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Agility and collaboration were predominant themes at the 11th ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly, Conference & Exhibition held on Australia’s sun-drenched Gold Coast, with panels around technology, passenger experience, security and sustainability emerging as major topics.

The prevailing themes were robustly discussed in three days of presentations and panels to 610 delegates from 52 countries and vividly demonstrated by the 34 exhibitors, focusing on shaping the future of an industry, described by ACI World’s director general, Angela Gittens, as “at its core, about keeping the world connected”.

This connectedness is a crucial element in Australia’s long aviation history. The inherent need to cross the great, brown land and endure its vast distances from the rest of the world quickly bred a market leading industry.

In more recent times it has maintained that market leadership in safety and sustainability and has also been a privatised market for two decades, enjoying a unique ownership model with significant innovation and opportunity.

In his welcoming remarks, president of ACI Asia-Pacific, Dennis Chant, talked of this historic dependence and of the country being a “pioneer through necessity”. 

While in his keynote address, Australia’s Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Mike Mrdak, referred to the industry’s critical link to Australia’s sustained economic growth.

The first of the two noteworthy handovers bookending the antipodean event was the election of incoming ACI Asia-Pacific president, Kerrie Mather. The CEO of Sydney Airport taking the reins from Dennis Chant, who is retiring after a 45 year career in the aviation and maritime industries.

Mather, who said the appointment was a privilege, pledged: “I will continue to work closely with the Regional Board and the Regional Office in promoting professional excellence in all airport management and operations.”

She was a member of the first panel discussion on Leaders Shaping Aviation’s Future, moderated by Greg Fordham, managing director of Airbiz. Fellow panelists included Aimen Al-Hosni from Oman Airports; Declan Collier from London City Airport; Maureen Riley from Salt Lake City Airport; and James Cherry, from Aéroports de Montréal.

The CEOs shared their insights on future proofing the airport business and discussed global growth, agility, long-term vision and ownership models around
the world. 

A highlight in the final question to the panel was brought about in the pinning down of one great idea that would improve the passenger experience. Collier, who is also the current chairman of ACI World, nailed the sentiment behind much more complex strategies with his succinct value proposition of simply giving passengers “an hour of their life back”.

In Preparing and Facilitating World Events, the panel brought home the extreme intensity of such events and the long-haul preparations required. 

Nigel Chamier, chairman of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, aptly summed up their magnitude in relation to economic development, employment and global exposure, saying simply: “Global sports events change cities forever.”


Given such events and the enormous global growth of passenger movements generally, the need for airports to be seen to be environmentally friendly has arguably never been more important.

ACI Asia-Pacific’s regional director, Patti Chau, was therefore delighted to present Airport Carbon Accreditation certificates to 16 newly certified airports at a special awards ceremony, which also marked the fifth anniversary of the region joining the global scheme to reduce carbon emissions,

“We are very proud to have 31 Asia-Pacific airports accredited at various levels of the programme, representing 26% of passenger traffic in the region,” she noted.

“I would encourage more members to join the 155 airports worldwide, become accredited and demonstrate the dedication of our region’s airports to sustainable growth.”

The sustainability of carbon accreditation and other environmental measures were further explored on day three. The dedicated technical sessions underpinned the light-year pace of technological innovation, IT evolution, safety and environmental sustainability with particular emphasis on the inherent business case in each area.

The premise of the morning panel on security in the State of the Industry; the Asia-Pacific Perspective, explored recent events and future strategies. 

The afternoon presented a critical issue in aviation today – that of Best Practice Sharing – a prevalent need in security, technology, operations and the massive amounts of data in question. 

Sharing their expertise and reflections on their own best practice environments the panel discussed anti-terrorism, perimeter protection and quality assurance of security screening. 

Airport Technology – Innovation and Transformation became one of the most compelling panels of the conference with speakers presenting robotics and smart technology in situ, such as the automation efficiency at Hong Kong and maintenance robotisation at Japan’s Haneda Airport.

Straight talking moderator, vice president of SITA, Catherine Mayer, spoke with rapid-fire delivery of technology being “at the forefront of all services” and in no uncertain terms stated that the industry must recognise this.

“Bots are the new Apps,” she said. “This is what the future generation are looking to do. This is what we need to do to respond.”

User generated content and the Internet of Things (IOT) were broadly and passionately raised as well as robotics, drones and various realities, of both the augmented and virtual variety.

View from the topIn between conference sessions, Sonia Caeiro caught up with ACI World’s director general, Angela Gittens, for her thoughts on some key issues.
What do you perceive to be the singular, most pressing concern in the aeronautical environment today?Part of the airport is a public place and there are security issues in any public place. Aviation security, the protection of passengers and crew on an airplane and the avoidance of using the plane as a weapon, is different from the physical security of the place itself. It all gets mixed in.The security of the physical place is no different to the security of a stadium, train station or other public places that can be targets.A crowd is a target and so now more than ever, we want to avoid crowds. We don’t want to have people winding up en masse and be trapped going through a process. That is where we need to focus in trying to ensure more security for the physical place of the airportWhat are your thoughts on the Australian market, its insularity and litmus test facility for the industry?It’s a classic aviation market, as a very large country with cities everywhere and a lot of remote areas, so aviation is necessary at a very basic level. Every demographic group flies as a basic component of daily life and business. As it’s also very far away from everything else, it poses some challenges and opportunities.You notice that things being done in Australia have been done for a long time. Commercial aviation started very early in Australia, they have a very mature system. Things like privatisation, federal and state government interaction and protecting airports for the future are very far along – maybe the furthest along of any country I know of. 

“The technology is coming,” enthused Mayer. “It’s not expensive but we must not be scared of embracing this. It is the only way we can transform the industry for the millennials who are coming.”

Sydney Airport’s Sally Fielke spoke of “taking a holistic view”, the need for a consistent, rigorous “review of all digital touch points” and of the “fail fast” approach to technology adoption, urging airports to assess, decide and to swiftly “move on” when the technology does not deliver.

“It’s very exciting and there are many innovations to come with all the stakeholders involved having one centralised point – the customer,” she
told delegates.

The final environment sessions began with Shaping Airports for Permission to Grow and examined strategic preparation for corporate responsibility, noise reduction and climate change.

The second panel drilled further down into the nuts and bolts of Making the Business Case to CEOs for environmental initiatives with senior environment and sustainability managers from Australia, Hong Kong and Germany.

Ken Conway of Airbiz presented the latest qualitative and quantitative benchmarking with great alacrity, while Hamburg Airport’s Udo Bradersen unpacked the cost/benefit relationship of various sustainability measures.

Sydney and Brisbane Airports were both represented in the panel and shared a mutual mantra, in the case of an initiative unable to initially make its case in a dollar context.

Sydney Airport’s head of environment, Julia Phillips, said it was simply about not giving up. “When a project doesn’t meet IRR, we wait,” she said. “We wait, we keep
a watching brief and walk towards the right time – when the technology is more advanced, or when the numbers can stack up. Never give up.” 

It was perhaps the mantra for the entire conference as a whole which at its essence is jam packed with indefatigable individuals, all working to shape the industry and sustain it. 

Three days and nights of challenging ideas, articulate and informative speakers and generous, informed discussions on resilience, sustainability, integration, fluidity and efficiency came to an end with a handover ceremony to Hamad International Airport, which will host next year’s conference in Doha, Qatar, on April 10-12, 2017. It already knows that it has a tough act to follow.


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