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Outgoing ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, reflects on the growth and development of Airports Council International over the past 12 years and highlights the importance of some ongoing initiatives.

After twelve years of leading ACI World, I will step down as director general on June 30, 2020, and hand the reins over to Luis Felipe de Oliviera, who is leaving his post as the executive director and CEO of ALTA, the Latin-American American and Caribbean Air Transport Association.

I know he will bring the kind of collaborative, win-win approach to problem-solving that will be necessary during the crisis and which fits so well in the airport environment. His experience in multiple sectors in our industry will be a benefit, as will his appreciation for the federated nature of ACI which is key to forwarding the progress of the highly diverse airport sector.

I am proud of what ACI, World and Regions, have become as we have evolved in step with the dynamic changes in the airport business environment.

We all have engaged Boards that impart their strategic insights and support management in their decision-making. We all have members that lend us the time and talent of their subject matter experts which allows us to ‘punch above our weight’. We all have skilled staff that have given ACI a strong voice on World and Regional stages, in keeping with the vision of our founders. We all struggle along with our members in this time of crisis, but we work together in the understanding that our members need us now more than ever.

Looking back at the World office, I see two key milestones in our maturation. The first was the relocation to Montréal in 2011, a decision made by the World Governing Board and ratified by the World General Assembly in Bermuda in November 2010.

The physical proximity with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) enabled our subject matter experts to have daily contact with counterparts at ICAO. As a result, ICAO learned more about airports, we learned more about ICAO, and significantly more fit-for-purpose decisions benefitting both airports and their regulators were made.

The other milestone was the launch and success of the Airport Excellence (APEX) in Safety programme, which solidified ACI’s status as a respected solution provider. Not only did the programme help our members, but it also helped ICAO and regulators achieve their goals of raising safety standards worldwide.

This was followed by APEX in Security, which was developed at the request of both members and regulators and will likely reach into other important airport disciplines. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we were piloting an APEX in Environment programme. 

Even now, as airports and aviation face the challenges of COVID-19, ACI continues to be led by its members’ needs, and diligently provide relevant data and guidance to help airports survive and recover from the global crisis.

Of course, we stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. Our two largest services, the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programme and Global Training, were put in motion by my predecessors and reflected the evolution and growth of the industry.

ASQ is a response to the growing sophistication and customer-centric nature of an industry that evolved from being mere providers of infrastructure to businesses in their own right. As such, airports seek data and measure their performance, assessing the return on their investments and seeking a competitive advantage.

As well, the growth in demand for air services put great pressure on airport management’s ability to recruit and develop a skilled workforce. Responding to this challenge, ACI developed and has grown its educational offerings, in multiple channels: classroom, on-line, in-house, and now we are developing the ‘virtual’ classroom in response to worldwide travel restrictions.

We can expect more innovations in the weeks, months and years ahead. Even before the COVID-19 disaster, we have looked ahead to what the airport world could be.

Ongoing projects such as Smart Security and NEXXT started before the pandemic and will help our industry get to the next generation of passenger, baggage, cargo and aircraft processing. We will soon publish the Smart Security Vision 2040, which had envisioned a ‘touchless’ passenger journey before ‘touch’ became a health hazard.

Working with our members, our industry colleagues and our regulatory communities, ACI will be part of the solution to gain the resilience to the myriad of shocks that our industry, our world, faces. We have new ones, like new contagious diseases, and we have old ones like climate change.

As someone who was an ACI member in three different Regions, who was an airport member and a World Business Partner before coming to work for the organisation, my faith in, and support for, Airports Council International is boundless.

I bid you all a fond farewell as I step aside. I will remain a participant on a part-time basis and wish the best for our great industry. These are all needed to run an environment where employees are not necessarily employed by the airport but where everyone must work together for an efficient system.

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