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18 Feb, 2012

Airports Training Challenges: No Longer Just About Operating an Airport

Kevin Caron, Airports Council International

The aviation industry appears to be on the path to recovery and the upturn in fortunes means that despite the tough economic times airports should once again start preparing for traffic growth and the extra demands that this will bring.

And with money tight, an airport’s ability to meet that service delivery challenge will be strongly linked to the human factor. In other words, how it works with existing staff and new recruits to meet their on-going need for skills development.

Without doubt airports are complex business structures requiring competencies in many areas. Therefore commonly respected international standards and practices provide a global framework for harmonized operations – day in and day out, every day of the year – against which they can measure their performance. To succeed, staff members at all levels need to be cognizant of these standards and know how to put them into daily practice.

The global airport business is increasingly characterized by cross-border and multi-cultural dimensions. So, whatever the mix of personnel talents and skills at a given location, airport authorities must have the means to unite their teams behind a shared objective of delivering excellent service to a multi-national customer base that has high expectations at all destinations.

Against that common background, many other factors come into play in today’s airport world. New technologies are transforming both operational and business procedures and employee knowledge of these changes.

Environmental pressures are requiring new behaviours in addition to new equipment and design. And new busines criteria and new ownership models require the same management skills as in any other industrial or service sector.

Gone are the days of the airport as a simple infrastructure supplier. Management teams are called on to generate new revenue streams and strengthen the social and economic potential of the communities they serve.

The industry has efficiency and performance goals that airports must meet if they are to ensure a viable future for both themselves and commercial aviation.

Training provides a credible platform to develop these competencies and do an even better job of taking on board a volatile and rapidly changing business environment.

Today’s managers need rapid response business skills to balance short-term imperatives with long-term business needs. We have seen how tough it can be to manage airlines in difficulty, economic fluctuations, security investments, investment constraints and dramatic business contraction. Business skills are a must in this environment.

And a final objective to consider is that as the industry expands, airports will compete for existing skilled candidates. They will need not only to attract and train new personnel but also, and in order to hold on to them, ensure that they can enjoy a satisfying career development path.

Helping ACI members

To help our members face these multiple challenges, my mandate in joining ACI in 2008 was to create and implement top quality, targeted educational opportunities for airports.

Our guiding principles focus on airport-specific needs that identify and remedy performance shortfalls through education.

Under the guidance of the ACI training steering group, we have designed a flexible programme to maximize the benefit at all levels at an airport, from top management to basic staff skills.

Three key drivers have guided us in this strategic exercise. Firstly, the alignment of standards globally is an industry pre- requisite. Where will the next generation of skilled workers come from? How will we build and maintain consistency as these skilled workers and managers migrate across borders to new opportunities? Global accreditation programmes based on shared standards are part of the solution.

ACI is collaborating with ICAO on its new Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) initiative to assess the changes that are needed to establish globally recognized training opportunities for aviation professionals. The ultimate goal for the NGAP initiative is to attract future generations to aviation and ensure that pilots, technicians, air traffic controllers, and yes, airport operators have the required competencies to do their job.

To succeed, we must understand their educational requirements and expectations. If we fail, we will have to worry about a shortage of aviation professionals in the next 10 to 20 years.

A second strategy is to ensure competencies required of today’s airport professionals – proficiency in technical and operational domains, as well as the complex business management field.

A simple example: the “airport city” phenomenon has emerged as a popular model for many hub airports, with emphasis on diversifying revenue streams. As a result, airports increasingly seek out and train qualified individuals to focus on the economic and commercial aspects of airport management.

ICAO and ACI have already started addressing high-level management competencies, joining forces to offer the AirportManagementProfessionalAccreditationProgramme (AMPAP). And through many of the electives, we are achieving better understanding of security, environmental and regulatory imperatives that are vital for our airports.

The third strategy focuses on the need to improve operational performance through targeted training.

We want to be able to see concrete results from course participation.

Let’s take safety, our number one priority, as an example. Our industry safety record is generally good. But we can do much better, as clearly shown by results of ICAO’s national safety audits. Safety incidents are also on the rise in many areas of the world.

Standards are defined, requirements understood, and budgets approved, yet airports in many parts of the world struggle to comply with basic safety management systems (SMS) requirements.

What are the issues holding us back? Topping the list are investment, commitment, training, human resources and a safety culture. As a result, ACI has incorporated safety training at all levels of its training offer, addressing different levels of knowledge and competencies through online SMS training, a dedicated safety diploma programme (part of our Global Safety Network, GSN) or through a more advanced look at SMS implementation with senior executives.

Together with airport members, world business partners, faculties, vendors and other stakeholders, ACI Global Training has embarked on a voyage that will set a course for success.

Human factors will play a key role as we re-invent our industry. Training is only one piece of the puzzle, along with regulation, best practices, environmental responsibility or new technologies, but it is an essential piece.

Training provides the means for systematically sustaining performance improvement by giving airport employees the means to learn, share their knowledge, develop their full potential and, in the end, to discover and exploit new strategic opportunities.

As the late 19th century US industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision; the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

It is a long journey and we have only just started.

For more information about ACI Global Training, please contact: training@aci.aero.