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Fri 31 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Weather the storm

Catherine Mayer, VP of airport services at SITA, explains the difficulties of operating on limited resources.

Catherine Mayer, vice-president of airport services at SITA explains the difficulties of operating on limited resources.

How do you think the global economic downturn will affect the region's aviation industry?

The current state of the air transport industry has been referred to as a "perfect storm" because of soaring fuel prices and the global economic downturn slowing traffic growth.

Even though passenger demand has fallen in some regions, it is rising in others like the Middle East and Asia, and the global long term forecast is for overall growth.

But this storm is not hitting all regions in the same way. Significantly, the Middle East is fairing well. Analysts have noted that local demand remains strong and this combined with lower labour costs, a focus on the stronger Asia and Middle East markets and more fuel-efficient fleets make the outlook brighter for carriers in the Mid-East region.

Do you think the region should be doing more to stabilise the industry?

The survival of the global industry can't rest on the shoulders of one region; it is dependent on all the stakeholders worldwide working together. It is through collaboration that long term sustainability and stability will be achieved.

SITA works with the whole air transport community and knows that airlines, airports and other industry players must work in partnership to help weather the storm.

Would you say the region's airports are responding to the global economic challenges?

Airports in their own right are facing a unique challenge; even though passenger demand has fallen in some regions, it is rising in others like the Middle East and Asia, and the global long term forecast from industry bodies such as IATA and ACI is for overall growth.

The latest results published in June showed worldwide passenger growth at a modest 2% and ACI acknowledged that the second half of 2008 will be a challenge but the hope is that the slowing trend will pass.

Are airport facilities able to keep up with the overall growth?

Airports must deal with the strain on limited resources as passenger growth increases and capacity remains stagnant. SITA is working with airports to look beyond the traditional airport footprint and to extend services in to the surrounding cities.

This will help accommodate growth and ease the pressure both on day to day operations and on longer term capital expenditure. Passengers too are demanding off-airport services; SITA's 2007 passenger self-service survey showed that 58% of respondents would use remote bag drop if it was available.

Remote baggage check-in not only improves the passenger experience, but also provides a new revenue opportunity for those who offer it, as well as easing time and security pressures faced by all international airports.

From which countries can Middle East airports adopt innovative ideas?

Off-airport passenger and bag check-in is now a reality in many places around the world including Hong Kong, Switzerland and North America. In fact, the 2007 SITA/ACI/airline business airport IT trends survey, showed that remote (off-airport) passenger check-in and bag drop has already been introduced by 11% of the respondent airports while 40% intend to implement within the next two to five years.

What should airports be doing in order to plan for the future?

It is by harnessing technology and collaborating with both the air transport industry and external partners that airports can introduce such services beyond the traditional footprint to weather the storm and anticipate calmer waters in the future of the market.

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