Mather was elected president at ACI Asia-Pacific's annual Regional Assembly, Conference & Exhibition, which this year is taking place in the Australian glitter strip of the Gold Coast.
Commenting on her new role, Mather said: “It is my privilege to be elected as president of ACI Asia-Pacific and my heartfelt thanks to our members’ trust and support.
"As president of ACI Asia-Pacific, I will continue to work closely with the Regional Board and the Regional Office in promoting professional excellence in airport management and operations.
"Our out-going president, Dennis Chant, has done a great job in leading ACI Asia-Pacific and it is my honour to succeed him, I wish him all the best in his retirement."
The weather gods were certainly on ACI's side as the sun shone upon the 610 delegates at this year’s opening reception and first full day of panels and presentations attended by delegates from 52 countries and 34 exhibitors.
Queensland Airports Limited CEO and host of this year’s event, Chris Mills, opened proceedings and spoke of the airport’s current upgrade and expansion programme in readiness for the Games, as well as the focus on enhancing passenger experience and ever present priority of meeting the needs of partners.
In his welcoming remarks president of ACI Asia-Pacific, Dennis Chant, talked of Australia’s history of aviation dependence and of the country being a ‘pioneer through necessity’.
Chant’s brief but major themes were the ‘passengers at the heart’ model of airport administration and his enthusiasm for the ‘Smart Security Initiative’.
Leading the keynote addresses, Mike Mrdak, Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, reflected upon his experiences on Australia’s 20-year privatisation journey.
“Australia has a disproportionate reliance on aviation for national connectivity across a vast country and is a critical link to the country’s sustained economic growth,” he said.
In the second keynote speech ICAO’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Arun Mishra, discussed the rapid growth of traffic with first time flyers from Asia Pacific’s burgeoning middle class with 200 airports due to be built in China and India over the next decade.
He cited some of the challenges inherent in this growth including air traffic management, safety of operations in an environment of high-risk accident potential, government and regulatory regimes as well as the emerging challenges of UAVs and cyber security.
Mishra also called upon the delegation to engage in a mentorship programme to match volunteer airports with the 10 least developed island states in an effort to mentor smaller airports in areas of operations, processes and delivering customer satisfaction.
The first panel discussion of the day, Leaders Shaping Aviation’s Future – moderated by managing director of Airbiz, Greg Fordham – saw airport CEOs sharing their insights on future proofing the airport business.
Aimen Al-Hosni from Oman Airports Management Company, Declan Collier from London City Airport, Kerrie Mather from Sydney Airport, Maureen Riley from Salt Lake City Department of Airports and replacement panellist, James Cherry, from Aéroports de Montréal, all agreed that whilst global growth across the board was itself indeed stable, the growth was uneven.
Mather commented that the growth was resilient, “but didn’t identify the varying growth profiles”.
While all discussed passenger numbers moving up with aircraft movements heading down, hub airlines and community engagement emerged as major discussion points for the future of aviation.
A major point for Riley being that “a consistent visionary approach with very long-term vision of 20 to 50, perhaps even 100 years” was required to approach the challenges of growth, limited land and community involvement.
Collier discussed agility, flexibility and planning management around airports as significant priorities in managing traffic between multi airports.
The panel represented almost all existing airport ownership models with Al-Hosni discussing the privatisation of the new airport in Oman to begin in the fifth year of its five-year strategy.
In a fully privatised Australian market, Mather said the privately owned and publicly listed Sydney Airport enabled access to key capital, the reaching of commercial agreements and ongoing investment on a timely basis.
In the US, Riley explained that while the biggest advantage was clearly the access to capital, the next step had to be “removing the vestiges of restriction and limitations around approvals, land acquisition and long-term title management”.
With the majority of US airport’s government owned, the country’s grants programme still proved a fundamental hindrance to privatisation as it requires an airport to repay all grants received over time in full before becoming eligible to privatise.
In the case of Salt Lake City, revealed Riley, this would be over $300 million.
A final question to the panel aimed to pin down the one great idea that could be implemented to improve the passenger experience, with London’s Collier nailing the sentiment of much more complex strategies in giving passengers, “an hour of their life back”.
The second panel of the day, Transforming Passenger Experiences and Expectations, delivered robust discussion on strategy and methodology around the core passenger experience.
Executive general manager of operations and customer experience at Perth Airports, Rowan Chalmers, took the delegates through the Five Es of Engage, Explore, Expedite, Enrich and Excite.
Vinoop Goel, IATA’s regional director for Asia-Pacific, discussed the challenge in working with regulators on perceived risks and threats and the fundamental role of biometrics in future management of the existing one billion passengers travelling through Asia, soon set to triple.
Michael Kerkloh, president and CEO of Munich Airport, emphasised the crucial collaborations in safe sharing of data.
Moderator, Antoine Rostworowski from ACI World, asked the panel if improving the passenger experience was simply a cost item, or a business model in it’s own right.
The answer was a unanimous affirmative from all speakers with striking the right balance of commercialisation, fast and seamless journeys to attract and retain passengers, using emerging technologies to make processes more efficient and the reduction of passenger stress allowing more leisure and retail time all cited as significant elements of the business case for passenger experience.
The final session of the day, Preparing and Facilitating World Events, brought home the extreme intensity of such events and long haul preparation required.
Nigel Chamier, chairman of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, aptly summed up the magnitude of these events with his comments on economic development, employment and global exposure, saying simply: “Global sports events change cities forever.”
Marion Charlton, chief operating officer at Gold Coast Airport, noted that in the midst of the city’s preparations for the Games said that the entire airport community had to be match fit.
“For the team it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon – whether its 100 million passengers moving through Atlanta or six million through the Gold Coast - the overarching parameters are the same,” said Charlton.
Bongani Maseko, CEO of Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) talked in reference to the World Cup and the death of Nelson Mandela as two of the huge logistic challenges on his watch.
In what he described as a “climate of Afro-pessimism,” Maseko took the audience through his critical considerations for staff, infrastructure, 24-hour operations for major event passengers through one airport.
Forthcoming sessions on aviation security, best practice sharing, IT innovation, AI evolution and environmental initiatives remain before a farewell reception and official handover to the hosts for 2017, Hamad International Airport.
In summary, the main themes of the conference’s first full day highlighted stakeholder collaboration, data sharing, technical integration and passenger experience over service.
The agility, resilience and efficiencies of airports around the globe remain key to their evolution, the sustainability of air travel and enhancement of the passenger experience.