Congested airports could influence Asian traffic growth

The Asian Pacific region is the most in danger of missing out on passenger growth thanks to its congested airports. Speaking at the Routes Asia 2017 Strategy Summit Vijay Poonoosamy Vice President International Affairs, Office of the President and CEO, Etihad Airways said the region has as many as 22 congested airports, resulting in 33 per cent of passengers lost or diverted as a result.

Using his position of moderator of a panel session entitled ‘Can airports keep pace with demand? Airport challenges - congestion, capacity and construction’, he urged delegates to address the problem immediately. Poonoosamy said: “All of those who benefit either directly or indirectly from aviation must do whatever it takes to ensure that we do not clip the wings of an industry that makes economies take off."

"Existing constraints are to do with mindsets. We need to learn how to think outside of the box and innovate in tackling these challenges. The airlines have a role to play. We are a community of linked interests, and the better we can work together, the better the outcomes will be," he added.

Mumbai International Airport CEO Rajeev Jain said the problem was particularly acute in India where there are not enough airports to meet the predicted growth. In particular he said six of the country’s airports handle 66 per cent of all passenger traffic.

Furthermore, half of the six airports are operating at more than 100 pwer cent of their originally designed capacity. And he cited the example of his own airport, which he expects to handle 45 million passengers in 2017. Jain said: "The biggest problem facing aviation growth in India is there are not enough airports. We need 50 new airports totalling $40bn of investment - and I can't see where that money will come from."

Changi Airports International Director and Head, Traffic Development and Market Analysis, Consultancy, Chin Leong Teo added even when an airport does have capacity to spare, it can still suffer thanks to the nature of the business. He said: "Slots are not straightforward. If you are targeting transfer or transit traffic the slots will naturally peak and trough. How we balance this is always a challenge."

Cranfield University Centre for Air Transport Management Lecturer Dr Chikage Miyoshi added the problem was worsened by the fact that for many countries in the Asia Pacific region certain airports are full to bursting but others are crying out for more traffic. She said: "Many of our facilities in Japan are under-utilised. We need to consider how we can use this free capacity using privatisation."

With this in mind, Miyoshi argued airlines could do their bit to help solve the problem, adding: "Airlines can diversify the number of airports they want to serve to handle slots and capacity challenges. We need to make the most of our scarce resources."

C K Ng Executive Director, Airport Operations of Airport Authority Hong Kong added new runways are part of the solution long term, providing certain standards are met. He said: “Eight years of construction is a long time. The most important thing about our third runway is that we get it done on-budget and on-time."

In addition, he argued technology is key to solving the problem, adding: "A smart airport is the only way to go when managing congestion. We are investing heavily in biometrics and we have set up a group to examine how airport technology needs to grow.

"In the future we want passengers to be able to get to the airport and onto the flight without ever showing their passport. They should be able to do all stages of the check-in process before leaving home. The technology available should make this possible, but we are a long way off because so many agencies are involved."

Kansai Airports Corporate Executive Vice President CCO-Aeronautical Gregory Jamet agreed, adding: "With the growth in traffic expected, one day slots challenges will come. Japan is a service culture, so we are working hard to ensure we have access to the right the technology to deal with any future capacity challenges."

He also urged the industry to start seriously planning ahead to ensure the problem does not worsen. He said: "Japan has a long tradition of long-term capacity planning. At Kansai we have two runways and are very far from saturation, so we can continue to plan. Designing and planning capacity on a long-term vision that includes flexibility is extremely important. No-one knows what the traffic will be in 20 years."

Teo also warned delegates that even if they think they have control of the problem, they should resist the urge to be complacent about it. He added: "Planning capacity is a tricky balance. Even if you are winning sometimes you can get too aggressive - there can be a winner's curse."

Edward Robertson

With over ten years of experience writing for the travel trade, Ed was appointed Editor of Routes News in early 2016 and has overseen its relaunch…