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Asia-Pacific Airports editor, Joe Bates, takes an historic look back at the first decade of the ACI Asia-Pacific region.

Some thought it couldn’t be done and a few even questioned the wisdom of it, but ten years down the road nobody is doubting the decision to unite ACI’s former Asia and Pacific regions because it has arguably created ACI’s most dynamic and successful region.

And the incredible thing is that there is so much more to come from the region’s airports as economies in developing nations across Central and South East Asia and the Middle East continue to grow and demand for air travel soars in the giant powerhouses of China and India.

So how did the unification come about and what was the motivation for bringing together two quite separate and, in their own way successful ACI regions?

Asia-Pacific’s founding fathers provide their recollections of the historic event and the subsequent success of the region later on in this celebratory issue, but what should probably be noted here is that although ACI Asia-Pacific didn’t officially come into being until January 1, 2008, it is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year as the agreement to create it was signed two years earlier at ACI Pacific’s Regional Conference in Hong Kong on May 9, 2006. 

Step back in time 

The first step towards integration was actually taken back in 2000 when the Asia Regional Board floated the idea of a merger and the creation of a dedicated ACI Asia-Pacific Region based in Hong Kong.

In official terminology, it wanted to seek the possibility of a merger between ACI’s Asia and Pacific regions.

However, although the idea was well received in both regions the move didn’t really gain traction until October 2004 when a proposal to integrate the regions was made at ACI World’s Executive Committee meeting at the joint ACI World Assembly/ACI Europe Congress in Lisbon.

To all involved this was considered the major breakthrough and many view the men that made the proposal – Dubai International Airport’s Mohammed Ahli and Sharjah’s Ghanem Al-Hajri – as the true ‘founding fathers’ of the ACI Asia-Pacific region.

Plenty still had to be done, of course, but within weeks a special Integration Task Force made up of members from each region had been set up to investigate the feasibility of such a move.

The taskforce was spearheaded by Tokyo Narita’s then CEO and ACI World first vice chair, Toru Nakamura, and under his guidance, things began to shape and the rallying phone calls to members started – often late at night for some as the potential new region they were creating encompasses a vast area and some 60% of the world’s population.

The process also involved a lot of meetings and much paperwork but with both regions overwhelmingly in favour of the initiative, it would only be a matter of time before unification happened, especially after ACI World’s Governing Board endorsed the move in 2005.

The endorsement, and the agreement to integrate signed by the Asia and Pacific regions in Hong Kong a year later led to the creation of ACI Asia-Pacific, which existed as an interim region during a two year transition period.


Reasons to merge

Speaking to Airport World at the time, Toru Nakamura, said: “Why integrate? Among the many reasons for pursuing integration there are two that stand out – the need for increased co-operation between the regions to cope with rapid traffic growth and the desire to provide a better service in a more efficient way to members.”

He added that integration would not have been possible without the transfer of the Pacific regional office from Vancouver to Hong Kong, as the latter’s location meant that it was perfectly placed to take on the role as headquarters of the newly created region.

Other reasons to merge included the fact that integration would provide greater synergy and make best use of the limited resources of the regional office.

It was also felt that creating a bigger region would provide an opportunity for the more established airports in Asia, the Pacific, Australasia and Japan to assist smaller gateways in developing countries in terms of sharing technology and management expertise.

In this regards, ACI Asia-Pacific was quick to adopt the sister airport programme introduced by the former Pacific region.

Former board member Greg Moix, then with San Francisco International Airport, noted at the time: “The programme will allow many of the smaller airports to partner with larger airports for active, hands-on-training.”

Moix, one of the biggest supporters of the new region, was also crystal clear in his thoughts about the benefits of the merger for individual airports.

He said: “We are now part of a larger Asia-Pacific region and thus able to meet with our partners, address the issues and work on solutions on a much more efficient and realistic basis. With the rapid internationalisation of our economy and the growing importance of the Asian markets, having a much more direct and complete group is to our advantage.”

Max Moore-Wilton, already a familiar face to many for his high-profile role at Sydney Airport and long career in politics in his native Australia, was elected as the region’s first president.

He served from 2008 to 2010 – only stepping down after being elected chair of ACI World – and has been succeeded as president by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad’s Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad (2010-2014) and present incumbent, Queensland Airport Limited’s Dennis Chant.

Maggie Kwok was ACI Asia-Pacific’s first regional director and served with her own distinct brand of optimism, enthusiasm
and hard work until retiring in 2011 and being succeeded from within by Patti Chau, who joined ACI Pacific in 2004 after previously working for Vancouver Airport Services in Canada.

In the launch issue of Asia-Pacific Airports magazine in October/November 2007, Moore-Wilton spoke for the first time about his hopes for the region and drew attention to some of the key opportunities and challenges ahead.

He wrote: “I would say the integration of the Asia and Pacific regions is one of the most significant developments at ACI since the creation of the organisation in 1991.

“The integrated Asia-Pacific region is geographically ACI’s largest – spanning from the west coast of the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East – and covering time zones from Hawaii (GMT –10 hours) in the western hemisphere to New Zealand on the other side of the international dateline (+12 hours). It is also linguistically and culturally the most diverse and richest of all the ACI regions.

“While such a large grouping within the family of ACI offers immense opportunity for co-operation and exchange among members, it also presents a significant communication challenge for us. Maintaining effective communication with our members in a region of such diversity and geographical dimension is of prime importance to foster co-operation and promote member interests.

“The region is launching several initiatives to meet this challenge. Firstly, to make the ACI Asia-Pacific website a more effective communication tool for our members, it has been revamped to make it more user-friendly and informative.

“Secondly, ACI Asia-Pacific has launched a ‘We Care’ airport service co-ordinator programme aiming to maintain a close personal relationship with our members. Each staff member will be assigned to around 10 member airports and act as the key contact point for them.

With closer personal relationships I believe the regional office can better understand the needs of members and respond and live up to expectations.

“We are also launching this magazine to provide the latest news of airports across the region, to communicate success stories of airport management and development and, most importantly, to present our viewpoints to the industry and to the public.”

You can read more thoughts from Max about the formation and success of the Asia-Pacific region on page 33 of this special issue of Asia-Pacific Airports. 


Early days

When two officially become one in January 2008, the newly created super region had 96 members operating 447 airports in 51 countries and territories that ranged from small airfields handling a handful of flights per week to some of the biggest, most technologically advanced and successful hubs on the planet.

Today the figures stand at 99 members operating 573 airports in 47 countries and territories.

To highlight the diversity of the region in our first issue we ran a feature about Australia’s first residential community built around a runway (Airlie Beach on the Whitsunday Islands) where planes literally taxied into hangars at the bottom of people’s gardens, as well as articles about some of the region’s biggest hubs – Beijing Capital, Mumbai–Chhatrapati Shivaji and Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita airports.

Big stories covered by APA in our first 12 months alone included the opening of Singapore Changi’s new Terminal 3 and the birth of greenfield gateways in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

That year also saw Sydney welcome the A380 for the first time and we profiled the development of a host of airports from Tokyo to Tonga as well as reported on the quirky such as Australia’s ice runway in Antarctica.

Green success story

Without doubt the pioneering environmental initiatives and growing ‘green’ commitments of Asia-Pacific’s airports is a highlight of the region’s first decade.

Landmarks include 2011’s decision to join aviation’s ACI Europe-initiated Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) programme and the launch of the ACI Asia-Pacific Green Airports Recognition initiative.

In announcing the news about the latter, ACI Asia-Pacific’s then president, Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad, said: “The objective of the Green Airports Recognition initiative is three-fold, to promote environmental best practices; minimise aviation’s impact on the environment; and, more importantly, to recognise ACI Asia-Pacific airports for their environmental efforts.”

As you will read later in this issue, the region’s airports have certainly embraced the environmental challenge through a variety of initiatives that have included capturing and recycling rainwater on the roof of terminals to the use of geothermal energy.

Among the many firsts for the region was Hyderabad International Airport becoming the first gateway in Asia to be awarded the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design New Construction (LEED NC) Silver Rating by the US Green Building Council.

As of August 2015, a total of 25 airports from the region were carbon accredited under the ACA programme and more will follow this year.

In a joint ACI statement released in July this year about the overall success of ACA, which now extends to 125 airports in 40 countries across the globe, ACI Asia-Pacific’s regional director, Patti Chau, said: “These airports are reporting on their carbon management activities every year and they have mobilised on this of their own accord. 

“And it’s not just the bigger hubs like Dubai, Heathrow, Hong Kong, Paris CDG, Istanbul-Atatürk, Seattle-Tacoma, Seoul-Incheon and Schiphol – the programme has certified a huge number of smaller airports like Eindhoven, Enfidha Hammamet, Farnborough, Hat Yai International, Malmö, Portland-Troutdale and Puerto Vallarta. 

“An impressive 1.7 billion passengers now travel through airports certified at one of the 4 levels of the programme – that’s 27.5% of global air passenger traffic. Most promisingly 22 airports advanced up a level of the programme in the past year, making further progress in the way they manage their carbon emissions. 

“In the past year, these airports have succeeded in reducing the CO2 emissions under their direct control by 212,460 tonnes of CO2. That’s equivalent to the annual CO2 sequestered by 1,495 acres of forest.”


Young Executive of the Year

Another highlight has been the launch and subsequent success of the ACI Asia-Pacific Young Executive of the Year Award, with half-a-dozen recipients to date following in the footsteps of inaugural winner, Gold Coast Airport’s marketing manager, Frances Cream.

The Young Executive of the Year Award is a research paper competition introduced in 2009 to encourage and promote innovative ideas and solutions to challenges facing the aviation industry.  

And like her predecessors, the 2015 winner, Ruzliana Fazila Kamarudin from Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) had the honour and nerve-racking responsibility of providing delegates with a snapshot of her research paper at ACI Asia-Pacific’s annual conference, which this year took place at the Dead Sea in Jordan.

Traffic growth

Arguably another highlight for the region has been the resiliency of its airports to events beyond their control such as the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 and the swine flu outbreak a year later.

Indeed, the region continues to lead the way on passenger growth as demonstrated by ACI’s latest figures for 2015, which show that in May while traffic increased in Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America & the Caribbean by 4.4%, 5.8%, 4.5% and 6.4% respectively it soared by 10.6% and 10.9% in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. 

Asia-Pacific and the Middle East also recorded 11.6% and 11.4% increases in international passenger traffic during the month compared to the same period a year ago.

All added up to significant double-digit increases in May for a host of gateways, the most notable of them being Dubai (DXB), Bangkok (BKK) and Shanghai (PVG) with growth of 23.2%, 22.8% and 22% respectively. Incheon (ICN) and Delhi (DEL) followed the leading triumvirate with 19.9% and 14.9% growth in total passenger volumes.

You only need to glance at the traffic results for the top 10 airports in Asia-Pacific during the calendar years of 2005 and 2014 to see just how much traffic has grown over the last decade. 

In 2005, the top ten airports were led by Tokyo Haneda with 63.2 million passengers and included Beijing Capital, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo Narita, Sydney, Jakarta and Incheon.

If Dubai International Airport (DXB) had been included in the wider region back in 2005 it would have ranked eleventh based on the 23.6 million passengers that passed through its facilities. Today it is the third busiest in the region and has overtaken London Heathrow as the busiest international airport in the world having welcomed 70 million passengers in 2014.

Beijing Capital, now the second busiest gateway on the planet, led the way last year handling more than 86 million passengers – a staggering 45 million more than a decade earlier.

With the exception of Dubai, the biggest mover in the Asia-Pacific pack in the last ten years has been Guangzhou Baiyun, which has jumped from 11th place handling 23.5mppa to sixth accommodating 54.7 million.

It is also worth noting that Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport has more than doubled its passenger count in the last 10 years, accommodating 57 million passengers in 2014.


Customer service

Another undoubted highlight is the incredible success Asia-Pacific airports have had in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer satisfaction awards, so much so in fact it is almost impossible to talk about the survey without mentioning them.

In fact it wouldn’t be an over-statement to say that Asia-Pacific airports have dominated the ASQ awards for a decade, led by perennial winners Incheon, Haikou and Seoul Gimpo and an ever-growing list of top performing gateways such as Singapore Changi, Beijing Capital, Hyderabad–Rajiv Gandhi and Hong Kong.

As reported earlier this year, Asia-Pacific airports actually won all but one of the five global by size categories in the ASQ awards for 2014 with customer service champion, Incheon, winning the Best in Asia-Pacific title for the tenth year running.

New to the winner’s podium in 2014 were Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan (Best in Middle East + Best Improvement: Middle East) and Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (Best by Size in the 25-40mppa category).

The dominance of the region’s airports is certainly testimony to their commitment to raising the bar on customer service and setting new trends that ACI’s other regions strive to follow.

And you only have to read the comments of some of the top placed airports to see how much it means to them.

Indeed, after a top three finish in the 5-15mppa category for the sixth consecutive year, Hyderabad–Rajiv Gandhi International Airport’s CEO, SGK Kishore, announced: “Make no mistake about it, an ASQ award is a major achievement for an airport and its community.” 

Based on passenger feedback from check-in to the departure at the gate at more than 300 airports worldwide, the ASQ survey is recognised as being the industry’s most comprehensive customer-service benchmarking tool. 

New infrastructure

The list of new airports and stunning terminals opened in the Asia-Pacific region over the last decade is truly incredible, and the count goes on of course with numerous projects either currently underway or due to start in the next few months.

In terms of milestone developments since 2005, in addition to the birth of new greenfield gateways in Bangalore (Bengaluru International Airport), Doha (Hamad International Airport) and Hyderabad (Rajiv Gandhi International Airport) we have among others witnessed the opening of klia2 and new ‘game changing’ showpiece terminals at Baku–Heydar Aliyev, Queen Alia, Mumbai–Chhatrapati Shivaji, Shenzhen Bao’an and Xi’an Xianyang.

While huge projects taking shape or on the agenda include Abu Dhabi’s Midfield Terminal Building; Incheon’s Terminal 2; new satellite concourses or terminals at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Shanghai Pudong; Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta and Taiwan Taoyuan; new airports in Dalian, Mumbai and Beijing; and, of course, the ongoing development of Dubai International Airport and its eventual replacement Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum.


Annual conferences

Attendees have certainly been spoilt by some of the amazing and sometimes exotic venues chosen by the Asia-Pacific team to host their annual Regional Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in its first decade.

It all started with THAT meeting in Hong Kong in May 2006 and has since gone to Seoul, Cairns, Kuala Lumpur, Hainan, New Delhi, Singapore, Phuket, Seoul and the Dead Sea.

I am pleased to say that I have been to each and every one of them and have fond memories in particular of Cairns – where a rather fearsome looking Aborigine dancer actually scared some people in the audience when he moved among them – and New Delhi, which treated us to an unforgettable Gala Dinner and Bollywood Show.

You will, of course, all have your particular favourites as each of them was truly memorable for a host of different reasons, not least the warm and friendly welcome from the hosts.

Let’s raise a glass to ACI Asia-Pacific on its 10th birthday and continue to celebrate this milestone all the way to the Gold Coast for the 2016 Regional Assembly, Conference & Exhibition!

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