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Airport World reviews some of the highlights of the recent ACI-LAC/World Annual General Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in Cancún.

Aviation leaders from across the globe gathered in Cancún in November for the ACI-LAC/World Annual General Assembly, Conference & Exhibition, and for the more than 300 delegates lucky enough to be in Mexico, it provided the opportunity to expand their knowledge, learn about the latest industry initiatives and innovations, and catch up with friends and colleagues they perhaps hadn’t seen in-person for two years.

Guests were welcomed by Mexico’s Subsecretary of Transport, Carlos Alfonso Morán Moguel; the secretary general of ICAO, Juan Carlos Salazar Gómez; ACI World chair and CEO of Corporación América Airports and president of Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, Martin Eurnekian; and ACI-LAC president and CEO of Reach Airports, Andrew O’Brian.

Eurnekian told delegates: “During the past 20 months, ACI has worked tirelessly to be the voice of the world’s airports, representing our members’ interests both on the global stage and on the ground through our products and services during the entire crisis.

“And while airports continue to feel the repercussions of the pandemic, we have begun to rebuild – albeit it in a very different world, underlining the importance of events such as this one.

“We have a tremendous challenge: the airport industry must continue to anticipate and adjust to the impact of COVID-19 as it fulfils the demands of its customers and communities, safely, securely, and sustainably. But I am confident, that together through collaboration and with the support of governments, we can achieve a bigger and better sector.”

In his state of the industry address, ACI World director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, delved into the symbolic importance of gathering in-person, the latest data concerning the impacts of COVID-19 on airports, and the socio-economic importance of a sustained recovery.

“The fact that aviation stakeholders are gathered under one roof here in Cancún to exchange information on the most pressing issues of sustainable recovery is proof of the sector’s upward trajectory,” enthused de Oliveira.

“In just a few months it will be two years since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Since then, daily life across the globe has changed with unprecedented impacts on the global economy, trade and mobility. Practically all aspects of economic and social activity were – and are still – disrupted.

“Air transport has remained one of the hardest-hit global industries in 2020, and its restart has been slow, uneven, and challenging. The economic, social and health implications for the aviation sector are far-reaching and the pandemic will affect aviation businesses, passengers, and airports for years to come.”

He noted that under the current projection, and taking into account the slower than expected fourth quarter of 2021, global domestic passenger traffic is still expected to reach 2019 levels in late 2023, but global international passenger traffic will require an additional year, reaching 2019 levels by the end of the third quarter of 2024.

ACI World’s de Oliveira also reiterated the organisation’s call for a harmonised global effort from governments and all industry stakeholders to take action to implement risk based, pragmatic approaches – such as the mutual recognition of vaccines and interoperable solutions for proof of health status – to help reboot air travel.

And he reminded everyone of the importance of factoring sustainability into aviation’s recovery efforts to ensure aviation’s long-term future. 

Indeed, a key resolution approved at the 31st ACI World Annual General Assembly (WAGA) and which supported the conference’s theme of sustainability, outlined the next steps on the sustainable development of the aviation ecosystem.

It recognised the need to promote restorative development by reducing and proactively addressing risks and increasing airports’ social and economic benefits by properly balancing them with the environmental aspects of the business.

Noting the impact of COVID-19 on the entire aviation sector and the importance of collaboration among aviation and non-aviation stakeholders, ACI World reaffirmed the industry’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050; to embrace technology and innovation; to work to meet public expectations and societal values; and, to protect biodiversity and prevent wildlife trafficking.

As such, the resolution resolved to encourage airport operators to continue to develop their voluntary airport decarbonisation action plans and incorporate sustainability at the core of their business strategies. 

Furthermore, it called on governments and stakeholders to support and work in collaboration with the airport industry to achieve its collective social, environmental and economic sustainable
development goals.

“As we continue to navigate the pandemic, our quest to return the industry to its pathway of growth and reconnecting the world must be done with sustainability and targetting net zero carbon emissions,” urged de Oliveira.

“We must recognise that we need to do more to support the industry as it addresses the global threat of climate change, and wider environmental and social responsibility, at the same time as it is addressing the economic needs. Sustainable development is truly a balance of economic growth, environmental protection and social responsibility.

“The future of aviation depends on our commitment to the cause of sustainability, and ACI will continue to work with the global aviation sector so that we can be a strong part of the solution together.”

As usual, the first panel session of the conference involved airport CEOs giving their thoughts on a number of local, regional and global issues. This time around the ‘Aviation Leaders Panel’ was made up of Jost Lammers (Munich), Aimen Al Hosni (Oman Airports), Deborah Flint (Greater Toronto Airports Authority), Juan José Salmon (Lima), Kelber Meira (Belo Horizointe) and Kadri Samsunlu (Istanbul), with CNN’s Gabriela Frias asking the questions.

‘The role of the private sector in airport development in the post-COVID era’; ‘Beyond the pandemic – pathways for a sustainable recovery’; and ‘Sustainable aviation – integration into the airport environment of aircraft powered by alternative fuel sources’ were other panel discussions on a busy first day for the conference, which had the theme of ‘Reconnecting Aviation for a Sustainable Future’.

ACI-LAC challenges and opportunities

Speaking during a mid-morning press conference on Day 1, ACI-LAC president, Andrew O’Brian, said that the region’s airports were recovering “steadily, and relatively fast, compared to the rest of the world”, with traffic levels in September 2021 just 34% below the corresponding month in 2019, which was a record breaking year for aviation.

He did, however, admit that there were “marked differences” in the recovery process of LAC countries, not helped by “the dizzying array of different restrictions and requirements for travel” in place across the region. ACI-LAC, he noted, was working closely with members, governments and different industry stakeholders to try and harmonise these proccesses and procedures.

He revealed that the countries without any travel restrictions, such as Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Mexico – the only country in the world to never impose any COVID travel related restrictions – were leading the LAC region’s recovery, with some key Mexican airports reporting traffic rises of 20% compared to 2019.

O’Brian was also keen to point out that the current downturn in traffic was being felt particularly hard by the region’s many concessioned airports, where the private investors that had invested or agreed to spend significant sums on developing their assets were finding it “hard to reach economic equilibrium” due to the financial terms of contracts agreed in pre-COVID times.

“There are some exceptions, but in general it’s been very difficult for airport operators and investors in this region to achieve any kind of economic equilibrium, and there’s been quite a few difficult conversations around this,” said O’Brian.

“Our position at ACI is to support our airport members to continue this dialogue and look for a way of finding this all important economic equilibrium in their contracts.”   

Nevertheless, despite the tough operating environment, LAC was the only ACI region to witness the successful concession of airports during the pandemic, with Round 6 of the Brazilian privatisation programme leading to contracts being awarded to operate and develop regional airports in the state of São Paulo.

O’Brian concluded by saying: “Never in the history of aviation have we faced an industry wide emergency like this [COVID], and it has really incentivised us like never before to work shoulder to shoulder with the airlines and our World Business Partners to collaborate and develop new, creative and mutually beneficial solutions to the crisis.”

All change at the top for World Governing Board 

Members unanimously approved the appointment of Aimen bin Ahmed Al Hosni, CEO of Oman Airports Management Company, as the new chair of the World Governing Board during ACI World’s Annual Assembly.

Al Hosni, who will succeed current chair Martin Eurnekian on January 1, 2022, said: “I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the ACI General Assembly and the Board members for their trust. It is my honour and privilege to be representing the Council and the aviation sector on behalf of the Sultanate of Oman.”

The Annual General Assembly also approved Candace McGraw, CEO of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, as the new vice chair of the World Governing Board, succeeding Al Hosni.

She said: “As the aviation industry continues recovering from the pandemic, ACI’s role to be the global voice for airports has never been more important. I look forward to serving and working alongside the board and staff to assist airports in fulfilling their mission of facilitating safe and efficient travel.”

Each year the Assembly considers Resolutions on key subjects for airport operators that reflect the concerns and interests of ACI members. This year, the Assembly unanimously adopted Resolutions that:

  • Support airports for industry alignment on health and hygiene measures; and encourage airports to gather feedback from passengers to improve travellers’ confidence and experience
  • Promote the sustainable development of the aviation ecosystem
  • Seek to modernise global policy frameworks on airport charges – pricing for the benefit of the travelling public and the efficient use of infrastructure

Collectively, the Resolutions put a robust focus on helping airports recover sustainably from the impact of the pandemic. They will also support ACI’s position at ICAO’s 41st triennial Assembly in September 2022 and contribute to its success in representing its members’ interests worldwide.

Technology innovation

Another highlight of Day 1 was the announcement of the winners of the Amadeus and ACI World Technology Innovation Awards, showcasing industry-leading technology initiatives and leadership by airports. 

The awards seek to recognise the many innovative solutions deployed by member airports as they keep up with a fast-changing environment and prioritise the changing needs of passengers – particularly as the sector rebuilds.

A panel of external industry experts evaluated submissions received from airports around the world and determined the winner in each category:

– Best innovation in airport passenger related processes: Hong Kong International Airport – Single Token Journey

– Best innovation in airport operations and installations management: Frankfurt Airport (Fraport) – Luggage Recognition Artificial Intelligence

– Best airport innovation leader (individual): Dave Wilson, director of airport innovation at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

“Crisis can bring about opportunity, and many airports responded to the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 with incredible innovation and determination. These winners are a testament to this, and we thank all those who submitted excellent initiatives for these awards,” noted de Oliveira.

Elena Avila, executive vice president of airport IT and airline operations at Amadeus, said: “Our industry stands on the verge of a once-in-a-generation digital transformation as technologies like biometrics, cloud and artificial intelligence combine to revolutionise the passenger experience.”

ASQ Global Traveller Survey

The 2021 findings of the ASQ Global Traveller Survey were unveiled during the second day of the conference.

It revealed that in the last year, travellers have developed a more considered and informed perception of the pandemic, and this will influence their future flying behaviour.

A new segment emerging from the research shows that 48% of respondents have travelled since the beginning of the pandemic. The survey suggests that respondents who have travelled during the pandemic are more likely to travel by air again sooner and more frequently. These observations highlight that, on returning to air travel, the journey feels safe and secure.

In contrast, those that have not yet flown since the beginning of the crisis tend to be less confident as they have not yet experienced the changes that airports have implemented across the passenger journey. This issue is further intensified by the lack of harmonised measures across governments, particularly regarding international travel.

The second new segmentation of the research was based on travellers’ vaccination status, revealing polarised results. Even though all respondents are equally interested in travelling by air again, the vaccinated respondents, although protected by the vaccine, retain concerns about their safety when travelling and want clear reassurance that the airport environment is safe.

Such results highlight the importance and relevance of the ACI Airport Health Accreditation programme, which assists airports by assessing how aligned their health measures are with global standards and by building passenger confidence.  

“COVID-19 has caused substantial changes in human behaviour and provoked a whole new set of expectations affecting how products and services should be delivered and experienced, and the airport sector is no exception,” noted Luis Felipe de Oliveira. 

“While this dramatic shift presents a major challenge to airport customer experience teams who must meet and exceed a diverse range of new traveller expectations, it also opens new opportunities to improve overall levels of satisfaction.”

Completion of the report was supported by InterVISTAS – Platinum Advisory Partner – and KONE, ICF, and Plaza Premium Group as Premium sponsors.

See you in Morocco

At the conference’s closing ceremony, ACI World announced that ACI Africa and the Moroccan Airports Authority (ONDA) will host next year’s joint
ACI Africa/World Annual Assembly, Conference & Exhibition, with the event taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco, on October 24-26, 2022.

“We are delighted, once again, to host the next ACI Africa/World Annual General Assembly, Conference, and Exhibition in 2022,” enthused ONDA CEO, Habiba Laklalech.

“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to Marrakech. I am convinced that this meeting will strengthen our optimism and our will for a safe and irreversible sustainable recovery.”

The dates are already marked in the diary. See you there!

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