The Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP) is a joint ICAO-ACI initiative that offers a unique executive development curriculum to airport management professionals and stakeholders. The programme covers all the functional areas of the airport business, promotes adherence to uniform industry standards and best-recommended practices, and engenders a broad cross-cultural learning environment. Graduates receive the joint ACI-ICAO award of the International Airport Professional (IAP) or AMPAP Associate diploma and designation.
As we passed the 13th anniversary of our pilot course delivery back that took place in June 2007 at ICAO Headquarters, I remember those first 18 eager individuals who arrived from seven different countries spread across four continents. That first group had already accurately signified a cross-section of the growing AMPAP community that is located today in 115 countries worldwide.
AMPAP courses focus on best practices in airport management along with ICAO standards and recommended practices, and policy guidance. Experienced, multi-disciplinary subject-matter experts with extensive international expertise, including AMPAP graduates, have conducted the gateway/entry mandatory courses in a classroom/face-to-face format over five days in about 60 cities worldwide to date, multiple times in the some of these cities. The three other mandatory courses in the AMPAP curriculum have always been delivered in an interactive, combined virtual classroom and online format since 2007, requiring no travel displacements. After we delivered a new gateway course offering in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania last February, we were forced to stop and cancel the one that was to follow in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a few weeks later when the COVID-19 virus was bringing the world to a halt.
International interactive online learning component
Close to one hundred resource-persons have contributed to the development, updates, and delivery of AMPAP since our inception and we all feel privileged to have had an opportunity to contribute to this venture. Those of us involved know it is comparable to a team sport in terms of how important it is to maintain our momentum and stay focused. By these very tenets, in response to the challenges that arose from the COVID-19 spread, we instituted extraordinary measures that would allow eligible applicants who wanted to begin their own AMPAP journey, to gain entry via any one of the ONLINE mandatory courses, when normally, new enrollees must start with the “gateway” course that is delivered face-to-face only.
Since we launched the Programme in 2007, the strength, quality and interactive design of the AMPAP online delivery platform has been tailored to the learning requirements of management-level personnel and it is this robust online feature we have employed that we are fervently counting on to continue today. This agile response would effectively allow airport executives to stay safe while pursuing their competency building aspirations during these unprecedented, challenging times.
Exceptional quality professionals breaking down functional professional silos
Over time, and from interfacing first-hand with the professionals who engage in AMPAP, one common element that continues to stand out among them is their exceptional quality. Consequentially, by allowing the Programme to build on these foundational management personnel and augment the skillsets of the more experienced, their professional enhancement makes for better quality decision-making and actions that put them ahead of the game and stand them out among peers, locally, regionally and globally. They work to provide improved added value together.
The AMPAP experience has revealed that functional silos, such as the departmentalization of airport managerial structures into semi-hermetic safety, security, operations, commercial and financial management units, form a serious impediment to the development of the “systemic” competency of airport professionals, namely that we are an integral part of the Air Transportation system. This is a critical factor for airport enterprises to consider.
Clearly best practices cannot be disseminated effectively and solely through the transfer of knowledge. Experienced executives learn best through “discovery learning”, more specifically, “problem-based learning” which accounts for more than half of the AMPAP curriculum. Throughout, we challenge participants with real-life problems that airport enterprises either encounter or anticipate; they are coached into confronting these issues while working in multi-disciplinary and multinational teams. This would bring out divergent opinions that arise from a variety of functional and cultural perspectives juxtaposed with the added pressure of cooperating across time zones. Indeed, it is a fastidious, yet decidedly enriching part of the Programme. This sharpens effective leadership thinking and behaviour and with proper strategic guidance, these are the people who could contribute to the hard climb out of their airport’s post-COVID-19 recovery process.
Consolidating the airport management profession
The four strategic objectives for AMPAP that continue still stand: increase expertise; establish uniform standards; share expertise; and promote professional excellence. Although the success of the Programme may be due primarily to the sharing of best practices, on another level, we have been inspired by the importance airport executives attribute to consolidating this complex, multi-dimensional airport management profession.
AMPAP is not just another vehicle for its participants to receive a nice‑to‑have diploma. Rather, they are enablers with a curiosity and enthusiasm for aviation who stand behind the best practices, procedures, applications and infrastructure that foster significant and innovative contributions within their airport enterprise ultimately optimizing and improving their organizational performance. Africa has provided 13% of all AMPAP participants to date; Asia-Pacific 32%; Europe 12%; Latin America-Caribbean 9%; Middle East 15%; and 19% in North America.
One emerging industry best practice relates to the development of a Competency Building Master Plan (CBMP) that is specific to each enterprise and constitutes an evolution of a “traditional” comprehensive training plan. A distinguishing feature of the CBMP relates training directly to performance as the return on investment (ROI), which leading airports espouse. Any airport can conduct a gap analysis from two types of criteria: the first would be to determine the specific strategic, tactical objectives of the enterprise and the second would, more importantly, involve benchmarking various elements against relevant industry standards and best practices.
The constant evolution of our industry’s best practices also necessitates regular and timely updates by teams of subject matter experts to the AMPAP material, particularly pertaining to business management, the strategic use of new technologies, operations performance optimization, infrastructure planning, and commercial development. The overall emphasis of the Programme lies essentially in competency building that targets skills development within the airport leadership context such as foresight, decision-making, and ability to negotiate with stakeholders, which go hand in hand with knowledge acquisition.
Confronting the Challenges
AMPAP has proven its value to hundreds of participants while weathering the global economic recession in the late 2000s and we humbly believe it will do so again now, and in the post-COVID-19 period. Plans have been disrupted for everyone. In the unprecedented times that have been forced upon us, the AMPAP team has found continuity in remaining focused on the positive and by continuing to be productive with what we can still do. For us, this has meant occupying our time by maintaining the scheduled online AMPAP mandatory courses. What better way and use of their time for airport executives, our current and future aviation leaders, to proactively continue to build on their own competencies, through AMPAP.
Although global aviation activity has clearly been reduced to minimum levels, when countries get over the height of the pandemic, air transport will be at the forefront of the world’s economic rebirth. Airports and airlines will come under immense pressure to re-establish services. Ingenuity and exceptional leadership will be required to meet the challenges of the “new normal”. Not all aviation organizations will be readily capable to perform sufficiently throughout the recovery process. There will be a need for preparation, resources and managerial competency. ICAO, ACI, and multitudes of global teams will rise to the responsibility to actively and meaningfully contribute to the efforts required by organizations to sustain air transport services in these unprecedented, difficult times, and in the months to come.
“Reset and recovery” for airport enterprises cannot succeed by concentrating on operational considerations alone. Rather, coordination management and legal, commercial and financial issues are of equal paramount importance. Essentially, action plans will require teamwork to elicit priorities and plausible scenarios.
From the book on Global Megatrends and Aviation, the Path to Future-Wise Organizations, perhaps one can also aptly and easily apply the following statement to the effect of COVID-19 on Air Transportation: “Adding to the complexity that aviation leaders and executives face in dealing with mega-trends is the systemic nature of aviation. A change in one element of the aviation system in one country can affect other elements in numerous other countries.” It went on further to state: “No one knows exactly how things will unfold, so a resilient stance is needed that allows rapid responses…. The choice is between being a bystander and having the future just happen, or instead preparing people, assets, systems and structures to face the uncertainty and turbulent times ahead; in other words, being future-wise.”
There is an energy and enthusiasm that AMPAP generates among its participants and graduates and the International Airport Professional (IAP) designation has become a benchmark and hallmark of excellence among the global airport professional community. Looking ahead, airports see AMPAP as a key to their succession planning strategies to cross-train and engender versatility in their employees and as a tool to reward its young and upcoming management professionals.
We would like to believe that in some ways AMPAP triggered the beginning of a new generation of airport executives. In fact, numerous graduates refer to their journey through the Programme courses as enabling and game-changing. We are tirelessly committed to doing better on other fronts as well: by working to increase gender participation of women beyond the current 25% intake; to make the Programme more universally available to participants from LDCs; and for AMPAP to become an integral part of the competency building master plans in airport enterprises worldwide. In 115 countries, hundreds of airport organizations have been paying attention.
About the contributor
Dr. Pierre Coutu, A.A.E., Ed.D., FRAeS, is President and CEO, Aviation Strategies International (ASI) and Chair, ASI Institute, which is an ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Full Member. He has been the designated Administrator of the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme (AMPAP) on behalf of ICAO and ACI, since 2007 as well as for the International Airport Professional Community of Practice (IAP COP), formed later by AMPAP graduates. Dr. Coutu co-authored Airport Operations (McGraw-Hill) and was lead author of Global Megatrends and Aviation – the Path to Future-Wise Organizations.