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Joe Bates finds out more about the rapidly growing trend of ‘sister airport agreements’ between Asia-Pacific gateways and their counterparts across the globe.

While ‘sister’ agreements between airports are not exactly a new phenomenon, the movement appears to have gained traction across the region in the first quarter of the year with a number of alliances forged.

In mid-March, two of the world’s major gateways, Heathrow and Hong Kong International Airport, announced the formation of a new partnership agreement to share their expertise and experience.

The collaboration is the first of its kind for Heathrow, and as a result the two gateways have pledged to work together with the aim of improving operations, driving up innovation, achieving world class service for passengers and developing industry leading environmental performance.

According to Heathrow, as two of the world’s leading international hub airports, they have many similarities that form the basis for a strong relationship. 

It notes that they serve a similar customer profile and both have a global network of carriers, including home-based airlines, along with substantial cargo and retail businesses. 

And it is quick to point out that both are currently constrained but have high profile expansion plans that would bring economic benefits and jobs to their respective communities.

Under the agreement, colleagues from each airport will work on joint projects, looking to take advantage of emerging trends or opportunities and help shape industry standards.

Areas identified for the first phase include the central management of airport operations, crisis planning, passenger service, future terminal design and the opportunities to be gained from expansion.

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, says: “This relationship will see two of the world’s most successful hub airports working together to make our operations and service to passengers industry leading in every aspect.

“Heathrow has similar challenges and different skills to Hong Kong – this will be a great opportunity to draw the best out of each other to the benefit of our passengers, our communities and the environment.”

While Airport Authority Hong Kong, CEO, Fred Lam, says: “We are delighted to sign this agreement which will enable our two airports to work closer together in the future.

“Our co-operation is poised to bring exciting opportunities for the two airports. And by sharing experience and knowledge, we will bring even better airport experiences for our passengers.”

Another Asia-Pacific gateway to be busy forging sister relationships with other airports this year has been Beijing Capital, which has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for the establishment of Sister Airport Relationships with both Helsinki and Stockholm Arlanda airports in Europe.

Officially the MoUs pave the way for “extensive collaboration” between Beijing Capital operator, Capital Airports Holding Company (CAH), and the two Scandinavian gateways operated by Finavia and Swedavia respectively.

According to Finavia, the objectives of the co-operation are benchmarking best practices and sharing knowledge, creating co-marketing activities in respective home markets, exchanging personnel and building competence.

Staff exchange activities between Helsinki Airport and Beijing Capital International Airport are also expected to begin later this year.

Talking about the Swedavia deal, CAH states that it is eager to learn about its “rich experiences” of operating a green airport, sustainable development and airport management. 

“Through the bond of sisterhood, the two sides will bring closer ties, enhance mutual trust and deepen friendships to open a new chapter for future co-operation,” says Liu Xuesong, president and CEO of CAH and chairman of Beijing Capital International Airport Company Limited (BCIA).

Finally, in March, Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport announced that it had signed an agreement with Munich Airport for the German gateway to provide it with “expert support” on two major projects.

The airport, located 30 kilometres to the west of capital, Taipei, plans to redesign and expand its existing Terminal 2 and add a third terminal. The complex will be initially capable of accommodating 45mppa and eventually upto 86mppa with future expansions.

Under an MoU signed on March 1 between operators FMG and Taoyuan International Airport Corporation (TIAC), experts from Munich will provide advice and assistance with both projects. 

Elsewhere in the region, Macau International Airport has proved quite prolific with sister agreements, boasting ten as far back as April 2008 when the list included Gold Coast, Hainan Meilan, Incheon, Winnipeg, Xi’an Xianyang and Wuxi.

However, Tokyo Narita, is arguably one of the leading players today courtesy of sister agreements with ten major airport operators across the world.

The list includes Airports of Thailand; Changi Airport Group; Abu Dhabi Airports; Korea Airports Corporation; Incheon Airport; Beijing Capital; the Port of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ); Fraport; Denver International Airport; and Saint Petersburg-Pulkovo.

And the Japanese gateway makes its feelings about their importance to its future growth and development very clear on its website, revealing that it believes that sister agreements are one of its key strategies for raising the quality of the airport.

It states: “The aim of these agreements is to stay abreast of changes in the aviation industry, provide quality services catering to a broad range of requirements, and undertake advanced initiatives that cannot be achieved by individual airports alone.”


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