A Unified Voice For Australian Airports
Originally founded by a group of regional airport operators and councils from across Australia, the Australian Airports Association has been in operation for over 30 years. The association was formed with the intention of creating a single, unified voice for all airports in Australia, not only to advocate for the interests of said airports at state and federal level, but also, more importantly, to share the industry’s wealth of technical information within itself, and ensure that every member is educated on the key issues facing the country’s airports. The AAA has experienced significant expansion since its establishment, most notably over the last 15 years. They now represent all 260 of Australia’s regular passenger transport airports with domestic service, ranging from grass strip airports for bank plane and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, all the way up to the likes of the Sydney and Melbourne Airports. The presence and reach of the AAA has increased rapidly over the past three years, with the group’s move to an office in Canberra, the growth of the staff from two to six, and their corporate membership now reaching approximately 100 organisations, supporting the industry through the provision of goods and services.
The association delivers services in a number of different areas, most notably in policy and advocacy. The AAA represents the industry within key government agencies, including the Office of Transport Security, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Air Services Australia, and the Department of Infrastructure. “There’s quite a wide variety of groups in which we represent the industry on key decision-making bodies,” says CEO Caroline Wilkie, “We also respond on behalf of the industry when they issue requests for submissions and industry feedback.” If there are pending government decisions on funding or regulation, the AAA is there as a voice at both the state and federal level. A second area of focus for the AAA is their member working groups. “We have around 10 member working groups,” says Caroline, “Each of those groups helps to establish a framework, so a large number of those are about sharing technical information amongst the industry. We’ve developed templates, information, websites, and apps to deliver information to the industry.” Later this year, the AAA will be launching regional airport master plan templates, in order to help encourage regional airports to think about how they plan for the future. Another area critical to the AAA moving forward is the education of those within their industry. The group has successfully applied to the Federally-run National Workforce Development Fund for the second time, achieving subsidised training for airport reporting offices. “We now have trained about 130 employees, and we have another round of that training beginning this year,” Wilkie says. “Education is very important, and it’s an area that we’ll be growing on in the future.”
The AAA wants to ensure safety within the airport industry through a positive engagement between CASA and their sector. Through such an engagement, the association will advocate to make sure that the rules and regulations are the best possible framework for the industry. The AAA is involved with CASA in a number of their working groups, and they are also contributing to a review currently underway at CASA and the ATSC. Another major priority for AAA is security. “We have both a regional and major airport security working group, and both of those groups are engaging with the Office of Transport Security on ways in which we can improve the process, and potentially decrease some of the onerous and expensive regulation in the sector,” Caroline says.
Safety for the AAA is split into two areas; safe practices on the airfield, and general workplace health and safety. “That’s a critical issue for our industry as a whole,” says Caroline. “One of our main drivers is to ensure a safe industry for everyone.” Groups such as the Australian Ground Safety Council are also currently undertaking a number of new safety initiatives. As well, a new group of airport operators have joined together to evaluate and improve workplace health and safety, and the AAA is potentially looking to partner with them later in the year to run a national airport safety week.
Relationships are a critical factor in achieving positive outcomes for the airport sector. The AAA runs a networking system for their membership, as well as two division meetings in each state every year, which are each attended by over 200 members. The association also holds one major national conference, with an expected 2014 turnout of approximately 600 people. “We make sure for both of those events that all of our key stakeholders from agencies are also involved in that process,” Wilkie explains, “so CASA, Air Services, the Department of Infrastructure, state infrastructure and planning bodies and transport bodies, they’re all invited to participate in these events, so we make sure that we have a cohesive industry.”
The AAA’s national conference is unique in that it is the largest annual aviation event in Australia. “We have quite a large exhibition of goods and services for the industry,” says Caroline, “but most importantly we bring together people who often can’t get away from their airport for a variety of reasons. We have airport managers who are the only people working at the airport, or they’re very short staffed.” The event brings with it a very important networking component, but it also plays a very key role in the education of the industry. The conference has a number of streams for various big-picture issues, such as education, commercial interests, regional concerns, and technical subjects. “We drive a lot of sales for the industry through that event, but also raising the profile of the industry as a whole is a key part of it as well.”
The AAA uses traditional media methods, networking sites such as LinkedIn, and their own website. “We are just in the process of preparing a new one at the moment,” Wilkie says. Through their new website, the AAA is considering running webinars for the industry. “We can combine that with education, and people can log on and get those benefits. I’m very concerned that a number of our members will not have the budget to go to national conferences. We need to offer something for them as well.” The AAA also publishes a weekly e-newsletter, called the Airport Alert, which goes out to 850 people in the industry. “Through that, we promote businesses, works, advocacy events, news, changes in jobs, and advertised jobs,” says Caroline. “It’s a great way to keep everyone connected.”
Security and safety are the two main areas of focus for the AAA in the coming year. “I think we’re in a very good position with the federal government, with a focus on red tape reduction,” Caroline says. “We need to grab the bull by the horns and make an effort to show the government some really effective ways that we can reduce red tape, maintain safety, and try and reduce costs for the industry.” The AAA is very conscious of the costs associated with the industry, and the need to reduce some of those costs, particularly in security. “That is very much at the front of our mind for this year.”
Caroline became AAA’s CEO in October of 2010. Since then, the association has seen a number of dramatic changes, most notably their expansion from two staff members to six. “It’s incredibly exciting,” she says, “and has meant that we can deliver even more for our membership. My passion is about looking towards the future of the industry, so how we’re going to encourage people to join our industry, how we’re going to keep them and show them that there’s a pathway, and how we’re going to share the knowledge of the many great people who will be leaving our industry in the coming years.” A member survey that the AAA carried out last year showed that over 20% of their members were over 60 years old, and a majority were over 45. “That means that we’ve got great knowledge in our industry, but it’s a real risk in the future, when these people eventually retire from the sector.” Above all else, Caroline’s personal focus is education, and increasing education opportunities for AAA’s members to get them ahead, such as the mentoring program the association is launching this year, which will deliver great dividends for the industry.