The airport business is experiencing unprecedented change. The world’s airlines are undergoing global liberalization and consolidation and competition between airports is increasing. Tremendous investment programs are required simply to keep pace with the projected growth in air travel demand, while governments are reducing their funding for airport projects. These factors are laterally changing the face of the world’s airports. Today, only an estimated 2 percent of the world’s commercial airports are genuinely managed of owned by the private sector. However an expanded private sector role is inevitable. Its evolution is seen in varying stages around the world, in opening up ground handling to additional competition, outsourcing activities such as facility management, developing long-term management contracts, initiating public/private joint ventures. Build Operate Transfer (BOT) project financing, and in the case of a few airports so far, outright equity offerings.
Most significantly, a new industry is emerging, in which specialized airport management companies acquire and manage multiple airports networks. I believe that the majority of the world’s international airports outside of the United States will be controlled by a handful of these specialized companies within 10 years and dramatically altering the competitive landscape.
The stakes are enormous. Transactions required for large airport acquisitions can average more than $1 billion and could occur a tremendous risk, with concomitant potential reward. New airport transactions are proceeding at an unprecedented pace and so far no major transaction has failed. New players are entering the global airport management market, driving the stakes and risks even higher. As with any major new products, however, the window of exceptional opportunity lasts a limited time, as forward-thinking business leaders claim their stakes across a new airport management value chain.
Current Airport Management Issues
Feet on the Ground
More sophisticated and efficient systems for tracking and handling aircraft are needed. AIRNET believes that this is the only way for airports to maintain their existing safety levels. Human error, bad weather and ineffective ground radar can all have serious consequences for airport safety, increasing the risk of an accident. However, new complementary airport safety systems promise to prevent such incidents in the future. "New safety systems under development will improve the safety of passengers end ensure the efficiency of airport operations." "Though technology has come a long way towards improving airport safety, current systems using ground radar or cameras to detect aircraft and other vehicles suffer from deficiencies," says Haibin Gao, a researcher at Saarland University in Germany. New, more efficient and more accurate systems are needed to prevent accidents, especially as the world's skies and airports buzz with an ever-increasing number of commercial and private aircraft. Saving lives is the central goal of safety improvements, but there are also significant economic benefits. Reducing the number of near misses between planes, and between planes and ground vehicles – thousands of which occur worldwide each year – would save airlines and airport operators billions of euros in lost efficiency. By being able to pinpoint the exact location and course of an aircraft or vehicle, airports would be able to maintain current capacity even during periods of poor visibility. AN ALTERNATIVE TO GROUND RADAR?
So what are these technologies, and just how much will they improve safety? "They are all very innovative and they are likely to have a vast impact on the future of air traffic control at airports," says Gao, who is developing magnetic sensors to detect and track aircraft in the IST project ISMAEL. "They could even be a cheap alternative to ground radar." Two IST projects...