This was Bahrain Airshow's first conference and it was a little different to others. Instead of days of talking around various issues, the organisers condensed everything into just two focused panel discussions. This attracted several big hitters from the industry as well as delivering an engaged audience and some interesting debate about the challenges and opportunities facing the growing aviation sector.
The sessions were ably moderated by Alan Peaford, Editor-in-Chief and seasoned aviation observer from Arabian Aerospace. In the first session, some rather direct questioning challenged representatives from Qatar Airways, Air Arabia, Lufthansa, FlyNas and Kuwait Airways across a broad range of issues. Tamur Goudarzi-Pour from Lufthansa quickly realised why he had been invited as he worked hard to fend off challenges from other panellists, in particular Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways and well known for his views on the 'anti-competitive' claims from some of the big European and US airlines. Even so, there was some consensus. All agreed that aviation is key to the economy; that the market would continue to grow and that there is room for several airline models. Whilst not wanting oil at $100 a barrel again, all conceded that the price was too low. Yes, it's enabling airlines to improve their balance sheets in the short term, but the resultant drop in global economic activity would have an inevitable impact on demand for air travel – a bigger worry. They also highlighted that airport infrastructure and airspace capacity are rapidly becoming a constraint to further growth, this helpfully provided a link to the next panel discussion.
The second panel comprised representatives from airports, ANS, industry and training organisations… and me. Airspace was the first topic. Ahmed Al Jallaf highlighted what the UAE was doing, but the focus of the discussion was about the regional initiatives, specifically ICAO's MAEP and the GCC UFIR project, which Helios is working on. These initiatives involve a wide range of stakeholders, including the military and, if combined with the planned airspace restructuring projects in various Gulf States, have the potential to make a real difference to capacity. Airports were also questioned about how they could keep up with demand and provide the level of service that customers now expected. Bahrain gave a good account of its current expansion plans and others explained the challenges of operating airports in the region. It was agreed that good design and effective processes were key. Of course, none of this growth is possible without skilled people. This remains a concern for the industry globally but is a particular challenge in this region. The recent elevation of ICAO's NGAP (Next Generation Aviation Professionals) from a task force to a fully-fledged ICAO programme will give it higher visibility and improved resourcing. A step in the right direction.
So no real conclusions, but a good airing of the issues and important consensus, not only that collaboration is essential (that in itself is nothing new) but that we are now seeing evidence of it actually happening.
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