A recent article in Connected Aviation Today offered an excellent insight into the current state of the commercial airports industry in a Q&A session with the Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) CEO and President, Mr Kevin Burke, where he outlined the current ACI-NA priorities.

According to Mr Burke, the priorities have changed in just the last four years, since he joined ACI-NA, due to hard work to foster industry unity. He feels that the work has supported ACI-NA’s mission to mitigate uncertainty, which in turn can affect an airport’s ability to run efficiently.

He believes that the modernisation of airport infrastructure has been one of the biggest challenges for airport members. Now, due to lobbying of elected officials by ACI-NA members directly, it appears that Congress are indeed beginning to understand the critical need for infrastructural improvement.

Already, there have been success stories, with the Senate Appropriations Committee delivering two key wins for passengers and airports, according to Mr Burke, with increased funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and modernisation of the local Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee. Mr Burke acknowledges that this is a ‘very big "first step" in achieving airport priorities.’

Focus, trends and challenges for the aviation industry in 2018

When asked what he thought were the areas of focus for the industry in 2018, Mr Burke said that airports will be ‘focused on a modernised approach to airport infrastructure financing.’

Looking ahead to 2021, there will have been almost $100 billion in infrastructural requirements, and airports across the US will face challenges on an unprecedented scale in terms of infrastructure investment. Mr Burke thinks that ‘any and every opportunity’ should be taken this year to impress the infrastructural needs and requirements on the current government and policy-makers.

The big trends this year, according to the interview, will be concerned with the latest innovations and technological advancements to ensure increased security and safety of airline passengers. As US-incoming traffic is increasing, airports are already implementing innovations such as Mobile Passport Control and Kiosks to help passenger expedition through the borders, which have reduced passenger processing times dramatically so far.

Biometrics will also be trending this year, and ACI-NA will be looking at how equipment and processes can continue to improve passenger experience, while working with Customs and Border agencies and the TSA.

ACI-NA will still have much work to do, according to Mr Burke, addressing the challenges for its airport members in infrastructure modernisation, as previously mentioned, but also in the areas of security and the airport workforce.

With airport operation in today’s uncertain, evolving security landscape facing challenges of its own, additional mandatory requirements further add to the pressures. Mr Burke says that the ACI-NA will ‘continue to collaborate with the TSA and global regulators to ensure security requirements are not only effective, but can be tailored.’ This interesting concept takes a tailored approach to an airport’s unique operational environment, while maintaining the safety and security of passengers, airport personnel and aircraft.

ACI-NA will also be continuing its support in helping airport members facing the challenges many airports experience in terms of the composition of the airport workforce this year. The focus will largely be, according to Mr Burke, in attracting and retaining a new generation of personnel, particularly as industry growth promises to continue, and the ‘Baby Boomer generation’ nears retirement. In addition, greater focus will be placed on the capabilities of the airport workforce as technology drives the industry forward into a requirement for new skills.

In summing up, Mr Burke suggests that 2018 will be a busy year for US airports in the north, as they face challenges and embrace solutions. He said, ‘With all the challenges mentioned above, 2018 will be a busy year for North American airports. I am continually impressed by the resolve of our industry to confront issues and seize opportunities for the benefit of passengers, shippers, and communities. ACI-NA will continue to tirelessly advocate on behalf of airports to advance key priorities and mitigate uncertainty that can negatively impact airports’ ability to operate efficiently.’

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