The appointment of a new chair and vice chairman, traditional Malaysian entertainment and the approval of a key new resolution on climate change were just a few of the highlights of the 19th ACI World Annual General Assembly and ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Conference & Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.
Despite a difficult year, over 600 delegates and 40 exhibitors – a record for an event held outside North America – attended the extravaganza and the mood throughout was remarkably upbeat.
Outgoing chairman, Aéroports de Montréal’s James Cherry, set the tone for the conference by concentrating on the positives of the last two years, particularly ACI’s improved relationship with IATA, and the growing global influence of the ‘voice of the world’s airports’.
He said: “The past two years have indeed been turbulent. But the tough times we’ve all been experiencing have also offered an invaluable opportunity for all the key players in the aviation industry to pull together and forge closer ties.”
He said he was reminded of a quote by former US President, John F Kennedy, who on a trip north of the border in 1961 told Canadians that ‘what unites us is far greater that what divides us’, and hoped that the aviation industry would take note of his words.
“If there was ever an industry and if there was ever a time, it is the players in this industry at this time that should take this advice to heart for the benefit of the passengers and communities we jointly serve,” said Cherry. “And that is precisely what we have been doing. Today, ACI’s voice is better received, and better acknowledged, in the industry. “
ACI has rebuilt relations with IATA and our member airports have been actively participating in IATA working groups on issues where collaboration really counts. These include safety, security, recommended practices and the introduction of IT technologies, among others.
“In short, it is my opinion, that we are entering a new era of cooperation in aviation, to the mutual benefit of all parties involved. And, for the record, I said co-operation, not capitulation!”
ACI director general, Angela Gittens, revealed that the latest ACI economic data indicated that global passenger traffic would start to rise again in 2010 and be back to pre-economic downturn levels by 2012.
However, she noted that the expected upturn in traffic once again highlighted the need for airports to begin planning for tomorrow now to ensure that they are equipped to meet future demand.
“The fact is that, for many airports, sluggish traffic is a short-term phenomenon whereas most airports have a capacity development cycle that typically runs five to 25 years,” said Gittens. “Infrastructure takes time to plan, gain approval and actually build, so even in these turbulent times, each airport has to analyse its specific situation and plan to both sustain itself through the current challenge and prepare for a rebound that may not be far away.”
To a certain extent the big build has already started, with ACI’s Economics Survey showing that airport capital expenditure (CAPEX) exceeded $47 billion in 2009 and is expected to be similar in 2010, with about $250 billion in debt. “These are some sobering financial commitments,” commented Gittens.
ACI’s new chairman is Sydney Airport’s Max Moore-Wilton and his right hand man for the next two years will be Athens International Airport’s CEO, Dr Yiannis Paraschis.
Until the Kuala Lumpur event Moore-Wilton was president of ACI’s Asia-Pacific region, while Paraschis is the former president of ACI Europe and a staunch supporter of the region’s recently introduced Carbon Accreditation scheme.
Moore-Wilton told delegates that he believed that ‘innovation’ was vital to the future success of airports. “Although building new infrastructure will certainly help us provide the capacity required, only through innovation will both labour and capital productivities and therefore competitiveness improve in the long-term,” he said.
“With respect to customer service, we must not forget that, while coping with the short-term downturn, airports have a strong commitment to serve over 1.3 billion passengers that are still going to use airports across Asia-Pacific next year. In response to the current crisis, many airports are reviewing their manpower levels. However, the needs and expectations of our customers haven’t decreased. If anything, in times like these, passengers are more demanding with regard to service. So, despite the slump, customer service as well as safety and security must remain the airport industry’s top priorities.”
Limiting aviation’s impact on the environment, of course, remains one of ACI’s key priorities and this goal was reflected by the approval of a new resolution urging governments to adopt a global sectoral approach to managing aviation’s impact on climate change.
Other resolutions passed by members at the World Assembly included one outlining the aviation community’s continued commitment to noise mitigation and another calling on the world’s governments to safeguard duty free operations at airports. The latter resolution was issued in response to the current threat to tobacco sales at airports (see page 48).
“Aviation has made tremendous progress in reducing its carbon footprint,” commented Gittens.
The class of ‘09 was also recognised in Kuala Lumpur when a special graduation ceremony was held for the 21 students that earned International Airport Professional (IAP) accreditation after successfully completing ACI/ICAO’s Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP).
Away from the conference room, delegates were treated to a truly memorable evening of Malaysian song and dance during the Gala Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
The World Assembly in 2010 will be held in Bermuda (November 1-3) in conjunction with the ACI Latin America & Caribbean Regional Conference and Exhibition. It has a lot to live up to!
This article features in Airport World 2009 - Issue 6. Click here to read more from this issue