A Re-appreciation of the World’s Airports

Marnix (Max) Groot by Marnix (Max) Groot | Feb 2, 2023

Cover photo: Solar Panels on the roof of Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. CREDIT: Hawaii Department of Transportation

Bouncing back

Over a year ago, in November 2021, I had the pleasure to write a guest blog article for ACI. In it, I reflected on the predicament the industry and the world found itself in. I wrote: “The genie of widely available air travel is out of the bottle and is here to stay. People will adjust, carry on, and take back to the skies. And airports will do what they have always done, adapt and go with the times.”

Regarding the first part of the statement, that certainly proved to be the case! And it happened faster than most forecasts predicted. In many parts of the world, aircraft movements has returned to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. In some markets, like Spain and Greece, traffic is back at 2019 levels or has even surpassed it.

A paradigm shift

Regarding the latter part of the statement, this also certainly holds true. As the Managing Editor of the Momberger Airport Information, I have seen the dramatic increase in stories about airports deploying initiatives to decarbonize, a development that was well underway before the pandemic, but which has definitely accelerated in the last two years.

Solar panels on top of the roof of New York LaGuardia’s parking new parking garage. CREDIT: Forefront Power

An increasingly challenging climate

Despite all the great work that is being done, it cannot be denied that the sector finds itself increasingly being scrutinized, especially in Western Europe. There, the expansion of airport infrastructure has become increasingly controversial.

As an airport historian, I know that protests against airport expansion are not new. I recollect the protests against Frankfurt’s “Startbahn West” in the early 1980s and the protests against Manchester’s second runway in the 1990s. However, these protests were always driven by small, militant environmental movements.

Nowadays, the group of vocal critics is much larger, and even includes mainstream political parties. And the sentiment has spread to traditionally aviation minded countries, such as my native country, the Netherlands.

Traditionally, both KLM and Amsterdam Schiphol have been great sources of national pride for the Dutch. Together with the port of Rotterdam, Schiphol Airport and its global air connections have enabled the Netherlands, a tiny country without natural resources, to become the 15th largest economy in the world. However, the government has now capped the airport’s capacity. It has also held up the opening of a reliever airport which has long stood completed.

In most countries around the world, there is still broad support for the responsible growth of aviation and airports, but it cannot be denied that aviation is increasingly under the gun. This is partially justified. Partially it is not. For example, because of the visibility of our sector, some people erroneously regard aviation as the most important source of greenhouse gasses, while the opposite is true. Also, some see flying as a symbol of conspicuous consumption and a waste of resources, rather than a positive phenomenon, that connects countries, cultures and people.

A communications challenge

People need to reappreciate that airports are gateways to the world that bring great opportunities for national and regional development, not to mention direct and indirect employment. Indeed, the aviation sector has traditionally somewhat struggled at explaining itself, rather focusing on letting the amazing achievements speak for themselves. However admirable that attitude is, the sector will have to engage more, both with politicians and the broader public. I play my very tiny, insignificant part by educating people through AirportHistory.org.

Airport time capsules in the ACI World Airport Traffic Report

The Time Capsules in the latest World Air Traffic Report  (WATR) contain several great examples of airports that transformed the communities they serve: opened in 1981, Singapore’s Changi Airport has enabled Singapore to become one of the world’s preeminent business and commercial centres.

The fact that Nairobi boasted one of Africa’s most modern airports in the 1970s, was instrumental in the city becoming an international hub for NGOs. It also allowed tourism as well the export of flowers, two of the country’s economic pillars, to flourish.

Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport enables Kenya to efficiently welcome millions of tourists each year and export tea, coffee, flowers, and vegetables, to all corners of the world. CREDIT: Swissport

Lastly, the excellent facilities offered at Panama’s Tocumen Airport has enabled the small country to become a business hub for Latin America, while the airport itself has become one of the primary gateways connecting North and South America.

Panama’s Tocumen Airport enabled the country to develop into one of Latin America’s primary commercial and transportation hubs. CREDIT: Tocumen Airport

We hope that this years’ time capsules—which contain some very rare photos—can once again help you and others marvel at the history of the world’s great airports and appreciate everything that has been achieved, and what is yet to be achieved!

Marnix (Max) Groot

Marnix (Max) Groot

Airport Development Expert
Marnix Groot (Netherlands, 1975) is a passionate airport development expert with 18 years of experience as an airport advisor working on projects related to master planning, terminal planning, commercial development, air service development, business planning, strategy, privatization, and organizational restructuring. Marnix is editor at the Momberger Airport Information—the world’s oldest airport newsletter—where he reports on airport expansion projects around the world. He is also Founder and Editor of AirportHistory.org, an authoritative online publication, which chronicles the development history of the world’s airports. Lastly, Marnix instructs and lectures in the areas of airport (historic) development. Marnix has previously worked for IATA, Lufthansa Consulting, NACO Netherlands Airport Consultants, Royal Schiphol Group, Transavia Airlines, Dutch Air Traffic Control and KLM Cargo.
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