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Get to know ACI Asia-Pacific’s new director general, Stefano Baronci, a little better in this Q&A with APA editor, Joe Bates.

HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO AVIATION?
I think, like many, I first got into aviation when I was kid as I fondly remember the excitement of going to Rome-Fiumicino Airport with my parents to pick up my uncle who was returning to Italy from the US. Discovering somewhere so full of people and aircraft made it a place of wonder to a small boy.

When, years later, I completed my studies at the Law Faculty in Rome it was my natural inclination to specialise in air transport law, with research conducted at McGill University in Canada. I then decided to work at the European Commission as it provided me with the best opportunity for my career in aviation to take-off.


HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
I think I am inclusive, open and transparent and encourage people to take the initiative. I also believe in the importance of having clear ambitions and targets and a strategy to achieve them. In this respect, I like to set the direction and get everyone on the same page, so that everyone works to a common goal. I also appreciate feedback and believe that one of my strengths is my ability to listen and learn.


WHAT WAS THE APPEAL OF THE TOP JOB AT ACI ASIA-PACIFIC?
Current circumstances may suggest otherwise, but the Asia-Pacific region – which, of course, for us includes the Middle East – is simply the place to be to experience dynamic growth and development and a glimpse of the future, as it will be aviation’s biggest market by 2035.

To put that in perspective, ACI forecasts that almost 60% of the additional 12 billion passengers that will pass through the world’s airports between now and 2040 will be handled in our region. Indeed, eight out of the 10 fastest growing countries for passengers and six out of the 10 fastest growing markets for cargo are in Asia.

This rapid growth across the region, coupled by increased competition, radically shifting technologies and emerging disruptive business models, represents a challenge for the development of Asian airports as well as a unique opportunity to define the future role of airports in the world.

We must also not forget that business cycles are always exposed to exogenous risks, such as the current coronavirus outbreak, that has caused the postponement of ACI’s Airport Economics & Finance Conference in Kuala Lumpur and our annual Regional Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in Nara, Japan, and will heavily impact on the Q1 traffic figures.


HOW WILL YOUR EXPERIENCE AT ACI EUROPE AND ACI WORLD HELP YOU IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Our business is global, and the lessons I’ve learnt in Brussels and Montréal will certainly be useful for interpreting problems and identifying solutions. At ACI Europe, for example, participating in the often complex EU decision-making processes allowed me to build my advocacy skills. While the global exposure gained at ACI World, after previous important experiences at IATA and at the Association of Italian Airports, has allowed me to enhance my skillset to know how best to communicate, work and do business in different countries and cultural settings.

I’m also sure that my global experience and the strong network of airport and industry contacts that I’ve managed to build up during my time with ACI Europe and ACI World can only serve to benefit the Asia-Pacific region in the years’ ahead.


CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES OF ASIA-PACIFIC?
The size and growing importance of the region meant that Asia-Pacific almost naturally became my first destination for business trips to meet policymakers and stakeholders during my time at ACI World. This exposure has given me a sense of the multiple opportunities that lie ahead, along with the particular challenges of this amazing and very diverse region.


WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN FOCUS AREAS THIS YEAR FOR ACI ASIA-PACIFIC AND WHY?
My main priority is to elevate the profile of our members and of ACI Asia-Pacific in the region and globally. We have many stories to tell, several problems to sort out and many dreams to make them come true.


IN WHAT AREAS HAVE ACI ASIA-PACIFIC’S AIRPORTS SHOWN LEADERSHIP AND, CONVERSELY, IN WHAT AREAS IS THERE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?
Asia-Pacific’s airports are renowned for the quality of service they provide and are often seen as a benchmark for the rest of the world. Indeed, airports such as Delhi-Indira Gandhi, Singapore Changi and Incheon, to name but a few, excel in terms of the quality of the service they provide and often top ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer excellence rankings.

In terms of what they can do better? I think there are several areas for improvement. If I had to pinpoint one, however, I would say that there is a tremendous need to tackle the capacity crunch, both in the sky and on the ground. Smarter slot allocation mechanisms, building new infrastructure and improving the co-operation with air navigation service providers is the way forward.

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DO THE GROWING GLOBAL CONCERNS ABOUT THE DAMAGE AVIATION CAUSES TO THE PLANET POSE A VERY REAL THREAT TO THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY?
ACI and our member airports take our environmental responsibilities very seriously because we know that aviation’s sustainable development is effectively its licence to grow.

As a result, over the course of the last decade, ACI Asia-Pacific airport members have proactively undertaken significant actions to reduce emissions from their operations. These include voluntarily participating in ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, the global industry standard for airports, which as of January 2020, counted 54 airports from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East among the world’s 293 accredited airports.

The 54, which between them collectively handle 37.7% of the region’s air passenger traffic, include six that have already reached carbon neutral status – Bengaluru-Kempegowda, Delhi-Indira Gandhi, Hyderabad-Rajiv Gandhi, Mumbai-Chhatrapati Shivaji in India, Queen Alia in Jordan, and Sunshine Coast in Australia.

Many airports have also implemented renewable energy initiatives such as green electricity purchase agreements, solar power and hydrogen power facilities.

We are, however, aware that much more has to be done, because the challenge is tangible. The apparent trend of increasing investment in renewable energy facility installations is evidence of this. This is an area where ACI Asia-Pacific has a fundamental role to play to gather ideas, share best practices, provide guidance and tools, and set a vision with the adequate level of ambition.

Rising sea levels, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and the melting polar ice caps prove that climate change is real and it’s happening right now, and as you will be able to read on page 32 of this issue, an ever increasing number of airports across the world are at risk from flooding.

In this regard, the Asia-Pacific region is not immune, and although the region’s biggest hubs and most affluent countries have the resources to invest in initiatives and sometimes expensive new infrastructure to try and adapt to the impact of climate change, the same cannot be said for many of the developing nations that are arguably at greater risk from extreme weather events.

Around the world we are seeing states, like New Zealand, companies like Microsoft, and airports, too, moving towards net zero carbon pledges. It is an enviable ambition and one that I think the region should consider sometime in the future.


YOU SPEAK ENGLISH, FRENCH AND SPANISH. IS LEARNING CHINESE ON YOUR TO DO LIST THIS YEAR?
Ah, the secret is out! I am attending Mandarin classes and the intention is to try and learn how to speak it as soon as possible, but please do not test me yet. I need more time. Perhaps in the next interview?

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