These interesting times 24… months

Ad Rutten

By Ad Rutten, Executive Vice President & COO, Schiphol Group and President of ACI EUROPE.

Many of you will be aware of an American television show called ‘24’ about a man dealing with all kinds of extreme situations, surprises and alarming circumstances over the course of 24 hours. Given the shock sensitive nature of the aviation industry, I have sometimes wondered why television studios don’t make more dramas about aviation, invariably involving airports.

As I prepare to hand over my role as President of ACI EUROPE to my successor after the 21st ACI EUROPE Annual Congress hosted by ANA (Aeroportos de Portugal) in Lisbon this June, I look back at the twists and turns that our industry has faced these past 24 months and see that some are certainly worthy of the silver screen. But more than that, taking stock of all we achieved during that time, I am proud of how ACI EUROPE has advanced, strengthening its role for the future.

Indeed, together with the Board and staff of ACI EUROPE, we have done quite a lot to promote and defend the collective interests of our members. This has included dealing with immediate challenges, in particular the string of unprecedented crises and events affecting our industry. At all times, ACI EUROPE was involved, relying on our network of institutional and media contacts to the fullest and standing firm whenever needed.

But our actions have also involved looking at the long-term and charting an ambitious course for ACI EUROPE. To that end, we have conducted a thorough review of the direction and scope of the organisation, reflecting a changing environment and evolving expectations from our members. At all times, our chief objective has been to further reinforce our relevance as a trade association strongly focused on providing value to its membership.

The result has been a new Strategic Plan, which we adopted last year and which will drive ACI EUROPE to 2015. With increased resources for the first time ever – but still well below those available to other aviation associations, we have been faithful to our mantra that small is indeed beautiful and that it can be very efficient. We have built a stable and dedicated team of professionals in Brussels – a team I am not afraid to call our dream team, and we have set our overarching priority on raising the profile of airports as businesses in their own right. Therefore, I am confident that ACI EUROPE will continue to punch above its weight in the years to come.

One of the key directions of our Plan has consisted of developing a more strategic approach to our advocacy activities. We have worked on this through new initiatives such as our 2010 Policy Outlook setting out a vision for Europe’s airports, our certification programme for carbon management, Airport Carbon Accreditation, or our Joint Action Plan on A-CDM (Airport Collaborative Decision Making) with EUROCONTROL and CANSO. The results have reinforced the brand equity of ACI EUROPE, coupled with progressively changing the perception of policy makers about our industry – so that they are more informed about its dynamics and evolution. As you can read in this issue, the White Paper Transport 2050 adopted last March by the European Commission reflects this progress.

Nevertheless, some of the old grudges die hard and we still have some way to go to convert all our critics. Despite radical changes in the aviation market place with airports now facing significant competitive pressures, some still consider us as monopolies treating airlines as cash cows. With only 19% of Europe’s airports revenues coming from airlines and total aeronautical revenues leaving us with an under-recovery of almost €5 billion, nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly, there is no time to rest. The recent security saga on LAGs (Liquids, Aerosols and Gels) reported in these pages reminds us that we can be confronted with very powerful private interest groups. Thankfully, David occasionally wins over Goliath…

Coming back to our Strategic Plan, another key direction has involved developing our role as a knowledge source for members, with a special emphasis on regional airports as well as on re-engaging with those members located outside the EU/EEA – in particular in Russian speaking countries. Finally, we have also revamped our communications. Our new website, about to be launched, and other members-only new communication tools reflect the importance that we attach to reaching out to our extended membership of more than 400 airports in 46 countries.

Looking ahead, challenges of all sorts will not stop coming our way – some more unexpected than others. But I am confident that we are well equipped to address them. For now, with a review of existing European regulations dealing with airport slots, ground handling, noise and State aid in the pipeline at the European Commission, ACI EUROPE is very busy – as usual – ensuring that the voice of airports is heard, defending our industry’s core interest.

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