Asia-Pacific Air Transport Leaders Warn of Congestion Crisis

 - October 25, 2017, 9:30 AM

The overcrowding of airports and runways and the lack of forward planning by governments is steering the aviation industry in the Asia-Pacific region into an infrastructure crisis, according to delegates at the October 24 to 25 Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) Assembly of Presidents in Taipei.

Such hubs as Singapore and Seoul have made provisions to increase handling capacity; crews have completed construction of Incheon’s new Terminal 2, which will house Korean Air and other Sky Team Airlines starting next year. However, Southeast Asia hosts some of the world’s busiest routes, such as Bangkok–Hong Kong and Singapore-Jakarta, most of which at least five carriers serve.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Alexandre de Juniac highlighted that airports such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila desperately need upgrades, and despite the speed at which China has built airports, that country’s air traffic management can’t keep pace with the growth.

“I believe that we are headed for an infrastructural crisis everywhere in the world that can be averted only with strong coordinated efforts to address deficiencies,” said de Juniac. “We must remind our governments of basic infrastructural needs, sufficient capacity and technology in line with our developments and affordability.”

He noted that many governments see privatization as a solution to gain revenue and funds, but airports perform better, he said, under public hands.

“We have seen disappointing experiences with airport privatization,” explained de Juniac. “The primary focus of airports is to support local prosperity as an economic catalyst...in private hands, shareholder returns are top priority and we have seen cost increases in privatized airports like Paris and Sydney. We need robust regulation to balance private and national interests, and we have not seen any long-term success story.”

With the number of aircraft expected to increase dramatically in the world's largest aviation market, de Juniac also hopes to see better regional cooperation in the area of air traffic management (ATM).

AAPA passed six resolutions during the assembly, perhaps chief among them a call for governments to think beyond national borders and commit to development and implementation of enhanced Asia-Pacific traffic flow management systems. It also called for the use of slots in an independent, fair and non-discriminatory manner.

“It is not also about the introduction of new technology but [about] changing operational procedures,” said AAPA director general Andrew Herdman, adding that ATM modernization must extend beyond the purview of individual states. Herdman called for an integrated management of airspace and flow control across the region, with distributed decision-making and responsibilities. “Unlike a centralized flow control in Europe, Asia is a different mechanism and is more complex,” he said. “You have to overlay that with individual institutional arrangements and operational practices to deliver the results.”

Herdman said that with airports now operating close to full capacity and systems congested, any additional pressure and disruption to the current system such as a typhoon would cascade and degrade performance, which could lead to events like flight cancellations.

He also noted that a lack of slots and congested airspace could hamper the creation of expanded traffic rights through the new ASEAN Open Skies policy.