, the North American east coast and “beyond Moscow into the Balkans” for the first time.

Collier added that the existence of LCY has spurred a huge level of investment in the surrounding area – 130,000 new jobs were expected to be created in Stratford and Canary Wharf alone by 2030 – and the fact that 50% of London’s population will technically live in East London within the next 10 years, made him confident about the future for his gateway.

In other news, Philipp Ahrens, Munich Airport’s general manager for Terminal 2, revealed that a central plaza with a ‘street market atmosphere’ will form the centre point of its new T2 satellite building, which is scheduled for completion in 2015.

He said the complex would also offer “clear views of the mountains in the background” and feature a range of innovative facilities that included 10 touch screen information gates, six information gate counters, and sleeping cabins.

The €1.2 billion project is a joint development between the airport and Lufthansa and is necessary because, despite only recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, Terminal 2 is already handling close to its 25mppa design capacity.

“It is a quality step up for us and Lufthansa,” enthused Ahrens. “There is a real need for this building. It will run on full thrust from day one and increase the quality and reduce remote boarding.”

 

Customer friendly security

Copenhagen Airport’s security director, Johnnie Müller, talked about the importance of treating passengers with courtesy and respect during the security screening process at airports.

Müller, who revealed that nearly 50% of the Danish gateway’s 2,000 staff work in security, said: “We always look at things from a passenger perspective and then focus on customer service, and security is no exception.

“Our goal is simple, to provide the world’s best and fastest airport security check. A truly world class service is crucial. It is ambitious, but we believe we have to aim for the stars if we wish to constantly improve our processes and procedures.”

He said the gateway believed doing security in-house was better than outsourcing because it ensured that the airport was in control and better equipped to regulate service standards and quality. 

And he revealed that the airport required his security staff to be “special” in terms of their service delivery as they are often the only employees of the airport operator that passengers meet on their journey.

“They represent Copenhagen Airport, so they have to give that little bit extra when it comes to customer service and ensuring the smooth flow of passengers through checkpoints,” insisted Müller.

“We require all our security guards to look at and make eye contact with passengers. The next thing we ask them to do is greet them, maybe just saying a simple ‘welcome, how are you?’ And, after they go through security we tell them to say ‘thank you, have a nice trip’. This is extremely simple, but has proved to have a hugely positive impact on customer satisfaction levels.

“We don’t want good security, we want great security. We require everyone to really love their jobs and believe it is much easier to find the bad guys when you create a more relaxed atmosphere and can have a good conversation with passengers.”

Müller says that Copenhagen Airport’s efforts to improve its security operation has included recruiting more customer-focused staff from the retail industry; developing its own customer service training programme for security staff; and use of a ‘coded language’ that employees can use between themselves to ensure that service standards never slip. 

Other initiatives include creating a new centralised security checkpoint area; introducing family-friendly security lanes; introducing a tray return system and online system showing wait times at security checkpoints; adopting Lean principles; devising their own security management system; and “stealing good ideas” from other airports. 

He noted that creating an optimum working environment for staff, and one that appealed to passengers was also important to providing good security.

“A lot of airport security environments are dark, noisy and devoid of natural daylight, which doesn’t create a good atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be this way,” explained Müller.

 

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