ACI World hits back at IATA’s “distorted and flawed”depiction of airport industry

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Airports Council International (ACI) World has berated the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its “outrageous” statements that a rise in airport charges risk harming international connectivity and damaging aviation’s recovery.

IATA has painted a “distorted and flawed picture of the airport industry,” according to ACI World, which has called out the air transport association for claiming that increases in charges at airports place the burden of the recovery exclusively onto airlines. The claim was made that this would stall recovery in air travel and damage international air connectivity.

In a statement ACI World asserted that this “damaging assertion ignores the dire situation of Europe’s airports.” The association also pointed out that while airports in Europe have not only seen revenues collapsing by -60% in 2020 and by -65% in the first half of 2021, they have also been unable to reduce the predominantly fixed nature of their costs

“Airports have experienced enormous financial stress and had to make drastic cuts to keep afloat,” Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI World’s Director General enthused. “In many jurisdictions, airports did not receive the same level of support compared to air carriers. To keep facilities running and safe to operate cargo and humanitarian flights during the pandemic, for example, airports incurred large costs. Fundamentally, airports will always remain infrastructure-intensive businesses – this translates into a high ratio of fixed costs,” he continued.

As a result, airports have had no recourse but to take on massive debt at market conditions. Europe’s airports gross financial debt has so far increased by +200% compared to 2019.

Bleak financial prospects

And while air traffic has started to pick up, financial prospects remain bleak with most of Europe’s airports facing a cost intensive and revenue weak recovery. This is in part due to the need to scale up facilities and services to accommodate peaks in traffic while overall volumes still fail to generate the revenues required to cover costs. The airport slot usage waivers granted to airlines resulting in unused capacity are also contributing to the revenue weak recovery.

As a result of all these factors, Europe’s airports are now facing an investment crunch and many simply will not be able to financially recovery without increasing charges – unless governments step in and compensate airports for not doing so.

A recent survey of airport operators spanning all regions of the world and different sizes in terms of traffic levels showed that the majority of airports (nearly 70%) had implemented some form of discount or incentives in their airport charging schemes to address the impacts of COVID-19 and support a recovery. Also, during 2020 many airport operators deferred or waived certain airport charges in support of their airline clients.

In addition, IATA’s own data shows that during the crisis there was a decrease in user charges as a share of airline costs. An analysis of charges, which contain both air traffic control and airport charges, shows that these charges are only approximately 5% of airline cost items in 2020, and this share decreased from pre-COVID 2019 levels.

By requesting systematic freezes or reductions in airport charges, IATA is forcing airports into further financial distress to the exclusive benefit of airlines, according to ACI World. Frozen or lower airport charges would not prevent airlines form exercising their pricing power over consumers and raise air fares.

Shared responsibility

Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, has also waded into the debate to say: “We should ultimately remember that airlines can afford to pay airport charges. Airlines only pay airports if they operate, and only weeks after they have collected revenue from passengers. Airlines are ill-placed to give us a lesson in preserving the interests of customers, when they refused for months to refund passengers for flights that could not take place, with some still dragging their feet to do so.”

He added that the “long-term recovery of the air transport eco-system will be secured through stabilising and further stimulating demand. These objectives are core to airports’ pricing structures with over 95% of Europe’s airports routinely offering rebates and incentives to airlines.”

Oliveira added that “this may be a moment to rethink the economic oversight of airport charges to something that is more reflective of market conditions allowing for risk to be shared across airlines and airports. Airports will remain infrastructure-intensive businesses, which means inevitable high fixed costs which must be maintained for the benefit of passengers and the communities that airports serve. We will continue to collaborate with our airline partners and other stakeholders to rebuild a sector that is resilient and sustainable – but it needs to be fair for the entire aviation ecosystem.”

Call for greater unity

Meanwhile, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) also called for greater unity to tackle the industry-wide financial crisis with Simon Hocquard, CANSO’s Director General saying: “Headline statements from IATA’s annual general meeting could lead to the impression that only airlines should be allowed to recover costs. Yet organisations across the entire aviation spectrum faced a significant drop in revenues these past 20 months and have incurred substantial debt as a result of plummeting air traffic levels. The statements also undermine the considerable steps air navigation service providers (ANSPs) across the globe have taken to address their revenue shortfalls.”

ANSPs have implemented a myriad of cost-cutting measures – reducing staff numbers, cutting pay and postponing long-term investment projects. And they have done so while continuing to fulfil their role as a critical national infrastructure – keeping the skies open and safe no matter what the traffic levels.

Hocquard also explained that while airline non fuel unit costs rose 19% in 2020 compared to 2019, as fixed costs had to be spread over a dramatically smaller capacity base, Air Navigation Service charges are subject to the same phenomena. With reduced traffic, the costs of running the system at some point have to be spread over the lower traffic volume, driving costs up.

“The ATM industry has a solid record in improving productivity and cost effectiveness and on transparency with regards to its performance,” said Hocquard. “The past 20 months has turned that inside out but has not altered the fundamentals.”

He concluded by warning: “A difficult road lies ahead as we wrestle together, and individually, with that fact. This crisis has taught us many lessons, but we must be careful that the lessons we have learned from the current crisis do not undermine the lessons we have always known to be true. That cutting investment in response to a short-term crisis, has a long-term impact on capacity. Now more than ever, it is important for the entire aviation industry to come together and discuss how to tackle the financial challenges we all face and not resort to blaming each other.”

GSE Expo: Taylor-Dunn launches lithium-ion powered GSE

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With the need for greater sustainability, safety and efficiency driving airport ground support operations, Taylor-Dunn in partnership with A&V Rebuilding Inc and LevCon Inc., has unveiled its advanced lithium technology to address all those needs at this week’s GSE Expo in Las Vegas, US.

The innovative technology has been engineered into the Tiger tow tractor, providing the same 60,000 lbs of towing capacity, while offering zero vehicle emissions for increased sustainability, decreased maintenance for grater labour efficiencies, greater cost savings and increased safety benefits.

“We could not be more excited to unite the trusted Tiger tow tractor and the proven manufacturing capabilities of Taylor-Dunn with this new Li-ion technology for ground support,” said Gerry Hoadley, President, A&V Rebuilding Inc. “With increased sustainability goals across airports and airlines, this new vehicle helps customers meet and exceed their goals, without ever sacrificing productivity. While we’ve been remanufacturing similar systems for years, the partnership with Taylor-Dunn allows new, electrified vehicles to be brought down the production line at scale to meet the rapidly growing customer demands.”

To help reduce emissions on the airfield, there is a need to overcome charging infrastructure barriers at airports. As an all-electric vehicle, the Li-ion Tiger eliminates unnecessary emissions caused by traditional combustion vehicles and the new Tiger TC 3060 Li-Ion comes with multiple charging options. When it comes to enhanced safety, vehicle electrification unlocks the ability to offer smart technology like the patent-pending anti-rollover system and programmable acceleration and speed. This programmability allows users to manage their operations while meeting safety standards. Meanwhile, easily accessible inching buttons at the rear of the tractor allow a single employee to attach and detach the tow bars. Safety is also enhanced through increased visibility due to LED head and taillights as well as orange safety seat belts. Rectractable seatbelts provide easy ingress and egress and include an electronic switch to ensure the operator’s seat belt is fastened before the vehicle is put in motion.

Shannon Airport in Ireland used as testbed for FedEx Express drone deliveries

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FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp and the world’s largest express transportation company, has collaborated with Future Mobility Campus Ireland (FMCI) Air to trial last-mile drone delivery of goods between Shannon Airport, County Clare and Foynes Port, County Limerick, Ireland’s second-largest port operator and largest bulk port company.

Conducted by Skyports, on behalf of the FCMI Air consortium which also includes Avtrain, Shannon Group and FCMI, the delivery of the first FedEx Express package in Ireland via drone demonstrates the benefits of drone delivery for last-mile service. The trials will last a month and will see a number of test flights conducted in the Mid-West region, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) between Shannon Airport and Foynes Port. Deliveries are anticipated to be made in less than 13 minutes.

“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to deliver the world to our customers’ doorsteps and I’m delighted that this drone delivery trial is underway and an example of how we, as an industry, continue to explore new technology to help meet our customers’ evolving delivery needs,” said Mike Roche, Operations Managing Director, FedEx Express Ireland.

Meanwhile speaking on behalf of the FMCI Air Consortium, Julie Garland explained that the testing of the incorporation of BVLOS drone freight deliveries into global supply chain logistics is the future. “The location of this trial from the FMCI base adjacent to Shannon Airport, in controlled airspace, with full air traffic control services demonstrates the integration of manned aircraft operations with simultaneous vertiport drone operations becoming the norm and paving the way for Advanced Air Mobility.”

Manchester Airport welcomes the return of Norwegian

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Norway’s flag carrier, Norwegian, has resumed its Oslo route from Manchester’s recently opened Terminal Two.

The route, which will be operated twice a week makes Norwegian the 16th airline to operate from the new look terminal, which opened in July 2021.

Air France and KLM also returned to the terminal last week and joined the likes of sunseeker favourites, Jet2.com and TUI, as well as long-haul service providers such as Ethiopian and Cathay Pacific.

Dufry extends duty-free concession at three Cambodian airports

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Global travel retailer, Dufry, has extended its duty-free concession at Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville airports in Cambodia for five and a half years. The extended concession agreement starts this October and covers departure and arrival duty-free shops at all three hubs, which are operated by VINCI Airports and which welcomed 11.6 million international travellers in 2019. It also includes the departure shop at Sihanoukville airport with a total sales area of 2,680 m. sq and at which Dufry has operated ever since 2003.

Aligned with Cambodia Airports’ retail development plan, Dufry’s contract extension will include the refurbishing of duty-free shops at the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports. Sihanoukville’s departure store underwent a redesign in 2019. Local Cambodian products and souvenirs will be available to purchase in keeping with VINCI Airports’ “sense of place” approach.
“We thank our partners of Cambodia Airports and are honoured to have been given the opportunity to further extend our close collaboration and to foster this long-standing relationship,” said Pedro Castro, COO Asia-Pacific, Dufry. “Through the refurbishment of our main shops we will provide travellers with a new and attractive shopping experience, thus further increasing productivity of these important Cambodian hubs, which enjoy an increasing attention of international passengers.”

Alain Brun, CEO of Cambodia Airports added: “It is a vote of confidence. The partners share an optimistic outlook for global air travels and the many opportunities that the return of passengers will confer to airports and retailers with creative minds. To provide a seamless experience at our airports in Cambodia and to cope with the latest trends in travel retail, our teams will prioritise key objectives including accelerating the moves towards e-commerce, synergies between online-offline sales channels, and putting emphasis on health and wellness offerings.”

WestJet resumes nonstop link between Calgary and San Diego

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Having suspended services in March 2020 due to the global pandemic, WestJet has restarted its link between Calgary Airport (YYC) in Alberta, Canada and San Diego International Airport in California. The year-round nonstop flights will be operated twice weekly to start with, increasing to three times weekly from 1 November.

“The airport welcomes WestJet back to San Diego,” said Kimberly Becker, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority President and CEO. “Calgary is a major hub for WestJet, where San Diegans can continue on and connect to other cities throughout Canada including Winnipeg, Regina, and Saskatoon. We appreciate the resumption of service.”

Prior to the suspension, WestJet provided up to five flights a week to Calgary from San Diego. It is the second airline to resume flights between Canada and San Diego following the Canadian government’s reopening of the border on 9 August to fully vaccinated travellers. Travellers arriving in Canada regardless of their vaccine status will need a negative PCR or molecular test within 72 hours of requesting entry.

San Diego has partnered with Carbon Health to provide an on-site COVID-19 testing facility for passengers wanting to get tested before a trip.

Wizz Air boosts links from Budapest to Amman, Aqaba and Hurghada

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In line with Budapest Airport’s strategy to develop its route network in Africa and Asia, Wizz Air has confirmed three new services for the winter 21/22 season to Amman and Aqaba in Jordan and Hurghada in Egypt.

Amman was added to Budapest’s destination map in 2018 with immediate demand on the service to Western Asia. The airport’s capacity to Jordan’s main gateway will now increase with a twice-weekly service from 17 December 2021 thanks to Wizz Air’s latest announcement. The ultra-low-cost-carrier (ULCC) will also launch a twice-weekly service to Aqaba – on the popular Red Sea coast – from 16 December 2021.

Increasing the airport’s connections to Africa the ULCC will also commence weekly flights to Hurghada from 18 December. This new service will complement the airport’s existing services to Cairo and Hurghada in Egypt.

“We are over the moon that one of our biggest airline partners has decided to add to our destinations in Africa and Asia,” said Balázs Bogats, Head of Airline Development, Budapest Airport. “Wizz Air’s new schedules make for an ideal week vacation to Egypt, or the perfect short getaway to Jordan to take in the enchantment of the Red Sea. The confirmation of Wizz Air’s new flights comes at the perfect time as we start to witness the increase in demand for winter breaks. Our customers’ confidence has returned and we have no doubt in the popularity of these routes.”

Lindt and Sprungli Travel Retail enhances chocolate retail offering

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Lindt & Sprüngli Travel Retail is updating its Lindt premium chocolate range. The revamp will see new brands, formats and pack redesigns in 2022 as well as the launch of brands to the travel retail market.

To meet growing demand for self-treating and snacks for on-the-go, the Lindt LINDOR range will be available in a new LINDOR Bag Milk 100g format. The two companies will also bring the popular Lindt NUXOR brand to the travel retail market for the first-time next year. In addition, the bestselling Lindt NAPOLITAINS range will be relaunched with a new eye-catching pack design to increase visual appeal and grow awareness of the brand among shoppers.

Lindt’s latest launches will enable travel retailers to take full advantage of the gifting category, which continues to be a key consideration for duty-free shoppers. According to Lindt & Sprüngli Travel Retail, recent studies have shown that half of European travellers will most likely consider buying confectionery for a gifting occasion, especially when travelling for leisure or visiting friends and family.

Travelling consumers, especially millennial shoppers, are also increasingly concerned with the sustainability. Lindt & Sprüngli Travel Retail has developed its own sustainability programme for cocoa beans; the Lindt and Sprüngli Farming Programme, which strives for ecologically and socially responsible cultivation and supports farmers, their families and their communities. The programme recently reached a milestone with 100% of cocoa beans now traceable back to their origin and externally verified.

“With growing numbers of passengers returning to the skies, travel retailers will need to ensure they are offering the right mix of products that consumers are actively searching for,” said Peter Zehender, Heaed of the Lindt & Sprüngli Travel Retail global duty-free division. “In the confectionery aisle, this will encompass a strong core range of bestselling lines and innovative novelties from leading brands that shoppers know and trust. As a much-loved confectionery brand with global appeal, Lindt is ideally placed to help travel retailers meet the various needs of confectionery buyers. The launch of LINDOR Bag Milk 100g and Lindt NUXOR, as well as our redesigned Lindt NAPOLITAINS range, will bring much-needed innovation to the travel confectionery market, providing travelllers with exciting new products to suit every occasion – from gifting to self consumption and on-the-go treating.”

Consumer demand drives responsible luxury retail

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According to Swiss research agency, m1nd-set, luxury, brands retailers and travel and tourism operators have responded to the seismic shift in consumer mindset, to adapt their product and service offering to the new consumer mindset, which is increasingly more socially and environmentally conscious since the pandemic.

With companies fundamentally changing the way they source, manufacture and package product or reposition their products and services, travel retail is also having to adapt to stay in line with consumer expectations. A focal point of m1nd-set’s research is how post-pandemic luxury goods shoppers have changed their behaviour when travelling and shopping.

One of the key trends highlighted in the report is the growing demand among some luxury consumer segments for luxury travel experiences over luxury products. These consumers are seeking less ostentation and more emotional and spiritual experiences, which is leading to growth in the luxury health and wellness sector. Respect towards the environment and immersion in nature are also important aspects of these travel sustainable luxury experiences.

On travel retail shopper behaviour among luxury shoppers specifically, the research reveals the preferred categories among luxury shoppers and how their shopping behaviour in duty free has evolved since before the pandemic as well as in comparison to non-luxury shoppers. According to m1nd-set, luxury shoppers are particularly more interested than they were before the pandemic in finding different products from their usual luxury purchases and more sustainable packaging. 25% of luxury shoppers said they place importance on purchasing something different compared to 18% on average in the years from 2017 to 2020, and compared to 21% of non-luxury shoppers. 20% said they were more conscious about the product packaging in 2021 compared to only 11% on average in the years from 2017 to 2020, and compared to 17% of non-luxury shoppers.

In addition, the research shows that luxury shoppers are significantly more likely than non-luxury shoppers to purchase at least one unique duty-free exclusive product and more likely than they did before the pandemic too. 80% of shoppers said they would purchase a duty free exclusive, up 28% on the four-year average between 2017 and 2020 and 8% higher than among non-luxury shoppers. The interaction with, and impact of, sales staff on the purchase behaviour also reveals significant changes, particularly concerning the influence that sales staff are having on the product selection of luxury shoppers since the pandemic.

Commenting on the impact of the pandemic on shopping behaviours, Head of Business Development at m1nd-set, Anna Marchesini said: “Given the shift towards more responsible consumption and the shopping behaviour of luxury shoppers in travel retail, where we see consumers looking for more information on the products and services prior to purchasing, we believe there is a huge opportunity for brands. The most forward-thinking luxury brands in retail and in travel retail will sieve this opportunity to educate consumers about the unique history and sustainable attributes of their products or services. The world has changed and sustainability is no longer a choice, but a requirement.”

A “mad” summer as London Oxford Airport leads bizav bounce back

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Having just experienced its busiest August in 15 years, James Dillon-Godfray, London Oxford Airport’s Head of Business Development declared that after all the uncertainty of the last 12 months, “Summer has been mad,” at the business and general aviation hub. He was speaking during a networking event being held by the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) on Wednesday 29 September.

In August the airport saw its highest monthly movements (7,180) while in July it recorded its highest ever month in terms of fuel uplifts. The airport has exceeded pre-pandemic traffic levels and is currently experiencing 30% more movements than in 2019, both overall and in business aviation.

“Remarkably, our recovery, in percentage terms, climbed ahead of our London centric peer airports and we’ve been able to retain our position as the fifth busiest UK business aviation airport,” said Dillon-Godfray.

The airport has also climbed up in terms of its ranking for activity overall. Whilst pre-pandemic it was the 17th busiest airport in the UK, it has moved up and is currently the 10th busiest. It was also propelled into 59th position among Europe-wide airports this summer, handling more movements than many city airports including Lisbon, Stockholm and Copenhagen. “In March with UK airlines still crippled by restrictions, we found ourselves with the most unusual status – as the second busiest airport in the UK,” Dillon-Godfray added.

Set to exceed 7,500 movements in September alone, Dillon-Godfray also acknowledged that the majority of the traffic being served by the airport is by leisure passengers. Up until September, Nice led the list of a total 270 overseas destinations in terms of the most frequently flown to airport from Oxford, followed by Palma de Mallorca and Geneva. Meanwhile Mykonos and Athens in Greece saw the largest percentage growth this summer compared to 2020.

Charter growth

Movements over the summer have been further bolstered by a number of large group charters, operated in safe ‘bubbles’, all supported by pre-arranged on site COVID testing. Regular visitors through the airport’s OxfordJet FBO included customers flying to the Moto GP Italy and F1 Grand Prix, with Dillon-Godfray exclaiming “we’ve realised we’re part of Europe again!”

Professional pilot training has also seen an uptick at the airport with 37% more activity compared to 2019 levels. Leading Edge Aviation, which arrived in Oxford in early 2019, has grown its student intake to a 170-plus headcount. It was one of the first schools to re-open during the pandemic with students working in bubbles with their instructors.

Although London Oxford had to temporarily close the London Heliport (which it purchased in 2011) during the pandemic it has now reopened and helicopter traffic is picking up again. However, Dillon-Godfray did note that the lack of larger events until late summer has taken its toll on helicopter traffic and there has been a decline in those high net worth individuals who previously used to commute in from Oxford and the surrounding region to London via helicopter. However, the last five months have been much better than the same period in 2020 and ongoing expansion at Oxford has included the creation of seven new ICAO/ EASA/ CAA-compliant helipads.

Bright future

Elsewhere, expansion plans at the airport have seen the near completion of a 63,000 sq.ft. hangar (Hangar 15), which is part of a £12m 2021 spend. Featuring two bays, including rear offices, stores and workshops, capable of accommodating up to six of the largest Bombardier, Gulfstream, or Dassault Falcon jet models simultaneously, the new facility is due to open in October.

A new airport café partner focused on sustainable, locally sourced produce is also due to open in October and will offer inflight catering. Elsewhere, £1m has also been invested in a new fuel farm, which provides four times the previous capacity, holding 170,000 litres of Jet A-1. It also has the space for two extra 85,000 litre tanks one of which could be used to store sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

“We are keen to explore the introduction of SAF here,” as he acknowledged that supply, availability and demand is currently the big challenge. He does however expect this to improve in the coming years, “especially if we can encourage the big operators to take it and lead by example when it’s available.”

On the subject of sustainability, he also highlighted the need to “start exploring the infrastructure requirements for the the next-generation of hybrid-electric and eVTOL aircraft,” some of which he said “are just a few years away.” Four Pipistrel electric aircraft are planned to be based at the airport in 12 months time. Addressing the need to provide adequate power sources for battery charging, he revealed that plans are afoot to look at how the airport can generate its own renewable power with a bio power plant and large battery storage solutions.

In terms of commercial/ scheduled opportunities, Dillon-Godfray commented that there are no immediate plans to go down this route, but that possibly in the future the airport would be a convenient base for small electric aircraft offering domestic commuter services.

Other plans on the wishlist for 2022 and beyond include another hangar to mirror Hangar 15, a new fire station and ground handling ops centre, and new taxiway realignment (parallel to the north end of the runway).

And while Brexit has been a nightmare in terms of licensing, spares deliveries and EGNOS, Dillon-Godfray concluded that business is on the up and the future is looking bright at London Oxford.