RACE 2017: Strength in unity

As ACI Europe’s Regional Airports’ Conference and Exhibition wrapped up for another year, one of the resounding messages from the two-day event was that “collaboration and the sharing of information and resources is key to growth for the industry”.

Day two of the conference was kick-started by Danny Boutin, ACI World’s senior manager, APEX programmes, who emphasised that safety remains a number-one priority for aviation. He highlighted the fact that larger airports in developed regions with resources and expertise readily available need to divulge their knowledge to smaller airports, as the latter are more likely to have limited funding, particularly when it comes to issues of safety and security.

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland also reiterated the need for synergy between airports and tourist boards. Additionally, he stressed that “direct, competitive and convenient air access is essential for the regional tourism industry”.

A hot topic for debate was the need to look beyond Brexit. With the uncertainty of what will happen to the European Union’s smaller airports and route development across the continent when the UK  leaves the EU, airports and airlines are already looking at expanding their reach and diversifying their market. Several low-fare carriers including Iceland’s WOW air and IAG’s Level have already opened up transatlantic routes, with Norwegian Air International set to open new routes between Ireland and the US later in the year.

On the subject of Brexit, Peter Kearney, IAA’s director of ATM operations and strategy, stated that “we must lobby governments to make aviation, and a ‘fair air services agreement’ with the UK, a priority focus” when it comes to Brexit discussions.

The latter half of the day saw an engaging panel session with representatives from airports across Europe examining the role that airports play in boosting regional tourism. For many passengers the airport is the first and last impression they will have of the area they are visiting. As such, a key element in boosting regional tourism was the need for airports to showcase the best of their region, whether it’s through retail opportunities and selling local brands and produce, art installations (such as the Naples Airport archaeological museum) or sponsorship opportunities. Thea Gents of Tallinn Airport also pointed out that investing in infrastructure was important, as was ensuring that airlines themselves should be a primary focus when talking about regional airport growth as “without airlines there would be no passengers”.

The conference was concluded with a session on the quest for efficiency. And as delegates and speakers bid a fond farewell to Cork, there was much excitement and anticipation for next year’s event, which will be hosted by Naples Airport.

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