An interview with Cristina Echeverria, Director, Bilbao Airport. By Ross Falconer
This year’s ACI EUROPE Best Airport Award in the ‘5-10 million passengers’ category went to Bilbao Airport, which was praised for its achievements in route development, PRM services, passenger flow management, the use of technology to improve safety, the variety of its environmental initiatives, and its cooperation with local stakeholders.
“Above all, it serves as a testament of our commitment to the community we serve by recognising the public engagement initiatives we roll out to actively engage with citizens,” begins Cristina Echeverria, Director, Bilbao Airport. “This includes organising school visits and joining efforts with public administrations to attract projects that contribute to the development and prosperity of the region.”
The airport’s proactive route development strategy has seen passenger numbers grow by an average of 8% in each of the last five years, with a 10% increase to 5.5 million in 2018.
“It is important to highlight the collaborative efforts that take place between the Aena airport marketing team and local tourism development and economic promotion groups to secure these new routes,” says Echeverria. “Potential markets and routes are studied locally by the Bilbao-Bizkaia Action Group, an air connectivity task force, in which Aena has a relevant role as the airport operator in the Basque Country.”
This has resulted in a diverse range of new and interesting routes for the region, including Vienna, operated by Volotea and Level; Stockholm, by Norwegian; Oporto, by Volotea; and Nantes, with easyJet.
“Furthermore, we have been able to achieve other improvements thanks to this collaborative spirit, with more flights on routes to major European airports, and better schedules on the most profitable links,” Echeverria explains. “We have also consolidated the activity of companies that have chosen our airport, increasing the seats offered by Vueling, Iberia, Lufthansa and KLM – some of our long-term loyal partners.”
Engaging with local stakeholders
The awards judges highlighted Bilbao Airport’s progressive environmental initiatives. These include an acoustic insulation plan to minimise the impact of noise on neighbouring communities, and investment in energy-efficient LED lighting technology.
“In terms of waste management, our efforts have been centred on the separate collection of waste, which is then sent out for recovery/recycling,” Echeverria adds. “We have an onsite composting plant that transforms all the organic waste produced by airport restaurants and landscaping into fertiliser that is used in the green areas of the airport.”
The airport values the importance of engaging with local stakeholders and local communities. There are several forums in place, including the Basque Country Airport Coordination Committee, the Environmental Monitoring Committee, the Wildlife Coordination Committee, the Easement Coordination Committee, the Air Connectivity Work Group, and the Emergency Response Committee.
“We are also involved in events hosted in the community we serve,” says Echeverria. “We are present throughout the process, adapting operational procedures to the specific features of an event. We look, for example, at the requirements of charter flights versus executive flights, the massive influx of fans in short periods of time, and intermodality solutions for ground transport.”
Bilbao Airport also works closely with non-governmental organisations in the planning of vacations and visits of minors with foster families in the Basque Country. “We strive to ensure minors experience a warm welcome and accompaniment from the beginning to the end of their journey.”
Looking ahead, Echeverria explains that short-term plans include offering bag drop equipment to interested airlines, updating the PA system, finalising the Automated Border Control project, increasing the number of available car parking spaces, completely refurbishing the indoor and outdoor signage, increasing the commercial offering with the opening of a pharmacy, and revamping the food & beverage selection.
“Our priority will always be our clients’ satisfaction, both passengers and airlines. We are a small and modest airport that our clients use to travel to larger European hubs. We understand we may not offer the same variety of services or commercial offerings as these airports, but we are determined to continue improving.”