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New passenger dynamics and incredible passenger growth ensure that the region’s airports operate in a very different market today than 10 years ago, says former ACI Asia-Pacific president, Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad.

Increased competition, coping with traffic growth, changing airline business models, more demanding customers and the need to embrace social media are just some of the new challenges facing  today’s airports, says Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad.

And with new technology set to change the way we travel and airports operate, and are even designed in the future, he expects the next 10 years to be some of the most exciting and challenging in aviation history as airports evolve to meet a changing market.

“Airports now have to be very adaptable as the industry is constantly changing as are airline business models and their requirements,” says Bashir.

In his home country of Malaysia he says the emergence of low-cost carrier, Air Asia, over the last decade has changed the market dynamics, with LCCs now accounting for 50% of the market.

Bashir notes that Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) was early to recognise the future potential of the “low-cost phenomenon”, adding that luckily it was “agile and nimble enough” to react quickly to it and provide it with dedicated facilities and services.

He is also quick to point out that social media has transformed the way airports communicate with their customers and argues that this new marketing tool needs
to be embraced.

“Social media has become a very important medium for customer feedback,” he tells Asia-Pacific Airports (APA). “Anybody with a grievance or a good point to make can now go on Twitter or Facebook, for example, and tell the world about it in seconds. 

“This means that airports now have to deal with customers on an individual basis and 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week. The days of writing a letter, posting it and waiting sometimes weeks for a reply are over. People want answers immediately.

“On the plus side it has also been very useful for us in terms of passenger feedback, which we have taken onboard and used to make improvements. We look at social media very constructively.”

As a former president of ACI Asia-Pacific, what does he consider to be the region’s greatest achievements during its first decade?

“I think one of the biggest accomplishments over the last ten years has been the coming together of a common direction for all airports,” says Bashir.

“As you know, the region is very large, stretching from the Middle East all the way to Australia and then north to Japan and Korea. So, in my opinion, being able to come together, meet and set a common direction for the future of airports in this part of the world has been the greatest achievement for us.”

He also believes that because of ACI, airports now communicate more and better between one another, and that this has helped create a strong and united region.

“We have so much in common that by sharing our experiences we can learn from each other,” muses Bashir. “Regardless of where you are from we all face capacity, security and slot issues of some description, for example. Concentrate on what you have in common and not the differences.”

This willingness to work together and strive to improve has led to many of the region’s biggest airports actively going out of their way to aid the development of their smaller counterparts.

“There is no point having policies to help just the big airports, you need to help the small ones as well,” he notes.

Bashir believes that Incheon International Airport should be singled out for special praise for setting the standards for all other airports to follow in terms of customer service levels.

He adds that Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has also impressed in terms of its consistently high customer service performance and that Bangkok Suvarnabhumi has done well for tourism growth.

Ensuring that airports have sufficient capacity to meet future demand; the ‘flexibility’ to adapt to a changing business environment; and are capable of delivering a more personalised service to customers are the three greatest challenges and opportunities facing the region’s airports, says Bashir.

“Meeting the requirements of passengers on an individual basis will arguably be the biggest and hardest challenge for airports to meet,” he suggests.

Bashir also feels that there is so much more to come from the region in terms of traffic growth, as unlike the more mature markets of Europe and the US, Asia-Pacific is really only just getting started.

He explains: “We are growing very fast and have some very good airports and very good airlines, but they have not matured yet and there are so many more things to be done before the region gets anywhere near realising its potential.”

What advice would he offer to ACI Asia-Pacific’s regional director, Patti Chau? Without hesitation, he replies: “All I would suggest to her is that whatever decisions are made, they are made for everyone. We have big airports and we have small airports and all have an important role to play.”

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