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Leading lady


Aviation leaders pay tribute to outgoing ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, by sharing their personal memories of working with her during her 12-year tenure at the helm of the ‘voice of the world’s airports’.

It is fair to say that ACI World reached new heights under the leadership of Angela Gittens, who oversaw the game-changing move of the association’s global headquarters to Montréal and a new period of co-operation, partnership and understanding with ICAO, IATA and other industry bodies.

Arguably, her legacy will be that she leaves behind an association that is stronger, more united and more active and influential on the global stage than at any time in its history.

Not surprisingly then, her efforts in spearheading the association have been recognised by airports leaders far and wide, ACI World Governing Board members past and present, and the director general and secretary general of IATA and ICAO respectively.

ICAO secretary general, Fang Liu, says that Angela “has always provided proactive support and contributions to the wide variety of initiatives that ICAO has undertaken under my leadership”, noting that on a personal level, she “greatly appreciated her generous and kind nature.”

Liu praised Angela’s “unwavering support” for ACI/ICAO’s joint efforts to enhance the accessibility of careers in aviation for women and youth; co-operation on joint training initiatives; and for helping grow the success of the joint Global ACI-ICAO Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP) and Airport Excellence (APEX) programmes.

Liu states: “Angela will be warmly remembered for having brought ACI to its natural home in the heart of the World Capital of Civil
Aviation, Montréal.

“This insightful move placed the organisation figuratively and literally at the centre of global aviation policy making. By becoming our neighbour, ACI dramatically enhanced its ability to contribute to all aspects of ICAO’s standard-setting and aviation advocacy work, resulting of course in better outcomes for operators, consumers, and the almost unimaginably vast constellation of communities and industry sectors that depend on airports for their connectivity to the world.”

IATA director general, Alexandre de Juniac, says that he will always fondly remember his time working with Angela, whether that was sharing opposing views on different issues or collaborating on various ACI/IATA initiatives.

He says: “Angela is one of the people that I have met most often in my job. We see each other all over the world as a kind of informal double act talking about the top industry issues. That’s quite appropriate as it reflects the partnership of airlines and airports.

“Sometimes we agreed; and sometimes we did not. But I have always been impressed with Angela’s enthusiastic and tireless efforts in representing the interest of airports.

“She was a driving force for improving the work that IATA and ACI do together to make flying better. That helped IATA and ACI to tackle the environment challenge head-on, to develop a new relationship on slots and to address security issues.

“Angela should be proud of the mark that he has left on aviation. Although I find it difficult to imagine Angela kicking back and relaxing, I wholeheartedly wish her a very long and extremely happy retirement.”

Another big fan of Angela’s is Greater Toronto Airports Authority’s president and CEO, Deborah Flint, who enthuses: “While we are women of the skies, I met Angela for the first time on a boat. The ACI Economics conference was being held in Miami and the welcome reception was waterside. I was the head of Capital Development at OAK, and Angela was a known industry legend already.

“She was revered for her intelligence, vision and tenaciousness. I recall being so excited to meet her, and I was struck by how warm and personable she was. In a time when the industry was tight knit, she made me feel welcome.

“In life you’re remembered by how people make you feel. In a conversation with Angela, you will feel like her friend; you’ll feel like a diplomat engaging in global aviation policy; you’ll feel respected for your opinion because she will inquire and genuinely listen, and you’ll feel inspired to make the industry better. You may be inspired to do a little shopping, too!”

Former chair of ACI World and president and CEO of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport in Florida, Fredrick Piccolo, actually spearheaded the search committee that recommended her appointment as director general of ACI World, and says that Angela still jokingly tells him today that she would have asked for a higher salary had he been more transparent about the challenges ahead!

He says: “I have served on the ACI World Board during her entire tenure and she is a great friend and wonderful colleague. She is one of the smartest, strongest, energetic, and most ethical people I have ever known. She is tremendously respected by every sector of the aviation community whether they were friend or foe.”

As for the highlights of her tenure, Piccolo says: “Angela has done so many things for ACI and aviation, however, I believe her greatest accomplishment was the pre-eminent status she has raised ACI World to throughout our industry worldwide.

“She had to move the organisation to Montréal from Geneva, establish a headquarters and staff, gain credibility with our members around the world, go toe-to-toe with IATA when the combative Giovanni Bisignani was their director general and get respect and credibility from ICAO and its leadership.

“Additionally, she needed to expand the training and financial strength of the organisation. She accomplished all of these objectives and made it look easy. Her ability to get individuals of so many different cultures to not only listen but act upon her counsel is a further testament to her ability.

“She overcame all the business and hidden challenges with her energy, wit, intelligence and warmth. I think she will be remembered as the most consequential figure in the history of ACI.”

On a lighter note, he fondly remembers Angela being impressed by his dancing at one event, even comparing his moves to those of Bruno Mars. “Her comment to this day always brings a smile to my face, because either Angela needs stronger glasses, or her kindness knows no bounds,” says Piccolo.

Athens International Airport’s CEO, Yiannis Paraschis, first met Angela during her selection process for job as director general of ACI World, noting: “I vividly recall how she impressed us all during that meeting, and, in fact, Angela never ceased to impress us.

“Looking back in retrospect at the 12 years since our first encounter, I sincerely don’t think a better choice could have been made back then. Angela made a difference at first sight, and eventually made a difference all the way steering ACI World, the family of the world’s airports.

“Under Angela’s leadership, ACI became a totally transformed organisation in a twofold manner: both in the way the global membership is served but, very importantly, also in the way external peers look at airports’ trade association.”

Like many in Asia-Pacific, Airport Authority Hong Kong’s CEO, Fred Lam, considers Angela to be a great supporter of the region’s airports and is truly appreciative of Hong Kong being given the opportunity to host last year’s joint ACI World Annual General Assembly/ACI Asia-Pacific Regional Conference.

“She works tirelessly for worldwide airports, big and small, as demonstrated in the ‘Leave No Airport Behind’ initiative,” says Lam. “I share and fully support her vision of helping smaller and less resourceful airports improve standards for security and safety, which benefits the whole aviation industry.

“Angela has been an exceptional leader during her tenure at ACI World. She is instrumental in strengthening the relationship between ACI and ICAO and fought hard to make the voice of airports heard in the aviation industry, raising airports’ collective influence and contribution on global aviation affairs. It has been my pleasure to work with Angela, who is always positive and supportive. She will be missed at ACI and I wish her all the best in her future endeavours.”

Andrew O’Brian, president and CEO of Corporacíon Quiport and president of ACI Latin America & Caribbean (ACI-LAC), calls Angela the “Empress of aviation” because of her tireless efforts championing the cause of the world’s airports, adding that she actively encouraged him to get more involved with ACI and work to do more for the ACI-LAC region’s airports.

“For me, she has been a mentor who fuelled my interest in leading ACI-LAC,” says O’Brian. “She is one of the most respected voices in the industry and particularly the airport sector. Above all, Angela is an extraordinary person who has a vast wealth of wisdom to share.
Her generosity is a distinctive trait.”

Pierre Coutu, programme administrator for AMPAP and president of Aviation Strategies International, notes: “At every single annual AMPAP graduation ceremony since 2008, Angela would start her allocution with the same words – ‘this is my favourite time of the year’.

“No other words could better express her sincere pride for all those airport executives who would be beaming equally with pride, and also for the programme. AMPAP has reached airport executives in 116 countries to date and a big portion of its success is due to Angela’s unwavering support for its mission and for the development of airport management as a profession!”

TAV Airports president and CEO, Sani Şener, is equally glowing in his praise for Angela, particularly for her “successful management of change”, and for “creating collaboration and a unified voice for airports in the face of complex economic and environmental challenges”.

He says: “Angela Gittens’ appointment as the head of ACI World in 2008 coincided with a very crucial period in my career. At the time,
TAV was quickly expanding beyond Turkey and was on track to become a global player in airport management. ACI provided us with the opportunity to network with our peers.

“Later, I had the chance to work closely with Angela during my tenure on the ACI World Governing Board. She was always a good listener, analytical and a firm believer in collaboration among industry stakeholders. Today, I’m proud to consider her a friend and a very respected industry colleague.”

Halifax International Airport Authority’s president and CEO, Joyce Carter, describes the retiring Gittens as an “icon in our industry”, remembering that she immediately “connected” with her when they met at an informal gathering of female leaders in aviation a few years ago, and quickly learnt that Angela was “kind, personable and keen”.

“I will remember Angela for always promoting women in aviation, and for always taking the time to connect with me, no matter how busy her schedule was or what time zone she was in. She’s an empowering leader who will have a lasting impact on ACI World. She will be greatly missed,” says Carter.

Greg Fordham, managing director of Airbiz and a leading advocate for ACI’s World Business Partner programme, reveals that he was first inspired by Angela when she “demonstrated her brilliant leadership to ensure that Atlanta airport ran like clockwork for the 1996 Olympic Games”.

He says: “I got to know Angela through ACI where her diplomacy skills shone as she managed the transition and success of ACI World’s relocation to Montréal. But as a true legend of our industry, I am always impressed when Angela is able to answer any question on a diverse range of aviation topics with clarity and insight – regardless of how many aeroplanes she has jumped on and off during the previous few days!”

Another impressed by her leadership qualities is Seow Hiang Lee, CEO of Changi Airport Group (CAG) and president of ACI’s Asia-Pacific Region, who believes that Angela will be best remembered for giving a stronger voice to airports around the world, and for making the strategic decision to move ACI World’s office from Geneva to Montréal to be nearer to ICAO and IATA.

He has no doubt in stating that the strategic move paid off and enabled ACI to foster a much stronger working relationship with both ICAO and IATA, elevating the voice of the world’s airports on the international stage. 

However, he also has many fond personal memories of working with Angela and enjoying her company over the last decade, choosing to share two stories with us.

“During a chat with Angela at a recent board meeting, I found out that she had travelled to more than eight countries consecutively to attend meetings and speak at various forums, and she had not been home for about a month,” says Lee.

“Angela’s dedication to ensure that ACI continues to be seen and heard at the international level is inspiring, and her energy is most admirable, as I fully appreciate the struggle of adapting to different time zones, being a frequent traveller myself.

“Another fond memory I have of her occurred after a conference dinner in Gold Coast, Australia. Groups of dinner attendees began to dance when the after-dinner music started playing. Someone invited Angela to join in the dancing, and she gamely obliged. Following her lead, many of the Regional Board directors let their hair down too, and we danced the night away.

“Not only did I get a glimpse of the fun and lighter side of Angela that night, her persuasion skills at getting some of the non-dancers to join the floor left a deep impression on me.”

Not surprisingly, Angela is a hugely popular character at ACI, with all of the association’s regional leaders lavishing praise on her engaging personality, stamina, and leadership skills.

Long serving ACI Europe director general, Olivier Jankovec, has worked alongside Angela for over a decade and had these warm words to say about his long-term counterpart at ACI World.

“Angela has been a game changer. She is the one that brought the ACI Regions together and raised the profile and standing of ACI World – especially with ICAO,” says Jankovec.

“She really managed to build upon our regional strengths, while respecting our differences and autonomy.

“She built trust and has enabled effective co-operation between the five regions and ACI World, ultimately allowing the airport industry to come out of the shadows, to be considered and listened to. Her leadership skills have been a tremendous asset to our organisations. I confess I have a hard time thinking of ACI without Angela.”

His favourite memory of Angela is unexpected, funny and perhaps best sums up the type of friendship they enjoyed over the last 12 years.

“It is that moment when I proposed… to take a ride with me through the streets of Rome on my scooter,” he says. “We were out of an ECAC meeting and she went for it with no hesitation, taking the risk of my (sometimes adventurous) driving skills.

“We did our own (modernised) remake of ‘Roman Holiday’, the 1954 movie starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. I think she felt as much like Audrey as I did Gregory!”

Recalling his favourite memory of their time working together, ACI Asia-Pacific director general, Stefano Baronci, says: “It was late afternoon on a gorgeously sunny Spring day in Montréal. We had just concluded a three-year process of negotiation with airlines and slot co-ordinators to agree that airport operators should have equal rights to set the slot allocation rules at a global level. The reform was long overdue. We hugged each other and shared a celebratory drink. It was a great moment and one I will never forget.

“Angela is a true leader, a true fighter, a true woman. And a truly good dancer. She will be remembered for all of this.”

We’ll leave the last word to former Munich Airport CEO, Michael Kerloh, who believes that Angela’s achievements should earn her place in aviation’s Hall of Fame.

He says: “Certainly one of her great achievements is that ACI is now on eye level with the big partners of ICAO, IATA, CANSO and others. In fact, ACI’s input for improving the quality, safety and security of air travel is now welcomed by all rule-making authorities and bodies on both the national and international level.

“The voice of airports is clearly being heard and listened to and our influence has significantly grown.

“I also have to mention her worldwide physical presence, which was legendary. There are not many people who can say that they have delivered speeches on different continents on the same day. She is a member of this exclusive club.

“Thanks to her fitness and her genes – both her parents are still happily alive – I think she could happily be invited into the hall of fame for the world’s ‘Wonder Women’. She definitely deserves a prominent place in World Aviation’s Hall of Fame. She would be a perfect first member. She is a role model for all of us. Thanks for inspiring us.”

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