Volcanic ash impact highlights need for enhanced collaboration

Posted: 28 May 2010 | Airports Council International | No comments yet

Angela Gittens, has called for better understanding of the key parameters of airport business management and greater stakeholder collaboration to ensure a sustainable future…

Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World, has called for better understanding of the key parameters of airport business management and greater stakeholder collaboration to ensure a sustainable future for the airport sector.

Speaking to delegates at the international transport forum organized by the Office for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Gittens said, “The aviation industry is characterized by its volatility and its extreme sensitivity to the economy and external shocks. But unlike airlines, airports have limited ability to respond to these developments rapidly to streamline operations and reduce costs. By definition, airport infrastructure incurs high proportions of fixed cost to maintain facilities and keep operations safe, secure and of high quality. Airports worldwide annually invest around 40 billion US dollars to increase or enhance their assets. That capital investment has accumulated debt in the amount of 250 billion US dollars versus annual airport industry gross revenues of 95 billion US dollars.

“The recent volcanic ash crisis illustrates the airport context to the extreme. While airlines incurred passenger revenue losses, they could save much of their variable operating cost. Airports, on the other hand, did not save any cost with the need to keep facilities open and staffed and to accommodate stranded passengers.”

Gittens flags the significant operational and financial impact inflicted on aviation during the volcanic eruption in Iceland: “The 6-day shut down of much of the European airspace disrupted traffic for over 10 million passengers and provoked losses of over €250 million at airports across Europe. Equally international transportation hubs worldwide were directly hit by loss of passenger flights and cargo traffic delivery.

“Outside Europe, key international traffic hubs in Asia Pacific, Africa, Middle East and North America were the most greatly affected, and they responded quickly and effectively to assist stranded passengers, providing on-site facilities and working closely with airlines to mitigate the situation while awaiting the lifting of restrictions. Airports provided cots, food, entertainment and customer assistance for stranded passengers caught in transit both within and outside the European area. Staffing was maintained at normal levels to ensure rapid return to normal service, despite reduced traffic. Many waived parking fees for aircraft and passengers cars to help lighten the financial burden, in locations as distant from Europe as Sydney, Australia. This assistance was offered without legal obligation to do so, but in the spirit of optimal industry collaboration to assure customer care.”

ACI, representing airports worldwide, will participate in the establishment of a special Volcanic Ash Task Force formed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to examine scientific issues and seek an international approach to managing closure of airspace. National aviation representatives (190 Member States) will confer on the issue of regulating extreme occurrences requiring closure of airspace at the ICAO Assembly in September 2010. ACI promotes a collective approach, based on increased information on actual risk.

Gittens says, “Our global air transport system is built on internationally agreed standards and procedures that ensure the safety of our customers while minimizing disruption. This, we believe, can be achieved through better communication and coordination that extends beyond national borders and the ICAO task force will have our full support.”

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