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New ACI Asia-Pacific director general, Stefano Baronci, reflects on an eventful start to 2020, planning ahead, leadership changes at ACI and the impact of the coronavirus.

 A number of very different events, some known to me in advance and others coming completely out of the blue, have helped make my first 100 days as the new director general of ACI Asia-Pacific something of a rollercoaster ride!

I knew, for example, that the region’s growth rate has slowed to its lowest in five years. I also knew that a trade agreement between China and the United States was imminent and that the much publicised social unrest in Hong Kong – my new home – was continuing. However, nobody could have anticipated the outbreak of a virus!

Despite the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) – and I will return to this subject later on – I was able to achieve the priorities I had set for my first 100 days in the new job: getting to know our airport members, our board members and the team.

In a short period of time, I visited eight countries and met with multiple airport members as well as policymakers, regulators and other key stakeholders. What struck me most was the diversity across the region yet, at the same time, a shared commitment to safety, security and delivering exceptional customer experience.

I was inspired after meeting the board members. Some I was able to meet in person, others virtually. The Asia-Pacific Regional Board includes longstanding airport professionals and I am grateful for their support in guiding ACI Asia-Pacific.

Strategic plan

ACI Asia-Pacific operates under three-year strategic plans, so I am currently devoting significant attention to the plan for the 2021-2023 period, and will happily share more details about it with you when it gets finalised and approved by the board.

Suffice to say that, for now, an important element will be to elevate the profile of ACI Asia-Pacific and our members in the region, and globally, through strategic advocacy and communications efforts.

The strategic plan will also address a painful challenge faced by members throughout the region: the capacity crunch. We will be looking at smarter slot allocation mechanisms, building new infrastructure and improving the co-operation with air traffic control organisations.

ACI leadership changes

There will be a change in leadership at ACI World later this year when, after 12 years of leading the organisation, my good friend, Angela Gittens, will hand over the reins to Luis Felipe de Oliveira, an aviation leader with decades of experience in business development and strategic planning.

On behalf of the whole team, we wish Angela all the best in her retirement. We also offer a warm welcome Rafael Echevarne, who was recently appointed the new director general of ACI Latin America & Caribbean.

The impact of COVID-19

Having spent my whole career in the aviation sector, I am no stranger to the types of crisis that can hit our industry. The challenge with a communicable disease is its unpredictability. At the start of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCov), since renamed COVID-19, we feared the worst, but hoped for the best. At the time of writing this article, the casualties had regrettably surpassed the death toll of the SARS outbreak in 2003.

ACI Asia-Pacific was quick to rally around our members by providing guidelines for airport preparedness if a communicable disease breaks out, and pointing to a handbook for emergency preparedness and contingency planning.

I sincerely appreciate the willingness of our members to share additional measures implemented at airports around the region. Our team collated this information and shared it to the broader ACI Asia-Pacific member base. This kind of sharing of best practices is highly beneficial to our airport sector.

The impact of COVID-19 on our industry is clearly visible, especially since the World Health Organization’s declared it a pandemic in early March. Global and regional connectivity all but halted as countries globally declared lockdowns, border closures, travel bans, quarantine requirements and airlines cancelled flights.

The global scale of this outbreak is wreaking havoc and our industry is at serious risk. At this stage, we can only wait this out and call upon governments to provide necessary aid and relief to the aviation industry and the economies it serves.

As the Regional Office is located in Hong Kong, we took a number of precautionary measures to make sure our team members were safe. By and large, the team has been working from their home offices and quickly familiarised themselves with on-line collaborative tools. I’m pleased to say that our operations continued seamlessly despite these extraordinary circumstances.

Regrettably, this situation has impacted on a number of ACI events, most importantly for our region, the 15th ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in Nara, Japan, this April. I had, of course, hoped to meet many of you there, but together with our host Kansai Airports, we made the difficult decision to move the event to September 15-17, 2020.

I sincerely hope that you can make the new dates and, please, rest assured that the team will keep you appraised on the latest developments regarding the 15th ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Conference & Exhibition rescheduled to September 15-17, 2020, through bi-weekly newsletters and event emails.

Final thoughts

Asia-Pacific Airports magazine is published four times a year for you, our members. We aim to share relevant trends and innovations in our industry and provide a platform for our members to showcase the best of their airports.

It is also a chance for us to update you about our activities. This is why I sat down with the magazine editor, Joe Bates, to share a little more about myself and what attracted me to this dynamic and exciting region. You can read the Q&A article on page 24.

The new decade is starting off with some big challenges for our industry. Please know that you can count on us to be the voice of the region’s airports in this extraordinary time.

Ciao! Stefano


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