Q&A: in conversation with new ACI director-general Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Ilaria Grasso Macola 21 July 2020 (Last Updated July 21st, 2020 09:53)

We meet the Airport Council International (ACI)new director-general Luis Felipe de Oliveira to talk about ACI, the current pandemic and the future of the organisation post-Covid.

Q&A: in conversation with  new ACI  director-general Luis Felipe de Oliveira
ACI new director-general Luis Felipe de Oliveira. Credit: Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

On June 30, Angela Gittens stepped down after 12 years as director-general of the Airports Council International, one of the aviation sector’s most respected NGOs.

In her place, the role was filled by Luis Felipe de Oliveira, the former executive director at ALTA, the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association.

We spoke to him about why he chose ACI and what he wants to achieve during his tenure.

Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): For those who don’t know, what is your background?

Luis Felipe de Oliveira (LO): I’m a chemical engineer by university degree and I started working at Shell’s aviation sector for 12 years.

At Shell, I have worked on all areas of aviation, from general aviation business operations at the airports to global customers and lubricants.

In the meantime, I did a postgraduate degree in finance, an MBA and a post-MBA in branding and government relations.

From there I moved to IATA, spending ten years. After working in an oil company, I went to ALTA, where I was an executive director, running the airline association for Latin American and the Caribbean.

IGM: Why did you decide to move to ACI?

LO: Even though I’m not an airport guy, I have a big balance between business in the private sector and the not-for-profit sector, as I have run both businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

When the job opportunity presented itself, I realised that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because ACI is a global organisation with a strong brand and strong services.

The good part of this job is that there are a lot of areas in which I can help ACI to grow, especially in these difficult times. On the other hand, I still have a lot to learn. This is what attracted me to the post.

IGM: As a newly instated director-general what are your first orders of business?

LO: We are in a completely different world, compared to when I accepted the job and first visited ACI. Things have slightly changed, because of the whole market situation – that’s why our plans changed a bit.

The first thing we need to do is take certain decisions in terms of cost-cutting, cost-reduction and redirecting the plan a little bit. We are focusing now on resizing and rethinking our strategy, starting to plan a Vision 2025 to show where we’re heading in the future.

We’re planning a lot in terms of diversifying our sources of revenue, while improving our participation as an industry leader association, not only as an airport association.

As we need to invest a lot of ideas, both in terms of new technologies and to be more aligned and work together with airlines, governments, ICAO and other organisations.

IGM: What is your vision for ACI and what do you want to accomplish during your tenure?

LO: The vision is to turn ACI into an organisation that is leader not only in airport matters but an industry leader in terms of everything that you do by integrating in our discussions other key members of the industry.

As airports and businesses around it provide 60% of aviation jobs worldwide, working together with the whole community is one of my targets.

Another point will be sustainability and the environment, focusing on how to connect and support airlines and our businesses in a carbon-neutral world. Turning the aviation business contactless, improving our passengers’ experience and safety will be fundamental.

IGM: In your opinion, just how badly was the sector impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic?

LO: I think we hit the bottom in May, as we reached -96% of operations worldwide, having a heavy impact on the economy of airports. This year, we are expecting to have less than 50% of the passengers, compared to 2019, depending on the development of coronavirus and public perception.

On the economic side, we are reaching between -57% and -58% of revenues. That is a huge impact, as we’re talking about $97bn in revenue which we won’t recover fast.

We expect to recover 80% of passengers by next year and we expect to grow at the end of 2022, taking more than two years to go back to pre-Covid levels.

IGM: what does a post-Covid future look like?

LO: The same as with 9/11, we have a long time to recover, and the security standards at airports will increase a lot. Right now, our main concern is the health of our passengers and of our employees.

We need to ensure the public opinion that we are taking all the measures and that their flights will be safe if they follow procedures.

Given that most of these procedures implemented now are basic hygiene, as airport we will take measures inside of our buildings to generate a healthy environment for passengers.

IGM: Is there a way for the industry to protect itself from a second wave of coronavirus or any future pandemics?

LO: I think that was the learning process for us when we discussed internally with ICAO and IATA. I think we didn’t take the opportunity to learn more from SARS or swine flu and create a global process to help face the pandemic.

And that is one of the reasons why it took longer to react because each government was taking a decision by itself without having a harmonised decision. If we have to face another pandemic, we will be more prepared, as we have CART, a live document that we can improve as we speak fostering improvements according to the developments we see in the market.

We already have the procedures but we need to have strong cooperation from all the governments. Measures such as safe corridors need to be aligned in the event of a second wave of coronavirus.

IGM: What will be ACI’s role in a post-Covid world?

LO: I would like ACI to be like a more industry-related association, not only in the advocacy and support but also within the industry.

Some of the solutions discussed, including security or equipment, come from the industry so we need to be much more involved with the whole industry. In a post-Covid world, you will see an association that is more linked to the industry, rather than only focus on advocacy.