Technology key to meeting aviation industry challenges, say Global Airport Leaders Forum (GALF) speakers
International aviation industry leaders and decision-makers at the 3rd edition of Global Airport Leaders’ Forum (GALF), which got underway today at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC), said aviation industry in the Middle East has made a remarkable growth and the UAE, in particular exemplifies effective use of technology and enhancing passenger experience alongwith ensuring safety. The speakers said technology is no more an option but a necessity to cope with phenomenal expected growth in international passenger numbers, which will nearly double by 2031. At the same time, security remains the priority in civil aviation, the international aviation industry decision-makers said.
Organized by Reed Exhibitions Middle East, the two-day Forum is being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), Chairman of Dubai Airports and Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group.
His Excellency, Mohammed A. Ahli, Director General, Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, started the welcome address by paying tributes to Sir Maurice Flanagan who passed away in London last week. A founding manager of Emirates, Flanagan played an important role in the region’s aviation industry.
Welcoming the decision-makers and international aviation industry leaders, alongwith the delegates at the GALF, H.E A. Ahli said the Global Airport Leaders Forum is an ideal platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities, best practices and technologies for the fast-expanding industry.
“The forum gives an opportunity to gain insights and share your expertise,” he said. Raymond Benjamin, Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), in his keynote address, said the Middle East region has made a tremendous progress in many areas during his tenure with the international body.
“In recent years, you have been the only ICAO world region experiencing a double digit passenger and freight traffic growth rates, and the 13.4 per cent growth you enjoyed in 2014 was more than double witnessed anywhere in the globe.”
“The commitment and achievements in supporting the safe progress of this growth over the last few decades are truly to be commended, and it is my firm contention that further collaboration and consensus, through ICAO, will continue to be your best route forward,” he added. Worldwide, said Benjamin, safety remains the top priority in civil aviation and, at the same time, emphasized on collaborative efforts among international aviation industry organisations.
“As 2014 and its intense media spotlights have made very clear to us, the public trust, which is so critical to air transport viability, and profitability, let us not forget depends first and foremost on how safely we operate our global network. Fortunately, we are very good at being safe.” He said, inspite of the challenges, the civil aviation achieved its second-lowest ever recorded global accident rate of three accidents per million departures and a 25 per cent decrease in runway accidents in 2014. ICAO, added Benjamin, will be maintaining its focus on challenges that can impact long-term sustainability of international airports. His Excellency Eng. Sultan Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy and Chairman, General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), said the aviation industry is amid exciting times with tremendous growth in expected in passenger numbers, cargo movement and rapid expansion of airports and continuous developments in new technology. At the same time, the industry faces the challenge of handling these rising numbers.
“Technology is no more an option. Technology is a necessity to ensure security, fast movement and comfort of passengers,” he said. New technology will not only enhance security, it will accelerate passenger processing and reduce waiting times. “It will ensure that passengers are able to make fast connections to hundreds of destinations worldwide,” added Sultan Al Mansouri.
Alongwith technology, security needs an equal attention, he emphasized: “Technology is the pathway for future. However, without security, it can even harm.” Sultan Al Mansouri explained how airports in the UAE are using advanced technology, while ensuring safety, for passenger facilitation.
He said the UAE has paid attention to the key areas that will help meet the future challenges to the industry worldwide.
“Safety, investment in technology and educating people are the three key areas we have focused on,” he said.
Angela Gittens, Director General, Airports Council International (ACI), who shared summary findings of ACI’s 2014 Economic Survey, collected and analysed data from 650 airports representing 70 per cent of worldwide passenger traffic, said global passenger traffic is expected to nearly double to 12 billion by 2031.
She said while industry, on a whole, looked profitable, it was true for major commercial airports in the world, whereas majority airports are small and lose money.
“Airport industry as a whole is profitable, with airports posting net profit margins in the realm of 16 per cent in 2013, 69 per cent of airports operate at a net loss and 93 per cent of them have fewer than a million passengers.
Industry profitability is driven by the 20 per cent airports that carry the bulk of passenger and cargo traffic.”
The year-on-year passenger increase ranges from 3.2 per cent in North America to an impressive 10.3 per cent in the Middle East, she said.
Gittens said emerging markets and developing economies are where majority of air travelers will come from in the foreseeable future. “Emerging markets have 86 per cent of the world’s population and 51 per cent of the world’s GDP, and we have reason to expect that emerging markets will continue to outperform more mature markets when it comes to traffic. The phenomenon of large and growing populations combined with rising incomes in many of these emerging economies represents significant growth potential for future.”
In less than two decades, emerging markets, which presently make up one-third of the global passenger traffic, will represent as much as 45 per cent of the global passenger traffic, added Gittens. “These markets will be strong and contribute to passenger traffic that is expected to nearly double by 2031,” she said.
She said the ACI is working with stakeholders worldwide to develop workable solutions to increase efficiency, from check-in and security through to air traffic management.
During the first session on ‘Airports as the Facilitators of Economic Progress’, the speakers talked about social impact of airports, the state of airports industry worldwide alongwith challenges and opportunities.
His Highness Sheikh Abdulla Zayed Saqr Al Nahyan, Chief Executive Officer, Dolphin Air, said the magnitude of impact airports have in terms of direct and indirect employment and, in contribution to the GDP, is enormous. “Heathrow, for example, directly employs over 60,000 to 70,000 people and an equal number indirectly, contributing almost 5.5 billion Pounds. It shows the magnitude of airport contribution,” he said.
Talking about the challenges, he said it was in terms of large aviation hubs reaching their optimum capacities. “We need to utilize technology to cope with the challenges.”
He also highlighted how low cost airlines have contributed to growth in passenger volumes and in future, will continue to be contributing to growth in the industry.
His Excellency Khalifa Al Zaffin, Executive Chairman, Dubai Aviation City Corporation, said cities need to be enhanced in terms of having more hotels, exhibitions such as the GALF and entertainment to support airports. He said physically expanding airports is not the option to deal with growing air traffic. “We have to ride on technology,” he said.
Mohammed Al Rais, Middle East Regional President, Hill International, said only creating the airports was not enough and there was a need for proper planning in order to ensure sustainability economically as well. “We need to make the journey for passengers pleasant. The UAE and Dubai have already become an example to follow,” he said.
“Technology is the key in moving faster,” he added.
The Global Airport Leaders Forum (GALF) is co-located with the 15th Airport Show and is being held at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC).
The iconic knowledge-sharing platform is being sponsored by emaratech, Dynaflow, Hill International, Egis Avia, G4S and Abu Dhabi Airport Business City.