The aviation industry has evolved considerably over the last four decades. Airport sponsors as well as airport related businesses are evolving to meet changing passenger demand and build brand recognition around the passenger experience. Airports are the infrastructure where providers of aviation related services (the sellers) meet the users of aviation related services (the buyers); hence an airport is a specialized market. These specialized services, along with safety and regulatory requirements, have increased the need for experienced, professional management across all segments of airport operations.
Understanding the essence of airport management
The key aspects of airport management revolve around operating the functional areas of an airport. Some of these are more obvious than others, but essential aspects of airport operations are maintaining and operating the key infrastructure (e.g. runways, taxiways, terminals, roadways, parking lots, etc.), communicating with various key constituencies (flight crews of aircraft using the airport, passengers, service providers, etc.), and providing safety and security for these operations. The size and scope of these requirements will vary considerably with airport size and function. Airports which are certified under FAR Part 139 to conduct commercial operations have much different standards in areas such as safety and security than general aviation airports. The amount of airport staff to manage and conduct these operations will also vary significantly by airport size. At an international airport a large staff will be in place to accomplish all of the airport’s requirements; at a regional general aviation airport some of the tasks may be outsourced to service providers (tenants) located on the airport.
Understanding the needs
While airport management is a broad term, the services and service providers do intersect each other at different points. An external professional management company may offer ground handling; Fixed Base Operator (FBO); Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and Aircraft Charter and Management (ACM) services, depending on experience and permissions. They may also perform many of the core airport functions such as grounds and facility maintenance, documenting airport operations and collecting various airport fees, and making required FAA filings.
Any institutional aviation asset manager or airport sponsor who is seeking professional management should closely review the experience and capabilities of the companies they are considering using for airport management.