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The challenges of growth, innovative technology and the customer experience were just a few of the topics on the agenda at this year’s ACI Asia-Pacific/World Annual General Assembly Conference & Exhibition in Hong Kong, writes Joe Bates.

Hopes were high that this year’s joint ACI Asia-Pacific/World Annual General Assembly Conference & Exhibition (WAGA) in dynamic Hong Kong would be one of the biggest and best yet, and with a varied and busy conference programme, 900 delegates and 60 exhibitors from across the globe, it didn’t disappoint.

The event began with welcoming addresses from Seow Hiang Lee, ACI Asia-Pacific president and CEO of Changi Airport Group; Fred Lam, CEO of Airport Authority Hong Kong; Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; and Martin Eurnekian, chair of ACI World, president of Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 and CEO of Corporacíon América Airports.

Lee got events under way by welcoming delegates to Hong Kong, outlining the importance of aviation to the economic development of cities, countries and regions, and highlighting some of the challenges and opportunities facing airports going forward.

“The Asia-Pacific region has been a key driving force contributing to the world’s robust air traffic growth for the past decade, although with growth, comes challenges,” he said.

“ACI forecasts that eight out of the top ten fastest growing countries for passengers in 2017-2040 will be from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. There is no one-size-fits all in how we manage, fund or invest in our airports, although recent trends show that where there is sound regulatory framework, privatisation is a viable way to finance much needed infrastructure investments as a means to increase capacity.

“Amidst the anticipated growth and building capacity, we in the aviation industry, in co-operation and collaboration with government and stakeholders, need to provide a good passenger experience, keep the system safe, secure, efficient, economically and environmentally sustainable. It is important that we listen carefully to the needs of the communities that we all serve.”

He was followed by Lam who spoke about the importance of his airport to the growth and future prosperity of Hong Kong and some hugely ambitious development plans that ultimately revolved around “transforming Hong Kong International Airport from a city airport to an airport city”.

Talking about Airport Authority Hong Kong’s airport city plans, Lam said: “Infrastructure aside, passengers today are looking for a total travel experience, this is why we developed the idea of SKYCITY. Located a short distance from the airport, it goes far beyond the traditional notion of a shopping mall and will provide a full range of retail, dining and entertainment facilities plus offices and hotels.”

He noted that HKIA had recently taken over responsibility for managing and developing the AsiaWorld-Expo centre, which hosts sporting and entertainment events as well as conventions, and revealed that he thought that such “mega developments” would help make HKIA a destination in its own right for both locals and tourists.

Lam added: “Technology will shape the future of all airport operations, so we are embracing the latest technologies to offer travellers a seamless and comfortable airport experience. In the coming years, HKIA will transform the passenger journey into a fully automated, self-service process that will revolutionise the travel experience with innovative services and enhance our operational efficiency.”


In terms of the bigger picture and the challenges facing airports, Eurnekian remarked: “Collectively, the airport industry has done a good job in staying ahead of the game, but we also acknowledge that the pace of change is accelerating and the airport industry must continue to anticipate and adjust to the wider world as it fulfils the demands of its customers and communities safely, securely and sustainably.

“In light of future air travel demand, this event provides aviation leaders and industry stakeholders the opportunity to put our heads together and to think critically and creatively about key topics.

“We will seek solutions including the task of accommodating growth, major developments in aircraft operations, resilience and adaptation to climate change, the customer experience revolution, new experiences in travel technologies, and innovations in security.

“In an age of disruption, how can we embrace a proactive approach to providing services to customers and what are the best investment decisions during a paradigm shift in the airport business?”

In her welcome address, Carrie Lam said: “With our airport sitting right at the heart of the ‘double gateway’ connecting the Greater Bay Area at the one end and the world at the other, Hong Kong offers seamless air-to-land and air-to-sea connections with a huge number of nearby destinations.

“It makes perfect sense to leverage on the unique advantage of our airport to foster a wider network of inter-related business activities. Indeed, our vision is to engineer our city’s airport to become an aerotropolis with huge and high economic efficiency and diversified employment opportunities, so as to enhance Hong Kong’s position as an international business centre.

“The development of an aerotropolis is in line with worldwide trend, and we are embarking on various novel and exciting developments to make this happen.”

In her keynote address, Dr Fang Liu, Secretary General of ICAO, highlighted the organisation’s close links with ACI, which she revealed have gone from strength to strength since ACI World moved its headquarters to Montréal.

“Since ACI moved to Montréal it has been able to engage with ICAO much more meaningfully and cost effectively on all aspects of our political, policy and technical mandates,” enthused Liu.

“Its close physical proximity has helped immeasurably in terms of our experts and senior management developing closer working relationships. The new dynamic has produced clear benefits for both governments and airport operators.”


A superb start to the conference continued with a must attend leaders forum, which featured some of the most high profile airport bosses in the business – Sheikh Aimen bin Ahmed Al Hosni (Oman Airports Management Company); Emmanuel Menanteau (Kansai Airports); Dick Benschop (Royal Schiphol Group); Deborah Flint (Los Angeles World Airports); Elena Mayoral (Madrid Barajas); and AA2000/Corporacíon América Airports’ Eurnekian.

Al Hosni revealed that passenger numbers across Oman’s airports has soared by 27% and 10% in the last two years, hot on the heels of operator, Oman Airports Management Company (OAMC) opening new state-of-the-art terminals at Salalah and Muscat airports.

The new additions have helped transform the country’s airport system, but he reminded delegates that costly new infrastructure might not necessarily be the solution to an airport’s capacity constraints.

“Advancements in technology continue to make it possible to process more passengers with existing facilities, so new terminals and runways aren’t always the answer to capacity issues,” he noted.

The only non-airport person on the panel was Cathay Pacific CEO, Robert Hogg, who was generally sympathetic to the capacity challenges faced by airports.

Next up was a panel discussion entitled ‘A New Era in Aircraft Operations’ involving Joe Wilding, co-founder and chief technology officer of Boom Supersonic; Dorothy Reimold, the FAA’s director of strategic operations for commercial space transportation; and Vincent Loubìere, director of city integration and infrastructure for Airbus Urban Air Mobility.

The final session before lunch was a ceremony to commemorate 10 years since the launch of ACI’s pioneering and highly successful Airport Carbon Accreditation programme.

An impressive 264 gateways across the globe are carbon accredited under the scheme, which has become the global standard for airport operators seeking to address their carbon footprint.

The afternoon of Day 1 comprised a debate about customer service innovation called ‘The Customer Experience Revolution’; the launch of two unique programmes designed to help airports promote service excellence and improve customer experience; and ACI Asia-Pacific’s annual Assembly.


Speaking during the customer service debate moderated by Plaza Premium Group’s Mei Mei Song, Sydney Airport’s service strategy and customer experience manager, Claire Donnellan, revealed that feedback from ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) benchmarking programme has helped “drive the changes that passengers were asking for” at her airport.

“Customer needs and passenger expectations change over time, meaning that something that was a basic [requirement] before, may not be considered so important today,” she commented.

“Having a space for customers to break away and relax and recharge is important today as are bathrooms, although whereas years ago a standard bathroom was fine, now people actually want a sense of place experience when they go there.”

Fellow panelists in the session included Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Muna Al-Ghanim; Airport Authority Hong Kong’s Chapman Fong; Corporacíon Quiport’s Carlos Criado; and San Antonio’s Karen Ellis.

The two customer service related programmes launched by ACI World at the event were its new ACI World’s Customer Experience Accreditation programme – which offers a common definition and framework for customer experience management – and the Airport Customer Experience Professional Designation Programme for airport employees.

Addressing the 14th ACI Asia-Pacific annual Assembly, regional director, Patti Chau, reflected on a good year for the Regional Office and the importance of aviation to the economic development of the region and global prosperity.

She reminded all those in attendance that passenger traffic across Asia-Pacific grew by 6.6% in 2018, which was above the global average of 5.3%.

“China and India continue to be key drivers of Asia-Pacific’s impressive growth, reporting increases of 10.2% and 15.8% respectively. The Middle East continues to be impacted by geo-political uncertainties but still managed to sustain growth of 2.1%,” commented Chau.

She noted that passenger numbers at the world’s 20 busiest airports increased by 4.7% in 2018 and that half of them are in the Asia-Pacific region, which she said illustrated “the resilience and strength of our airports and their contribution to the world’s air transport growth”.

Chau highlighted ACI Asia-Pacific’s expanding regional and global industry influence, paying particular attention to its strong relationship with ICAO and support for its ‘No Country Left Behind’ campaign and other initiatives.

The Assembly saw the appointment of three new Regional Board Directors – Mohamed Yousif Al-Binfalah, CEO of Bahrain Airport Company; Futoshi Osada, senior executive vice president of Narita International Airport Corporation; and Ming-Teh Wang, president and CEO Taoyuan International Airport Corporation.

Commenting on the elections, Chau said: “I wish to congratulate all elected members of the Board. Together with our president, we look forward to working closely with our Board in strengthening ACI Asia-Pacific’s role in representing our members in the region and advocating members’ interests.”

A busy and exciting day ended with a Gala evening on top of one of the tallest buildings in Hong Kong – the indoor observation deck on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon to be precise!


ACI World’s Annual General Assembly, followed by the now traditional ACI-ICAO AMPAP Graduation Ceremony, ensured an upbeat start to Day 2.

They were followed by a keynote address from futurist and CEO of Prescient, Dr Amy Zalman, who then handed the stage over to KMPG’s Anson Bailey who presided over a panel that contemplated what might be next for the industry in terms of the passenger experience and new technologies.


Steve Lee, Changi Airport Group’s chief information officer, said that he believed that airports increasingly had to “think outside of the box” when it comes to new innovations such as Changi’s pioneering Jewel Changi Airport development and planned Terminal 5.

“Innovation is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration,” said Lee, noting that Changi Airport Group would carry out “tons of experiments to prepare for T5,” which is due to open in the 2030s.

“It is all too easy to talk about it [Terminal 5], but it is hard to do it. It is hard to convince people to do it. It is hard to make changes, and it is hard to do on so many other levels at the time as remaining 100% focused on the customer.”

He added that how “man and machine” work together in the future in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence, will also prove crucial to the future growth and prosperity of airports.

Vancouver International Airport’s vice president for planning and innovation, Steve Hankinson, talked about the success of YVR’s ‘FutureXPRESS’ Living Lab, which it created in 2018 to help senior government officials from the US and Canada better understand the benefits of biometrics technology.

The lab, he said, gave them a glimpse of what the future could hold and, just as importantly, the need for internationally adopted standards across the globe.

Hankinson told the audience that such was the success of the decision that YVR was still having conversations with the Canadian government today about the biometrics they witnessed in the living lab.

While facial biometrics, which he described as the future of identity management, is set to be adopted by the US-Canada trusted traveller programme, NEXUS, from June 2019.

“We, as an industry, really spend a lot of time talking about innovation and technology, but I urge you to go back and make sure that your regulators are coming on the journey with you,” said Hankinson. “FutureXPRESS has paid massive dividends for us.”

Fellow panelists in the session, called The NEXTT Generation, included Northern Kentucky International Airport’s chief innovation officer, Brian Cobb, and Arup’s director for advanced digital engineering, Alan Newbold.

The futuristic theme of the day then switched to Google’s industry leader for finance and travel, Lucy Werner, who shared her thoughts on the growing role technology will play in people’s lives going forward.

The event ended with a security thread. ACI World’s security, facilitation and IT director, Nina Brooks, first launched new ACI Handbooks on the Insider Threat and Cybersecurity, before her head of security and facilitation colleague, Nathalie Herbelles, moderated a fast-moving session on Innovation in Security.

Her panel was made up of Adelaide Airport Limited’s Emma Boulby; NUCTECH’s Daniel Goh; Aviation Service Security’s Ben Smith; and Heathrow Airport Limited’s Simon Wilcox.


Next year’s ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly, Conference and Exhibition will be hosted by Kansai Airports and held in Nara, Japan, on April 21-23, 2020. See you there!


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