The IATA AGM was preceded by an interesting panel discussion about the future of the Irish aviation sector. Chaired by David McWilliams, the high quality panel featured (pictured, L to R):
- Stephen Kavanagh, CEO, Aer Lingus
- Aengus Kelly, CEO, AerCap
- Kevin Toland, CEO, Dublin Airport Authority
- Eamonn Brennan, CEO, Irish Aviation Authority
- Conor McCarthy, Executive Chairman, Dublin Aerospace (MRO)
Of course, an event like this is never going to be anything other than a collective back-patting exercise, and that's fine, although the hordes of aviation and business journalists from around the world may have gone to bed seeing green. But, amid all the statistics about how wonderful Ireland is, there were some interesting words of wisdom.
Stephen Kavanagh, Aer Lingus: "If we didn't have Ryanair, we'd have to invent it. Competition has driven our growth. We've increased the scale of the business and our focus is on the guest experience, price and managing costs. We need to have efficient short-haul services, creating an opportunity to flow traffic through Dublin and onto our long-haul services. On oil, we need to be careful of complacency with low prices. Oil constitutes up to 30% of the cost of operating an aircraft. Brexit would not be good, but the message is to always look for opportunity. Aer Lingus management teams are focused on generating a 15% return on capital invested." On the increasing stake in IAG held by Qatar Airways, Stephen was optimistic. "It's an advantage to us to look east and plug into Qatar Airways's network. We can connect to Qatar's hub, our metal or theirs." But he wouldn't be drawn on when network integration might happen.
Aengus Kelly, AerCap: "There is a great opportunity to continue to build this industry in Ireland. We need to portray ourselves as a centre of excellence. To win in a global business, you've got to be the best. We need to develop an ecosystem around the aviation business. Every 15 years, the number of people flying doubles, and that will continue. A low interest rate environment, as we have now, can lead to poor investment decisions. Margins are not yet under pressure. The Middle East market is a growing market for AerCap, which also sees emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Turkey as having strong growth potential."
Kevin Toland, Dublin Airport Authority: "1 in 5 passengers coming through Dublin Airport use it as a gateway. We have the unique advantage of US Immigration on site, which can save hours on arrival in the US."
Eamonn Brennan, Irish Aviation Authority: "The Government is very supportive of aviation. The IAA supports moves by Norwegian (NAI) to set up a new model of long-haul, trans-Atlantic LCC, registered in Ireland. The US authorities haven't issued a license yet. We don't impede competition, we encourage it." And, talking about aviation safety and security, Eamonn said: "Everybody in the chain has responsibility for safety and security."
Conor McCarthy, Dublin Aerospace: "We felt that there was a way of unlocking competitiveness here, if we work smarter and harder."
The issue of security came up, and is sure to be a hot topic at the IATA talks. There was general agreement among the panel for profiling to be used to reduce the inconveniences around security for people who are clearly no threat to anyone. If you have to wait in line for hours, maybe you're in favour of profiling? It was felt that IATA could have a role in reducing the impact of security checks on airline passengers, perhaps by developing something like the US Trusted Traveler programmes.
The discussion was a greener microcosm of the overall IATA AGM event, where there's really just one story: Aviation is profitable and there's room for more growth. Long may it last!
US Trusted Traveler programmes: https://www.dhs.gov/trusted-traveler-programs
IATA AGM Newsroom: http://ht.ly/vs2X300NORS