VIEW FROM THE TOP
ACI Asia-Pacific director general, Stefano Baronci, reflects on a new joint initiative with the Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association, a successful trip to the Middle East and changes to the Regional Board.
It is fair to say that the first quarter of 2022 didn’t quite turn out the way we had hoped or expected, with the Omicron variant having a particularly adverse impact on the aviation industry in Asia.
Indeed, the daily, record-breaking number of infections observed in many parts of Asia during the early weeks of the year also translated to travel restrictions backtracking and some borders closing again. The news cycle was further distracted by the war in Ukraine and the unfortunate plane crash in China.
At the time of writing, we are finally seeing glimmers of hope again with more countries in Asia announcing the progressive reopening of borders and relaxation of travel requirements to reconnect with other parts of the world.
However, we recognise much still needs to be done in order to truly reinvigorate travel across the region, and ACI Asia-Pacific continues to advocate and push forward our message on behalf of members.
JOINING INITIATIVE WITH APTRA
To this end, ACI Asia-Pacific recently joined forces with Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association (APTRA) to launch a campaign urging for greater government support for the air travel industry.
The campaign included letters to the region’s governments’ health, tourism and trade and industry departments or authorities, followed by a press release, primarily with a message urging governments to support air travel recovery and recommending a series of measures to address the issues preventing the recovery of the sector and regional economies as a whole.
This followed recent evidence from both APTRA and ACI Asia-Pacific indicating that Asia-Pacific’s air travel industry is losing its competitiveness and significantly lagging behind other regions.
Data from ACI’s latest economic impact assessment shows that, compared to the projected baseline, passenger traffic in Asia-Pacific reduced -63% in 2021, and is estimated to decrease -49% in 2022.
Similar performance is expected to be reported regarding airport revenues, with a loss of $27 billion forecast in the region in 2022.
Furthermore, a recent survey of the region’s airport operators indicated that significant operational challenges still need to be addressed to improve the passenger experience at airports.
The biggest issues reported a lack of internationally aligned digital health checks, predominant reliance on paper documents leading to onerous and time-consuming manual checks, obligation to be tested before departure and after arrival, as well as extra time required for manual processing of passengers (especially at arrival) and repeated manual document checking (especially at departure).
Now that more countries in Asia-Pacific are opening up to international traffic, there is an absolute need to properly assess the impact of health measures on passengers and to avoid excessive requirements.
Scientific and consolidated practices at international level provide ample justification for applying simpler measures at all airports, for vaccinated passengers, that would bring the region back to its leading position for air travel and tourism.
This requires adopting harmonised and simplified travel protocols and health credentials verification processes, which have become excessively complicated and scarcely predictable.
ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT WITH MIDDLE EAST AIRPORT MEMBERS
As shared in my update in the last issue of the magazine, I embarked on an enhanced engagement tour with airport members in the Middle East during November and December. The visits started with our members in Bahrain and the UAE, namely Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, generously hosted by the CEOs Mohamed Al Binfalah, Shareef Al Hashmi, Paul Griffith and Ali Salim al Midfa.
The final leg of the trip took us to Saudi Arabia. Graciously hosted by General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), the visit began on the heels of the ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Board’s meeting in December (more on this later).
We were welcomed by the president of GACA, His Excellency Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Engr Suleiman Al Bassam, vice president of airports at GACA, who also serves as a special advisor on the ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Board.
The tour of various airports began with Dammam Airports Company, at King Fahd International Airport, as well as Al Ula International Airport, Jeddah International Airport, and NEOM.
Discussions circled around opportunities to strengthen co-operation and partnership with each other and others industry stakeholders. In all, the visit in Saudi Arabia was very productive. The aviation industry has much to look forward to.
As mentioned earlier, the ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Board convened in early December via video conference.
Besides hearing our guest, Tao Ma, regional director of ICAO Asia and Pacific share about the many initiatives and plans affirming the close collaboration and co-operation between our two organisations, members also got to hear insights and stories from Akihiko Tamura, CEO of Narita International Airport Corporation, and Engr Suleiman Al Bassam of GACA on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and implementation of the Tawakkalna Health Passport app, respectively.
The Regional Board meeting in December also signified the transition of our secretary treasurer, Sheikh Aimen bin Ahmed Al Hosni, CEO of Oman Airports Management Company, who was newly elected to become chair of the ACI World Governing Board in January.
We are proud that the World Governing Board is now chaired by one of our region’s representatives and appreciate his continued support and engagement at regional level as one of the Board’s special advisors.
Asia-Pacific and Middle East still has a way to go to catch up. The road to recovery will take place in multiple stages as seen in the recent, progressive reopening of borders. Nevertheless, ACI Asia-Pacific continues to focus on ensuring members’ airport operations and public health measures implemented in accordance with ICAO Cart recommendations.
Besides the aforementioned joint-campaign with APTRA, due attention is also given to economic survival of the industry and safeguarding interests in the future, supporting members and advocating for state-support of the industry to the extent possible and risk-based approaches to travel protocols.
Whenever possible, we engage in dialogues with governments and policymakers on the coordinated reopening of the industry.
Airport operators and investors will inevitably reconsider priorities and revaluate business models. Although ACI does not expect passenger traffic to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East are forecasted to be the two fastest growing regions with compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7% and 5.2% respectively until 2040.
As airports reinvent themselves and try to ‘build back better’, the three pillars of sustainability cannot be overlooked: Environment, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG).
Public and private finances are progressively more tied to sustainability ratings and climate actions. Balanced business models must incorporate all three aspects of sustainability to social and economic benefits.
We have also observed that despite financial challenges, airports are investing in touchless, self-service technologies to meet hygiene standards, restore passengers’ confidence, and improve travel experience.
To all this, the future of the aviation industry remains promising and we look forward to more tangible progress in the recovery process. Ciao!