The future starts now: A transformative approach to creating the airport of the future

Joanna Kufedjian by Joanna Kufedjian | Apr 15, 2019

Keynote address by Dr. Amy Zalman, CEO, Prescient

International business conditions are on the cusp of radical change and it’s clear that the future will not look like the past. However, when technologies such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies and robots, meet macro-changes in demographics, geopolitics and the climate, no one will be able to predict what it will look like. Dr. Amy Zalman, CEO of Prescient gave the keynote address on day 2 of the conference, sharing how thinking like a futurist can help business leaders plan in uncertain and complex conditions.

The Christopher Columbus problem

Amy began with a simple comparison: In 1492, when Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain towards what he thought was Asia, he faced the same problem that aviation leaders face today. Anyone seeking to understand and explore worlds that are distant, whether in space or in time, is usually informed by inherited images of the way the world is. Columbus worked from a set of assumptions that preceded him, which made it difficult for him to interpret correctly the signs that he was not headed west towards Asia, but rather east, across the Atlantic. This, of course, is the challenge for aviation stakeholders seeking to see into the future. 

She went on to explain that, as today’s airport is the product of industrial-age assumptions, the airport is largely defined as “a transitional space, an in-between space, a no-mans land between air-side and land-side.” Most of us can envision radical and innovative ideas about the future, but Amy states that taking them into the C-Suite, strategic planning and resource is not so easy for large, established companies.  

What if the international order changes?

The signs are there, all you need to do is look. Amy posed some very interesting questions for aviation stakeholders to consider:

  • How would the airport manage flows of travellers if they were not marked as citizens of a particular country?
  • What would the airport become, if it is no longer a border crossing? 
  • What opportunities does that open up?
  • What kinds of new risks emerge?

With urban air mobility becoming a reality, airport leaders need to have a closer look at the integration of air travel into the urban fabric. New possibilities and expectations will take shape in the eye of the traveller about the current role of airports as gateways to more distant travel.

BOKA Powell

Furthermore, Amy emphasized that airport leaders should consider that the needs for space in an airport could change. This phenomenon has been happening in many other industries, citing the example that proponents of 3D Printing believe the end of traditional shipping is upon us. This could potentially affect the global movement of goods and bring forth scenarios under which the need for large scale air cargo could shrink. The question for airports and their management companies will be what to do with the extra space available, and how to plan ahead for this disruption.

The future does not exist

Amy boldly suggests that the future does not exist. Rather, it will be a product of the decisions that aviation stakeholders make today. It is possible for paradigms to change and for companies to both sustain operations and initiate new visions at the same time. And this is the challenge for the aviation community.

Amy concluded her address with a thought provoking quote by Alvin Toffler:

Even error has its uses. The maps of the world drawn by medieval cartographers were so hopelessly inaccurate, so filled with factual error, that they elicit condescending smiles today when almost the entire surface of the earth has been charted. Yet the great explorers could never have discovered the New World without them. Nor could the better, more accurate maps of today been drawn until men, working with the limited evidence available to them, set down on paper their bold conceptions of worlds they had never seen. We who explore the future are like those ancient mapmakers…

Joanna Kufedjian

Joanna Kufedjian

With over 15 years’ experience in marketing, corporate communications and event management, Joanna has worked in the banking and automotive industries, but started her career in aviation as a conference manager for ICAO’s conference services department. She currently leads the ACI events team and is the liaison for the WBP Advisory Board.
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