Aviation leaders set to land for talks at Cayman meeting

Safety figures to be a prominent discussion topic when aviation leaders gather next week in Grand Cayman for a three-day conference to brainstorm strategies for dealing with the industry’s most pervasive challenges.

Commercial development, customer relations and options for growing revenues also are agenda items, but air transport safety remains atop everyone’s priorities list, and perhaps no more so than those of decision makers in the fledgling Latin American and Caribbean markets that have a history of enduring some of the world’s worst incident rates.

But Latin America and the Caribbean have seen significant safety improvements during the past decade and have — despite a nagging global recession plaguing other regions — delivered the largest profits worldwide since 2009, thus proving its rightful place as an industry heavyweight.

On Sunday, 17 July, the Airports Conference of the Americas is scheduled to begin at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort on Seven Mile Beach with seminars running through Tuesday, 19 July. Along with the seminars, which will cover additional topics including cargo service, infrastructure financing, environmental concerns and airport certification standards, a table-top trade show will be open for suppliers to showcase products and services for would-be airport clientele.

The list of speakers and panellists attending the conference includes industry leaders from across the western hemisphere. Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush is scheduled to give remarks Monday morning.

“This important meeting brings together airport, aviation and government officials from the US, the Caribbean and Latin America to discuss both the business opportunities and the significant challenges facing the aviation industry today,” said Bonnie Allin, chairwoman of the International Association of Airport Executives, one of the conference’s primary sponsors. “We look forward to a very productive meeting and know that this will be one of the best Airports Conference of the Americas ever.”

With a pair of sessions devoted solely to safety oversight and an industry

-wide safety outlook, next week’s gathering affords those in attendance the opportunity to continue tackling one of region’s most persistent problems.

Though not necessarily a Latin American and Caribbean centric conference, many of those scheduled to be involved are from the region — including the Cayman Islands Airports Authority and Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman — and bring with them to discussions and problem-solving sessions their experiences in dealing with the ongoing challenge of improving safety region-wide.

A decade ago, the Latin American and Caribbean aviation sector suffered an incident rate seven times that of the global average, according to the International Air Transport Association. In recent years, its safety record had improved to a perfect rate of zero, but four tragic accidents in the first 10 months of 2010 saw the rate climb again, leaving a lasting reminder that working to ensure safe air transport never ends.

“While we have experienced much progress in the region, the industry still faces some key challenges, such as lack of reinvestment in infrastructure, inadequate use of technology, inconsistent global standards, scarce government resources for safety oversight and insufficient investments in training,” said Alex de Gunten, executive director of the Latin American and Caribbean Transport Association, a nonprofit organisation whose membership, including Cayman Airways, represent more than 90 per cent of the region’s commercial air traffic.

“Our goal is for Latin American and Caribbean carriers to match or surpass the safety record of the US by 2014,” de Gunten said.

Government taxation policy, airport congestion and compliance with global climate change and fuel-efficiency standards also top the list of concerns for commercial and freight carriers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

But a burgeoning aviation industry in Latin America and the Caribbean — boosted by some of the most impressive earnings as of late largely due to explosive growth in Brazil and elsewhere in South America — may be well suited to meet those demands.

“Latin America has emerged as a shining star in the industry after a decade of crisis and change,” said Giovanni Bisignani, executive director of the International Air Transport Association. “Ten years ago, the region was a mess. Today it is the only region that has delivered a profit in 2009 ($500 million) and in 2010 ($1 billion). We expect profitability to extend to a third consecutive year with a $600 million return in 2011. The turnaround is the result of hard work and a willingness to change.”

All Airports Conference of the Americas sessions will take place at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. The conference begins at 6pm Sunday with a welcome reception. After four sessions during the day on Monday, there is an evening event at 6.30pm at Tiki Beach. Three more work sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, with the conference ending at 3pm.

“The airports industry is an ever evolving business and it is only through the development of meaningful working relationships with our international counterparts that we can overcome the challenges that we consistently encounter,” said Jeremy Jackson, CEO of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority. “At the forefront of this conference is the safety of the travelling public, which is of paramount importance at the CIAA and our representatives are eager to learn more about the issues impacting international airports and the solutions that are being implemented to address them.”

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