IATA – a training strategy for airports

Posted: 28 March 2008 | Professor Paul Clark, Director – IATA Training and Development Institute | No comments yet

Many people believe that IATA, as the representative of the airline industry, has an exclusive focus on airlines. This could not be further from the truth. IATA’s contribution embraces all key sectors of the industry, especially airports. A key IATA commercial objective is to provide integrated solutions to member airlines, as well as other stakeholders in the aviation business. These solutions may involve offering data services, consulting services, and of course training.

Many people believe that IATA, as the representative of the airline industry, has an exclusive focus on airlines. This could not be further from the truth. IATA’s contribution embraces all key sectors of the industry, especially airports. A key IATA commercial objective is to provide integrated solutions to member airlines, as well as other stakeholders in the aviation business. These solutions may involve offering data services, consulting services, and of course training.

Training in IATA is under the responsibility of the IATA Training and Development Institute (ITDI). The organisation consists of over 50 staff, mostly located in our headquarters in Montreal, but also located in our network of Regional Training Centres in Geneva, Miami, Singapore and Beijing. We anticipate extending our network of Regional Training Centres in 2008, with a new facility expected to open in Delhi soon. Activities at these RTCs are focused around classroom courses. We are currently implementing a strategy of strengthening some key Affiliated RTCs to strengthen our global coverage. One such ARTC is ATNS (Air Traffic Navigation Services, Aviation Training Centre) in Johannesburg. ATNS deploys IATA courses locally and takes full responsibility for assuring IATA quality standards, as well as market development. In addition to classroom courses, which are organised around a published calendar, we also offer in-company programmes for specific organisations.

ITDI’s airport-related training activity represents almost 10% of the total classroom courses, the remainder comprising courses for airlines, cargo, civil aviation and human performance and management. The most popular courses are Airport Safety Management Systems, Airport Operation, Airport Strategic Management, Airport Certification and Standards, Airport Planning and Airport Commercial Management. Over the last four years, participants from 320 different companies have attended ITDI classroom airport courses. ITDI offers three Diploma programmes specifically related to the airport business. A total of 157 airport-specific courses have taken place around the world over the last four years.

In addition, students can learn a great deal about the civil aviation business by following a rich portfolio of aviation distance learning programmes. Self-study is a practical learning method for many, saving travel cost and time and giving more freedom to the student. ITDI will be offering more eLearning opportunities in the future.

It is essential that our training offerings evolve, in order to keep pace with changes in the business. Over the last two decades, airports have borne the brunt of seismic shifts in the airline business. Major developments, such as airline alliances and the emergence of the low-cost sector, have resulted in a move away from the idea of airports being solely giant public utilities, and more to the idea that airports are dynamic service providers. A spirit of commercialisation now pervades and although airports may still operate as natural monopolies, market success is no longer a given.

ITDI’s airport training portfolio has likewise experienced major change. Traditionally, the portfolio comprised courses with a technical emphasis, with focus on ICAO annexes, certification procedure, planning and design standards. Indeed, the requirement to understand the technical regulatory framework, based on ICAO recommended practices and the Chicago Convention, is every bit as important as the understanding of the economic regulatory framework. A basic understanding of the legal condition of aviation is a topic frequently requested of ITDI. A regional focus is also important in our training curriculum. For example, European conditions for safety, security, technical operations in air navigation, pricing, costing, liability and insurance are not necessarily reflected in other areas of the world. ITDI courses recognise the diversity of participant and diversity of operational and governance systems. Our faculty, drawn from internal IATA experts, independent consultants and practising airport professionals, is very much aware of the cultural needs of our students.

Today’s training offer is very much aimed at specific audiences. For example, we focus on middle management skills, to help drive airport day-to-day operational efficiency, and we also help senior management develop their understanding of the more strategic nature of the airport business. Keeping current with developments is certainly a challenge for ITDI. In addition, keeping a constantly changing population of airport managers fully briefed is a challenge for the market, as well as ITDI.

We have launched customer service training programmes, driven largely by the growing expectations of the travelling public, airline customers being much more demanding in terms of service. Our new programme, on security and facilitation, helps airport security managers understand the dynamics of customer service and grasp the economic challenge in reconciling the financing of airport security against investing, to enhance passenger service levels.

Airports are becoming more conscious of the need to develop a strong brand and image. This is a trend that mirrors developments in the airline business. For example, Schiphol airport is associated with high levels of convenience and customer service. The Fraport brand is known for high quality facilities and Dubai has a reputation for unbridled growth opportunities. We are seeing that the 21st Century passenger is more and more likely to select a transfer point based upon the airport experience. For example, travellers are now becoming influenced by internet blog ratings, as well as anecdotal evidence surrounding airport security and service. Clearly, such developments must be reflected in our training content.

Airports are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea when it comes to how travellers perceive security. Government directives can sometimes appear overpowering to the traveller and are often the source of confusion and increased hassle; especially when changes take place with little obvious reason. Absence of consistency, especially in terms of the screening process, places huge challenges on the shoulders of airport managers.

To address these developments, training curricula are broadening beyond the traditional technical approach. Training is becoming much more holistic in style, as managers must acquire a greater awareness of the multitude of forces at work in the industry. They must be able to integrate their decisions and actions with those of many stakeholders, by working across disciplines and functions. Curricula now include more content on subjects such as accelerated change and collaborative decision-making.

Many airports are still challenged when it comes to fundamental business planning and execution capabilities. One reason for this is due to the legacy of airports being operated by the public sector. However, contracting services and activities to third parties can often leave a skills gap. Airport managers have to find new ways of doing business. Indeed, a common struggle is in deciding which elements should be subcontracted, how the economic analysis should be done, and how to manage the tendering process so that proposals are fair for all parties and meet overall objectives. Training in these issues can be a huge help in avoiding expensive mistakes in real life.

Other key subject areas include; economic regulatory efficiency, cost effectiveness, total asset management, airport charging systems, customer relationship management, financial acumen and awareness of the benefits of transparency in costing and pricing. Airport managers need to have keen interpersonal skills and abilities in order to be able to brief their stakeholders, customers, owners, political masters and the media. ITDI offers many courses that focus precisely on these areas.

One of the most important and relevant subject areas, concerns the understanding of airport commercial activities. IATA is obviously concerned with the impact of changing pricing levels for all inputs to the aviation business. Airport and air navigation charges are a particular point of focus on our courses. Airports must find a way to optimise charges, so that commercial or non-aviation revenues can mitigate the impact of overall airport fees and aeronautical charges. ITDI provides considerable insight through our commercial marketing and concession management courses. Such courses offer a balanced perspective, for example, on the single vs dual till systems, along with reviews of competition authorities’ decisions and their impact on the business.

Another subject of growing significance for all of us in the industry is the environment. IATA has put in place a strong team to address the issue, and ITDI is likewise poised to radically readdress training in environment affairs. Airport management needs to be fully aware of this rapidly evolving subject, as it impinges upon practically everything that we do. Training can provide an overview of key decision areas, such as environmental impact statements, and how to develop an environmental review for capacity enhancement to terminal buildings or operating infrastructure. There is no doubt that the management of the concerns raised by environmentalists, is one of the largest challenges for management. ITDI will be significantly strengthening the environment portfolio in 2008 and we shall be weaving more and more environment content into our airport curriculum in the near future.

One of the most popular learning experiences is through our unique course integration exercise, using the mythical, yet ultimately realistic, airport of Bahmani International. Participants are allocated to multi-disciplinary teams in order to apply, through a simulation exercise, the theories they have learned in class. Upon completion of the simulation, the teams must present their findings to a “Board of Directors” of Bahmani International Airport. The challenges are hard, and more than one participant has said that the challenges in the simulation are even more difficult than those faced in the real world! ITDI takes this as a considerable compliment.

A major evolution of our training philosophy will be launched in the course of 2008. Recognising the needs of the industry, as well as requests from our customers, we shall be expanding our offer to the senior levels of the industry. This will involve the development of an executive education programme, expressly tailored to the needs of this demanding population. Airport executive master classes are being designed, that will focus on those issues commanding the most attention from top management. The curriculum will be modular in nature and address vital issues such as customer service, branding and commercial strategies in particular.

ITDI’s goal is to become the strategic thinker for the industry and to stay ahead of the curve in helping airport managers anticipate the next developments, so that their performance can be as effective as possible. Partnership between airports and ITDI can bear fruit very quickly, especially where both sides take advantage of integrating training activities with other commercial solutions that IATA can offer. ITDI is offering over 100 courses to the combined airport, security and civil aviation business in 2008. We extend a warm welcome to all our airport colleagues to our courses and executive master classes. Learn more by visiting

The author would like to thank Inna Ratieva-Steinmetz (Assistant Director Airports and Civil Aviation), Kevin Caron (Product Manager, Airports), Joe Sulmona and Keith Joliffe (consultants and ITDI faculty) for their contribution to this article.

About the author

Professor Paul Clark is the Director of IATA’s Training and Development Institute, which provides classroom, in-company and distance-learning training to over 32000 students annually, in a variety of business sectors, including airlines, airports, civil aviation and safety, and travel and tourism.

He spent almost twenty years working in the commercial teams at Airbus, holding responsibility for marketing campaigns in Europe, Africa, China and Australasia. He has run seminar programmes for airline senior management around the world since 1994, starting his teaching career as a visiting lecturer at the Chelsea College of Aeronautical Engineering in 1979.

Prior to joining IATA in 2007, Paul held the position of Managing Director of AirBusiness Academy, the business academy serving the Airbus community, providing training, research and consultancy services to Airbus, its customers and suppliers.

His specialities are: airline marketing, aircraft evaluation, economics and fleet planning. He has developed a number of analytical tools for aircraft evaluation purposes, which are in use both in Airbus and airlines.

Paul is Visiting Professor at City University, London, and is a regular speaker at airline strategy conferences. He has published papers on aircraft operational and planning techniques and is the author of Buying The Big Jets, a standard textbook on airline fleet planning, now in its second edition. He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Paul is 54 years old, enjoys playing the piano, driving British sports cars and listening to The Beatles. Despite these handicaps, he remains (happily) married with two children.

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