To strengthen the cooperation and the operational link between airports and EUROCONTROL’s Network Manager, which runs the European Air Traffic Management network, ACI EUROPE has a Liaison Officer to the Network Manager. He is Eugene Leeman, who – with his extensive professional background in aviation and his private pilot’s license – can justifiably be called ‘the Flying Dutchman’. Interview by Inês Rebelo.
I spoke with Eugene Leeman at the ACI EUROPE offices in Brussels to where he comes every week since he has taken up the role of ACI EUROPE Liaison Officer to EUROCONTROL’s Network Manager (NM) on 1 February. He is friendly, knowledgeable, generous and – I would say – has a sweet tooth, judging by the package of “stroopwafel”, the Dutch waffle, that he usually brings us (we admit it: we like stroopwafels as much as Belgian waffles). We talk about his very first steps in the aviation world and his wide experience in airport operations before we focused on his current ACI EUROPE role and goals.
From the sky to the ground
A former maritime expert with 15 years of experience, Eugene entered the airport industry by a funny twist of fate, linked to a family passion for aviation. When his brother became an airline pilot in the US, he had to build flight time in order to get a job as pilot. The easiest way he found to do it was – you guessed it – teach Eugene how to fly! Then, what? “I said OK, let’s do it,” Eugene recalls joyfully. And he did it. Eugene got his private pilot license and became an active private pilot 23 years ago. “To date, I have piloted different types of aircraft – single engine and high performance ones,” he says. What initially looked like just a small adventure to make his brother’s dream come true eventually became the springboard for Eugene to join Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as Airside Operations Manager in 1998. In that role, Eugene was responsible for the safe and efficient use of runways, taxiways and aircraft stands. Back then, Schiphol accommodated 34 million passengers per year – half of the traffic it had last year.
After 10 years in airside operations, Eugene felt he needed to better understand airlines’ business model and was based in KLM Operations Control Centre for three months, thanks to an agreement between KLM & Schiphol. His interest had started a few years earlier when there was a heavy snow storm that significantly impacted operations at Schiphol. Key lesson learned: more collaboration between the different airport stakeholders was needed. How to improve it? Eugene and his colleagues decided to replay what had happened in the snow event by using a tower simulator, copying all the workstations of everyone involved in the snow removal operations and testing how information could have been better used and exchanged. This winter simulation, called “Snowflake”, initiated the Airport Collaborative Decision Making (A-CDM) project at Schiphol. “As an airport operator, we were one of the first airports to recognise the added value of A-CDM for the airport community, such as more predictability of operations and a more efficient way of optimising resources and infrastructures,” he comments.
His know-how in airside operations was expanded by a two-year operational experience at Paris-CDG under the Hublink management exchange programme between Schiphol and Paris-CDG where Eugene focused on operations efficiency, A-CDM, emergency management and mutual procurement of airport equipment. After his Paris mission in 2013, Eugene got involved in various SESAR projects like the Airport Operations Center (APOC) and Total Airport Management (TAM). “One of my key roles was to evaluate the APOC concept and act as a supervisor during large-scale simulations to improve the decision-making process and set up the link between the airport and the Network Manager,” he explains. Two years later, Eugene worked on another milestone: EASA certification. “Schiphol wanted to be the leader on this front and actually managed to become the first large airport in Europe to obtain EASA certification. My colleagues Edwin and Waldo were instrumental in this success, so they earned their share of recognition.”
Strengthening the link between airports & the Network Manager
With such a solid portfolio of roles, Eugene has joined the team to bring his operational and SESAR expertise in order to identify and propose potential solutions for airports. He is clearly enthusiastic about his new responsibilities as Liaison Officer: “I am now a real bridge-builder between the airport community and the NM and I want to make sure that a strong, effective communication between them is set up. I am keen on determining what information the NM really needs from airports and how I can help the NM to see what it is going to give back to the airport community.” He adds: “I also want to optimise the use of the Airport Corner [the Network Manager’s airport-focused data repository] by convincing more airports to join. For this reason, I need to understand where airports should improve the information they send to the NM and what benefits they get in doing it. Filter what is really needed for the NM to know and better explain why airports should contribute is key to bring airports in,” Eugene says firmly. It is thus helpful that Eugene is participating in the ACI EUROPE Technical & Operational Safety Committee (TOSC): “My role in TOSC allows me to better liaise the airports and the NM on airport and traffic related topics, such as Performance-Based Navigation (PBN), European Wake Vortex Re-categorisation (RECAT-EU), A-CDM and the integration of drones into the airport environment,” he recognises.
Moving the Ground Coordinator concept forward
Eugene is so engaged in his work that he does not hesitate one second to mention his other priorities as Liaison Officer: “Apart from the complete integration of airports in the NM, my other main task is the development of the Ground Coordinator concept, initiated by ACI EUROPE in collaboration with its stakeholders. In particular, I am helping to develop this concept for regional and small airports to see how it could work there in practice and what information is relevant for these airports to know in order to better operate.”
He stresses: “The coordination at a local level should be appropriate to the specificities and needs of the local airport community and bring clear benefits in order to be fully embraced.”
Looking at the main challenges ahead
EUROCONTROL will soon publish the latest edition of its Challenges of Growth, a series of studies that aim to identify and understand the main challenges for the aviation industry, such as airport capacity crunch and climate resilience, and look into ways to address them effectively. Lack of airport capacity continues to persist as a problem, due to a historical air traffic growth rate and very limited expansion opportunities. Eugene considers that a shift in mindset is needed to help prioritise airport capacity and investment: “We have to be creative and win people over, because doing the same thing over and over again will never give us different results.”
If your airport is connected to the Airport Corner and wants to valuably contribute to the airport network or has any operational issue to raise to the Network Manager, please contact Eugene at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at +31 651 69 45 59.