Not Your Dad's Aviation Biz

Having just completed my fourth decade in the aviation industry, I would like to offer some insights that I've gleaned while shuttling from jetway to boardroom.

Ticketing is also changing. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), almost one out of every two airline tickets issued is electronic. With electronic tickets costing $1 to issue and paper tickets costing $10, IATA estimates that the industry could save more than $3 billion by phasing out paper. And they expect paper tickets to disappear completely by 2007.

Anyone who has been to an airport recently has seen the progress the TSA is making in terms of speed and security. Recognizing that terror is not a static concern, TSA continues to enhance security through innovation. From cargo testing to puffer machines to explosive-detection tests for carry-on luggage to getting large detection equipment out of the lobby, the TSA is working to heighten security and throughput at the same time.

Airlines have shifted their paradigm as well. For example, fuel has traditionally been just a routine cost, a figure that had to be factored in and paid. Now they're treating it as an expense that must be managed, like any other variable expense.

Airlines are developing strategic energy plans for incorporation into their operating and business plans. They are also considering alternative fuels for support vehicles, and a host of other advanced strategies to optimize efficiency. And while they're working hard to reduce costs, airports and airlines are also seeking new ways of generating revenue.

More and more airports are following the British Airports Authority model of the airport as mall, bringing high-quality retail outlets to airports to attract nonflying consumers. There's a renewed emphasis around the world on revenue-generating commercial activity. Both Italian and British airports boast new levels of indoor and outdoor airport advertisements that add revenue. Because of that added value, airports here are considering the same approach. But the strategies do not begin and end with the customer interface.

More and more airports are seeking nontraditional ways of delivering their construction projects, exploring such options as design-build, guaranteed maximum price (GMP) projects, and other public-private partnerships. As recently as ten or 20 years ago, these protocols were rarely even considered.

Airports are also going through a process of self-examination to discover potential revenue streams that are inherent to their physical design. At DFW International Airport, they're planning the exploration of a gas well on the airport grounds. Once in place, DFW projects this will be one of its highest sources of revenue. A few U.S. airports like Denver and Tulsa already have oil or gas wells and generate millions of dollars each year in revenue.

Some airports now boast golf courses on their grounds. You can find them in Fiji, Auckland, and Abu Dhabi. For whatever reason, golfers do not seem to mind jet noise as much as homeowners do . . .

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Having watched the world of aviation evolve over a number of years, I would say that one overriding theme is emerging. Everyone involved in the industry, from operations to maintenance to security to support, seems to be asking the same question: How can we do it better? After 40 years in the aviation industry, I've got to say that is one of the most hopeful and inspiring developments I've seen.

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