By Yvonne Bilshausen and J. Somer Shindler, United Airlines
After decades of insufficient spending on infrastructure and technology, many of America’s airports require renovation, expansion or full replacement. As the aviation industry continues to age, airlines and airports will need to work together to cost-effectively provide better and more efficient services to growing passenger numbers.
Defining the Challenges
A simplistic analysis of modern aviation might suggest that airlines and airports operate under different sets of principles, assumptions and priorities. Airlines, as private sector organizations operating in a highly competitive and low-margin market, have developed strengths in network operations, cost controls, fleet and logistics planning, and flexible operational planning. On the other hand, airlines generally operate as tenants in their networks, resulting in underdeveloped experience in facilities maintenance or management, fixed asset life cycle planning, or infrastructure asset management.
Conversely, airports are generally public organizations, accountable to a variety of stakeholders and act as a driving force in the local and regional economies in which they operate. Because of this, they must maintain a long-term perspective. Not surprisingly, airports have developed the ability to conduct capital improvement and airport master planning; however, long-range planning typically does not incorporate facility or asset management planning. Because of this and the nature of fixed assets and capital investment time frames, airports generally are unable to act with agility and short‑term responsiveness.
Despite their differences, airports and airlines value predictability, balance and agility. Whether planning for the short or long term, both entities are focused on achieving operational continuity and beneficial expansion for their shared customers, based on sound capital investments and operational expenses.
Meeting the Challenges
Since the first commercial flight, airlines and airports have relied on attracting passengers and cargo to create revenue. Though the modern airport business model has evolved, continuing to reduce costs and minimize waste will keep both parties fiscally healthy and competitive.
The most successful American airports and airlines will be those that recognize how to leverage the strength of partnerships to provide better customer service, experience and value. Common goals include the development and implementation of improved technologies, enhanced security systems and the increased reliability of all assets, both fixed and fleet. Clear communication, full cooperation and transparency are required to make these goals reality.
Transforming traditional master planning methodologies and considering constraints, resources, risks and opportunities will yield realistic long-term growth for airports and airlines. The inclusion of clearly defined triggers for growth will allow new opportunities, anticipated and unexpected, to be incorporated. Additionally, anticipating the operational costs of facility maintenance and asset management will yield more predictable financial outcomes. When a clear path of communication is maintained between the airports and airlines, customers and communities benefit.
Working Toward the Future
Airlines and airports recognize the value of each other’s skills and experience. Each entity knows that employing consultants who understand how airlines and airports engage in business is imperative to success for all key stakeholders. Leveraging these consultants’ and contractors’ technical training and third-party perspective creates new opportunities for the execution of programs and projects.
Roughly 900 million passengers travel through U.S. airports every year, and that number is expected to increase significantly. As we move further into the 21st century, airlines and airports will need to continue partnering together to drive new developments that answer the issues of increasing capacity within the aging aviation infrastructure.