Photos courtesy of Athens International Airport.
ommercial development adjacent to airports is a given, but airport cities don't just happen. The difference is a shared vision of transforming an area's key air passenger and cargo infrastructure into an economic engine comparable to the metro area it serves.
Greenfield airports, such as the Panama City/Bay County International Airport now under construction in northwest Florida (see the Florida Spotlight on page 210), represent opportunities to build an airport city from scratch. But existing airports with room to grow and a common appreciation of the benefits of carefully planned, multifaceted development among key public and private stakeholders are also candidates for airport city development. A case in point is Athens International Airport (AIA), which will host the annual Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition April 27th to 29th (www.airportconference.com)
Dr. Yiannis Paraschis
is AIA's CEO and president of ACI-Europe, the European arm of Airports Council International, a worldwide association of airport operators. Dr. Paraschis explains in an interview with Editor in Chief Mark Arend
his plan to elevate AIA to the ranks of the world's leading airport cities.-
Site Selection: What is your preferred definition of the "airport city"? Is it a natural occurrence, or must it be planned and implemented?
Term-wise, an "airport city" reflects the transformation of an airport's conventional image from just an off-city mode for transportation, to a destination in its own right for business, shopping and leisure, contributing to the overall prosperity of the airport and also the adjoining communities, while additionally acting as a catalyst for boosting employment and rising land value.
Dr. Yiannis Paraschis, AIA CEO and president of ACI-Europe
In this frame, though international airports, due to their excellent access and infrastructure networking, could be considered as national or regional business hubs, an airport city does not happen as a natural occurrence, but its implementation entails the execution of an inspired and well-planned development program by an airport company.
SS: What will be the signature characteristic of AIA's airport city?
We intend for Athens International Airport's "Polis" (meaning "city" in Greek) to be a model development whose functionality and magnitude will inspire and motivate other medium-sized European airports. Pursuing our vision, the Athens airport city brings us in line with the classical ancient Greek concept of "human scale," offering services and state-of-the-art facilities in an attractive business environment, in line with our aviation business and our institutional framework.
SS: What is the background of Athens' airport city initiative? What were the driving forces behind it?
Well before the airport opened, the airport company identified the business opportunities of the non-aeronautical activities, therefore redesigning its commercial space within the terminals, while actively pursuing the exploitation of its real estate assets. AIA believed that this approach would shield the company from a large dependency on aeronautical activities, offering therefore a balanced portfolio of revenue streams. Therefore, non-aeronautical activities have become an integral part of Athens International Airport's strategy and a key contributor to its profitability, accounting for 40 percent of total revenues and 65 percent of profit before tax. Our commitment for raising non-aeronautical revenues through successful projects is a very strong driver for us.
SS: Who is leading the effort? What are the critical components of the project team bringing it about?
AIA's Property Development Department, consisting of a well-trained, experienced and dedicated team, has been leading this effort since the airport's opening. Our team is continuously reviewing the international trends while at the same time monitoring the local market's needs. We contact potential investors/developers or end-users and proceed in tenders based on the development of a specific land plot and a predetermined use (such as retail or exhibition & conference) aiming to assess – among binding offers – the most favorable business case. Evidently, our selected business partners are capable of guaranteeing operational efficiency and high returns on investment.
SS: How will the Athens International Airport area be more competitive as a location for industry when this effort is complete?
In its own right, developing an airport city is a building-by-time experience, not necessarily subject to completion time limits. In Athens, at any stage of our development program, we seek a prominent role within the aviation industry and especially within the southeastern European environment. Already we have achieved significant developments within our airport city vision. Besides our airport hotel and office and cargo facilities, we have developed a very successful Retail Park, and in January a state-of-the-art Exhibition Centre launched operation. These projects already serve as attraction poles for business or leisure for audiences linked directly or indirectly to the aviation industry, placing us in the global family of airport cities.
SS: Are you following the example of other airport cities, or is this effort unique?
Capacity is one of four challenges facing the European members of Airports Council International.
In our planning and strategy, major hubs like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Dallas, among others, have been inspiring to us due to their commitment to non-aeronautical development programs. We work proudly toward adding our "Athens Story" to the list of inspiring models for small and medium-size European airports.
SS: What are your priorities as president of ACI-Europe?
During the past two years, we have identified and focused on four major challenges that have to be addressed if we are to deliver the cost-effective and environmentally responsible aviation system the Continent will need for the 21st century. European airports will have to address these challenges while maintaining a non-negotiable, high level of safety in all daily operations. In a nutshell, these are the capacity challenge, as demand is expected to double by 2020; the connectivity challenge, mainly focusing on the liberalization of air services at the EU level; the environmental challenge – better protecting society at the local, national and international level; and the security challenge, making traveling a comfortable, secure experience.
SS: How will airports' role evolve as a driver of economic development over the next five to 10 years?
What we knew 20 years ago about European airports, for example, has changed. Like the Continent, its airports are changing, from pure infrastructure providers dependent on public finances to today's diversified and complex businesses, increasingly independent and self-financed, setting also the agenda for local economies and communities. Modern-era airports are increasingly efficient at generating revenues from commercial activities, which currently account for an average of 47 percent of airport operating revenues in Europe.
They are also becoming autonomous communities in their own right, acting as social and economic catalysts for long-term business development by creating a business platform for enterprises and by becoming major direct and indirect employment generators. Examples like Paris Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle Airport (90,000 direct jobs on and around the airport site and 270,000 indirect or inferred jobs), Amsterdam-Schiphol or Athens International Airport (accounting for nearly 2 percent of GDP) are indicative, setting the course for the next five to 10 years. We expect many airport organizations to similarly develop.
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