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Aviation is the key to global connectivity, believes Stephan Widrig

CEO of Zurich Airport, Stephan Widrig, participated in International Airport Review’s exclusive CEO series, and discussed how his airport is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aviation is key to global connectivity

How did your career in the aviation industry begin?

I started in aviation over 20 years ago, in the privatisation team of Zurich Airport (ZRH). I was then lucky enough to move to different roles within the organisation; from operational responsibilities, to the Head of Real Estate and, later, the development of the first greenfield airport in India. I have been on the Management Board of Zurich Airport for 12 years and was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the airport in 2015.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an airport CEO? On the other hand, what is most difficult?

You represent an organisation that has a great spirit and a wide variety of professions. Working within an organisation like that is a privilege and energises you. During global turmoil, like we are currently experiencing, you stand on the commander bridge of a ship in a storm and you hold a great amount of responsibility for your employees, stakeholders and customers.

Can you give us an overview of the three most exciting developments currently happening at Zurich Airport?

We are one of Europe’s best hub airports, in terms of quality and efficiency, and we work to do everything we can in order to keep that status. During 2020, we will open The Circle at Zurich Airport – a mixed used real estate development closely linked with terminals and landside airport facilities, representing an investment of over $1 billion. This is a pioneering initiative; the airport city concept, but on a global level. Thirdly, we started the planning process for the renewal of our largest terminal and dock for European traffic.

What is the biggest challenge Zurich Airport is having to tackle?

Obviously, at the moment, the COVID-19 pandemic – a virus that we were not been prepared for and that has resulted in the almost complete shutdown of the majority of international aviation.

At this moment in time, what do you see as the biggest disruptor to the aviation industry?

Aviation is connecting people and economies in a world that has a become one global planet. Population is growing and will continue to do so. Even global challenges – such as climate action, migration or pandemics – need a world that is closely connected in order to address these common challenges. Therefore, I see, even in a world after coronavirus, far more challenges related to capacity constraints, rather than disruptive risks.

In your opinion, how does the aviation industry need to adapt to secure its place in the future?

Our industry has a great responsibility to make sure that aviation will achieve net-zero carbon emissions in approximately 30 years, with many airports committing to achieving this target by 2050, if not sooner.

What does the future of the aviation industry look like to you?

We should all strive to live in a world where all people can live in peace and earn their own living. Education is the key, and international mobility a consequence. Therefore, the future is bright!

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