ICAO’s Asia/Pacific Regional Office conducted an interview with Stefano Baronci, the Director General of Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific, an association representing the interests of airports in the Asia Pacific and Middle East. He is responsible for driving and executing the strategic plan of the association and overseeing a team of 16 professionals at the Regional Office. Excerpts from this are shared below.
Q: Could you please briefly introduce yourself including an outline of “What was your journey like to get where you are?”
A: I have had the privilege of working in the aviation sector, representing both airport and airline industries for over 20 years, at national and international levels. Earlier in my career, I was Secretary General of Assaeroporti, an Italian airport operators’ association. I also served as Assistant Director and ATM Infrastructure Expert at IATA. I am highly familiar with the ACI community, having been a Senior Policy Manager at ACI Europe in Brussels, Belgium and most recent, Director of Economics at ACI World in Montreal, Canada. Now, I am grateful and excited to be able to continue contributing to the interests of the sector in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, the fastest-growing and most diverse region of the world.
It’s also a privilege to join the Regional Office team in Hong Kong, some of whom have been with ACI Asia-Pacific since its inception fifteen years ago.
Q: As the newly appointed Director General of ACI Asia Pacific, what are your immediate and mid-term goals or priorities?
A: If you had asked me that six months ago, the answer would have been very different!
As a result of the impact of the pandemic, our airport members are going through the worst crisis they have ever seen so it won’t surprise you we’ve adjusted our priorities. Right now, we are highly driven to advocate for relief for the airport sector and support our members with guidance for the recovery. Another important near-term focus is on restoring passenger confidence and showing the public that airports are responsibly adapting to the new travel norms. This isn’t something that we can do in isolation so we are actively partnering with the rest of the industry. We are deeply appreciative of ICAO’s leadership and collaborative spirit during this challenging time and are actively participating in the activities of the APAC COVID-19 Contingency and Recovery Planning Group.
Longer-term, our focus is on advocacy and communications in the core areas of safety, security, economics and the environment and evolving our capacity to strategically align with the interest of our members. Let me provide an example.
Climate change continues to be high on the international agenda with efforts underway in many industries to work towards net zero human-caused carbon emissions by the year 2050. We want to make sure that airports in this region can map out a realistic path to achieving this goal. As such, we are participating in a study that will explore what this could look like.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in tremendous challenges to aerodrome operations and maintenance. What are the medium- and long-term impacts and what relief measures would you recommend to policymakers to ensure that the airport industry can be sustained through the crisis and lay the foundation for recovery?
A: Airports have been hit in every aspect of their operations and are faced with having to implement a whole new set of requirements from a health and hygiene perspective.
One immediate impact of the pandemic and its resultant drop in traffic was the surge in demand for the parking of idle aircraft overflowing from parking stands onto taxiways and even runways. Parking aircraft for an extended period of time on taxiways and runways not designed for this purpose can cause damage to pavements. Due to lack of space, these idle aircraft are often parked close to each other and this poses a risk of collision during manoeuvring.
Another impact to point out are the full and partial closures of runways and terminal buildings. While it may seem simple to close and then re-open these, these are actually quite complex undertakings. The requirements for social distancing and work-from-home arrangements have caused delays in activities that depend on face-to-face interactions such as aerodrome inspection and, to some extent, personnel training. In the medium to long-term, the financial losses airports have incurred will weaken their capacity to invest in infrastructural and operational improvements, potentially leading to suspension or deferrals of capital projects.
Frankly, airports won’t be able to survive without government support. As ACI, we have called on governments to consider a range of measures such as granting tax reliefs, postponing payments of concession fees, and other measures to stimulate travel demand and restore public confidence in air travel. We regret to say that airports have yet to receive these types of assistance.
Q: Any lessons learnt in the area of aerodrome operations and maintenance in view of improving the resilience of the industry in the face of possible resurgences of similar pandemics in the future?
A: Once again, the pandemic has proven that having a good contingency plan in place is essential in ensuring prompt and adequate response to a health crisis such as COVID-19. Airports will have to review their existing contingency plan and strengthen the chapter on response to disease outbreaks as necessary. Measures such as operating with a reduced operations team, emergency parking of aircraft, stepping up of sanitary measures will have to be considered. Close coordination with government departments and airlines is critical in ensuring successful implementation of the plan.
The other aspect I want to highlight is the creation and promotion of a healthy culture amongst passengers and employees. This is an important subject for governments and industry to discuss. The successful prevention and control of infectious diseases does not only depend on sanitary measures taken by governments and operators. Public awareness of the need to maintain personal hygiene is equally important.