Regional airport meeting discusses safety, viruses

A recent meeting of top regional airport officials, which was hosted in Grand Cayman, saw recent world events like Swine Flu (H1N1 flu) and the attempted plane hijacking in Jamaica explored.

The Regional Strategic Meeting of the Executive Board of Airports Council International – Latin American & Caribbean was hosted at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort from 4 to 6 May.

The Cayman Islands’ Airports Authority provided assistance with conference arrangements.

Several senior managers from the CIAA attended as observers as they are members of the organisation, not of the Executive Board.

Mr. Robert Scotland, Senior Manager Airport Security and Mr. Andrew McLaughlin, Senior Manager Safety Management Systems of the CIAA also serve on ACI-LAC’s regional security and safety committees, having been appointed at the Regional General Assembly of the organisation in November 2008.

The CIAA’s Communications and Marketing Manager Caren Thompson-Palacio said of her experience of the meeting, ‘It was very interesting because I’m relatively new to the airport and I got to learn about regional issues impacting airports’.

Miguel Southwell, President Airports Council International – Latin American and Caribbean Region, who is also the Deputy Director of Business for Miami International Airport, said, ‘We have over 35 countries in which we could have hosted this, but we were delighted to be invited by the people at CIAA. It was a great venue for having such an important meeting.’

The first part of the meeting involved the spring Board meeting to take care of the business of the organisation.

‘Given the viruses and recent hijacking in Montego Bay, we had quite a bit to share in terms of how best as a region to address these types of situations,’ explained Mr. Southwell.

In a second stage of the meeting they set about beginning to develop a strategic plan to focus the organisation over the next five years.

‘That will be concluded in the next two to three months,’ he said.

They used traditional SWAT techniques to examine the weaknesses, strengths, opportunities and threats facing the organisation.

‘The next step is prioritising the strengths and weaknesses to make sure we build on and retain the strengths. Committees will work on these in the next three months,’ he said.

An example of opportunities they looked at is the potential to grow Asian traffic regionally.

‘In the last few years there was an increase in the number of Asian traffic – both passenger and goods – coming through the region. We discussed how we as a region can work with our Asian ACI counterparts to build traffic further.’

They also talked about threats such as terrorism, disease and how they can work together to prevent them impacting the flow of passengers and goods through airports.

In a different section of the meeting they invited their airlines association counterparts to join them. ‘[We] had for the first time at a regional level ACI and International Air Transport Association as well as the regional president of the Latin American and Caribbean Airline Association. That was an extremely productive meeting,’ said Mr. Southwell.

‘We dealt with extremely important issues – safety issues – such as in increase in runway incursions (when a ground vehicle strays into the path of a moving aircraft).’

They also discussed bird strikes – given the splashdown of a US Airways Flight in the Hudson River last January in which a bird strike knocked out both the aircraft’s engines.

They discussed how they could avert bird strikes and how to collaborate on responses to incidents such as HINI virus so airports and airlines are in synch to respond to those incidents without over-reacting or hurting the flow of traffic and passengers or damaging economies.

They also discussed how they might collaborate on other issues such as protecting the interests of airports.

Mr. Southwell said airports are economic engines of countries and nowhere was that more visible than after 9/11 when air service ground to a halt.

‘So it’s very important that we protect the interests of airports and make them safe.

‘ACI and the airlines wish to ensure that revenues generated at airports are firstly reinvested in airports to retain them, make them safe and so there are sufficient funds to replace them, expand them or add new state of the art equipment,’ explained Mr. Southwell.

‘But if airports are just seen as a cash cow for subsidising non-airport projects then those airports won’t be able to compete.’

There was also agreement from both sides that airport rates and fees need to be transparent and justified.