Mr. Ali Tounsi
Published On 1 Feb, 2018

 

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Mr. Ali Tounsi

 

 

African Cargo News in its quest to moving the African logistics industry forward, we have continued to identify with African professionals in diverse areas of Logistics to continuously divulge their wealth of experiences for the overall benefits of the new generation across Africa and overseas. In our February Guest of the month, African Cargo News team led by  Oyinkan Somorin was able to meet with Mr. Ali Tounsi who currently occupy the position of Secretary General of Airports Council International (ACI) Africa since 2009 to date.

 

  • Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m an Engineer holder of a Master’s Degree in Avionic and Telecommunication and a Master’s Degree in Airports Management. Ibegan mycareer in aviation in 1992 as an engineer, more specifically in the field of airport operations at Office de l’AviationCivileet des Aéroports (OACA), in Tunisia. Since then, I was involved in various studies and projects related to quality of service, airport resources management, infrastructure development projects and IT. Ihave also taught for 14 years in many aviation schools and supervised several research projects.

In addition, I held various positions at thedirector level at several international Tunisian airports includingTozeurNefta,DjerbaZarzis,and more. Iwas alsothe chairman of the steering committee for the implementation of the certification and SMS Implementation program for various Tunisian airports.

In2009,Itook over the position of Secretary General of Airports Council International (ACI) Africa and I continue to act as amember ofthe ACI World Technique and Safety Standing Committee representing the African region.

  • As a child, what were your dreams, did you ever dream you will come this far?

When I was a child, I used to livenext to the airport and was very happy to admireplanes taking-off and landing. Myultimate dream when I was a kid was to becomea pilot one day or to work on planes. This dream encouragedme to undertakea career in the field of aircraft engineering. Aftergraduating from university, I was recruited by the Tunisian Civil Aviation and Airports Authority (OACA). I then decided to specialize in airports management by graduating from a Master’s Degree programme in airports management..In any case,“I’m definitely proud of what I’ve achieved to date: pursuing acareer in the field of air transport.

  • Your council has released a policy brief on airport networks and the sustainability of small airports. What has been the outcome and can you tell us about it?

Airports Council International (ACI) is the only global trade representative of the world’s airports. Our mandate is to represent airports’ interests with governments and international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), develop standards, policies and recommended practices for airports. In addition,we provide information and training opportunities to raise standards around the world.

As part of our effort to influence global and regionallegislation, rules, policies, standards and practices, ACI Africa has collaborated with ACI Worldto develop this policy brief which provides an overview of the state of airport networks worldwide, based on a robust dataset and inventory of the world’s networks. Our analysis revealed that an estimated 1,900 or nearly half (49%) of the world’s airports belong to airport networks of some kind and that together, they handle an overall annual traffic volume of 2.9 billion passengers, or 38% of global passenger traffic. Indeed, significant proportions of airports in Africa belong to airport networks, 89%, providing for 78% of the regional share of traffic.

The outcome of this briefis clear. The analysisproved that the sustainable operation and development of the world’s smaller airports remains a challenge. While the airportindustry as a whole is profitable, as shown in the ACI Airport Economics Report,financial statements show that as many as 66% of the world’s airports—most of which are small—operate at a net loss.

The airport network model is one management option to overcome this challenge. While airport operators should be permitted to operate under a wide range of management models to serve their specific missions, business needs and local circumstances, a network approach, which allows cross-subsidies from profitable larger airports, are often key to the sustainability of smaller airports. This provides essential benefits in terms of safety, social and economic development, and positive externalities to airline users of the network. This is especially the case when small airports cannot count on public funding. Airport networks must thus continue to be able to cross-subsidize smaller airports in accordance with the ICAO framework.

The Policy Brief makes practical policy recommendations to ensure that airport operation and development is sustainable and beneficial to airlines, passengers, communities and national economies.ACI will continue to advance these recommendations and promote transparent and constructive relations between airports and their airline stakeholders such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and ICAO. We will continue to work closely with our members worldwide as the airports community confronts the complex challenges of providing sufficient capacity and high levels of service in a climate of rapid growth.

  • Looking back to the formation of ACI, can you say the organization is making progress and achieving its set objectives?

ACI was established in 1991 and since then has beenvery active and successful as wehave increased our capacity significantly.To date, we have been engaged in delivering high quality service to our members, strengthened partnerships with industry stakeholders, and we are the only organization capable of representing airport interests worldwide.

The global community of airports is made up of professionals from all walks of life confronting a variety of challenges and seizing all manner of opportunities. Despite the differences, there are significant common interests, and actually this is where we collectively shine; within this space lies an opportunity for all of us to broaden our knowledge, offer innovative solutions to shared problems and find new ways of moving the global airport industry forward.

The last couple of years, in particular, were active and successful for ACI. We were proud to celebrate the organization’s 25th Anniversary in 2016. In its first quarter we started the fifth year of the ACI Airport Excellence (APEX) in Safety programme in Tunis, Tunisia. APEX in Safety is now firmly established in the aviation industry as a valuable tool for continuous improvement in airport safety.

In view of that success, in February 2016, ACI and ICAO announced enhanced cooperation on airport security with the pilot phase of the ACI APEX in Security programme. In March, we launched the APEX Safety Assessor Training programme for the Africa region, attracting further collaboration with the World Bank, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the African Development Bank. We also witnessed another anniversary—the tenth year of the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) programmethe world’s leading airport customer service measurement and benchmarking tool.

Given the growth of the programme which stretches across some 80 countries and 40 languages, the annual ASQ Awards event, held in Gold Coast, Australia that year, was larger than ever. Let me add that by the second quarter of 2016, the ACI Global Training programme, which is considered the world’s leading training on airport management and operations education, was already on track to deliver a record number of high-quality courses in the subject matter areas most valuable to our membership.

With regards to 2017, it was a year of enhanced collaboration with ICAO and key industry stakeholders. Member airports and ACI staff represented airport interests in various ICAO symposiums, such as the Wildlife Strike Hazard Reduction Symposium, the Second Global Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Symposium, the Second Global Runway Safety Symposium, and the Second Global Air Navigation Industry Symposium (GANIS/2) and First Safety and Air Navigation Implementation Symposium(SANIS/1).

The ASQ programme continues to go from strength to strength and 2017 proved to be a record year for the well-known Departures’ Survey. And, a very well attended ASQ Award Ceremony held in Mauritius. We have continued our effort in helping our members to become more competitive by introducing the ASQ Arrivals Survey. This helps them measure, benchmark and promote their customer service excellence, and like the ASQ Departures Survey, it gives airports the tools they need to improve their passenger service initiatives and the flexibility to adapt the programme through optional services like additional sample plans, increased sample sizes, benchmark and to add extra questions.For airports, knowing where they want to go is only half the battle, they need to know how to get there.

The sharing of knowledge and best practice has been the most effective way to accelerate progress by avoiding false starts and wrong turns, and this is one of ACI’s strengths. During 2017, wealso focused our effortson updating and reviewing several guidance materials and we launched a set of comprehensive publications. Just to name a few: the World Airport Traffic Forecasts 2017–2040; the Policy Brief on airport networks and the sustainability of small airports; the joint industry report on aviation’s economic benefits;and, the ACI Airport Digital Transformation Best Practice.

These are some of the highlights from the recent years that we are most proud of and that illustrate ACI’s ongoing commitment to advancing the development of the global aviation system and enhancing public awareness of the economicand social importance of airport development.Charged with a complex and multi-faceted mandate, we will continue to build on these accomplishments. ACI is stronger because of the unwavering commitment of its members, and the airport industry is stronger because of ACI’s focus on furthering their interests.

  • Operation and developments of smaller airports are a challenge in the aviation sector. How does ACI plan on resolving this problem?

First of all, please allow meto make a clarification on the role of ACI.Our organization’s mandate is not to resolve problem or issues of the industry but more to provide airport members with industry knowledge, advice and assistance, and foster professionalexcellence in airport management and operations. We also seek to influence governments and regulators, such as ICAO, to develop the regulatory environment in which all of our members can thrive.That being said, it is accurate to say that operation and developments of smaller airports are a challenge in the airport sector and there are reasons for that. Airports that serve smaller markets tend to have higher overall costs on a per-passenger or per-workload unit basis because all airports have fixed costs regardless of traffic volume.

With regard to economic regulation, ACI dedicates its efforts convincing the authorities to relax their economic oversight with respect to small airports that do not have significant market power. It is especially important that small airports have pricing freedom and are able to find the right equilibrium in keeping themselves attractive for airlines yet ensuring long-term financial sustainability and development. No matter how low the traffic volumes are, there will always be opportunities in generating additional revenues from the non-aeronautical sector. Therefore, bringing the know-how of the private sector into the commercial activities and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation is especially important. ACI has already touched upon this topic in its Policy Brief on privatization. Even though capital tends to flow into airports with higher levels of throughput, smaller airports can also be excellent investment opportunities in the long-run.

  • Some African airlines were blacklisted by The European Union Civil Aviation but no airport was blacklisted knowing full well that some airports in Africa don’t qualify for this. Why has this issue not been looked into?

Airline bans and airport bans are two different topics that need to be dealt with independently. The EU Air Safety List seeks to ensure the highest level of air safety for European citizens. The List actually contains two items. The first list (Annex A) includes all airlines banned from operating in Europe. The second list (Annex B) includes airlines that are restricted from operating under certain conditions in Europe. This has nothing to do with the ability of an African airport to accommodate EU air carriers.

When it comes to airport safety, ICAO’s International Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), detailed in ICAO’s Annex 14 — Aerodromes and Manual on Certification of Aerodromes (Doc 9774), state that all aerodromes should be certified by the State and licensed for use. The intent of this type of certification is to ensure that airports meet minimum safety standards to ensure the safety of the flying public. The African region has 62 members from 47 countries managing 250 airports and here is the issue: among these airports, only 40% hold what we call an “operating certificate”. This means that 60% of them are not certified, and this could represent a big deal forair carriers as they can decide not to land or use the airport’s facilities for the safety of their passengers.

Now if you ask me does an airport certification mean that your airport is always safe for the flying public? Not necessarily. The airport certification proves that you have met your state’s minimum requirements at the time of the regulatory audit. It is the responsibility of the airport operator to maintain safety at the aerodrome. Their Safety Management System, if operating correctly, will help them ensure that safe operations remain paramount to their business, and this is what matters the most for airlines. It is also important to note that state regulatory bodies have the authority to take away the Certificate and suspend operations at a designated airport and this could cause a loss of reputation and significant revenues.

In terms of helping African airports meet their state requirements and promoting safer operations and cooperation between the ICAO and other aviation stakeholders, as I mentioned earlier, ACI has developed the APEXfor Safety and APEX in Security. These programmesare based on ICAO standards, national regulations and ACI best practice. APEX combines the mandate for regulatory compliance with day-to-day operational needs to maximize operational efficiency and safety and/or security standards. Moreover, APEX Reviews are tailored to the individual needs of airports and APEX Reports propose effective and targeted solutions. ACI has a dedicated team of professionals who can provide confidential feedback to African airports with the option for follow-up surveys or consultation to help them make safety or security improvements and to stay on track with regulations and certification.

  • What are your council doing to encourage airport expansion in Africa to meet the trend of aviation growth?

ACI Africa experienced growth in both regular and business partner membership resulting to a total number of 62 regular members from 48 countries managing 250 airports and 32 business partners to date. This growth is mainly attributed to the efforts ACI has been intensifying in the recent years.In fact, 2017 has witnessed more African airports embrace the mind-set set of business development with the increasing collaboration in private partnerships. This has encouraged ACI Africa region to place emphasis on the commercial aspect of the industry and how our members can develop into sustainable viable business entities. We have recorded significant growth in various areas including regular membership, World Business Partner membership, conference delegate participation, member engagements, regional office staff size; and despite the unfavorable international situation, ACI Africa has continued to advance. In the last 10 years airports have worked to significantly improve aviation security. ACI and its airport members across the region will continue to work with states to advance processes, procedures and technologies that not only enhance security but also improve the travel experience and increase efficiency.

As part of its overall strategy, ACI has implemented various initiatives to support and to encourage airport expansion in Africa.However, the business environment in this region still presents challenges.With the right strategies and collaboration of our members, ACI is working hard to overcome these hurdles. Workforce and talent management and retention are major challenges in the region, and retention of talentis a major concern of airports given the expense of training. The importance of addressing this factor is generally well understood by most African airport managers, but actually doing so takes time.ACI Africa is working in close collaboration with its members to make sure we have — and keep — the highest-caliber people. ACIis strongly considering training as a strategy for improving employee retention. In order to remediate this issue and reduce the turnover rate as well as improve qualifications of member airports’ personnel, the ACI Africa Regional Office placed great emphasis on training seminars and scholarships offered to members of the region. ACI Africa, in coordination with the ACI Fund and the Developing Nations Airports Assistance programme established free training courses. These programmes offered training to more than 300 participants in different airport management fields during 2017 and we will continue to offer more courses in 2018.

With a view to playing a greater role and helping African airport members to meet the trend of aviation growthand respond to the challenges in airport management and operation, ACI has also recently launchedanother programme called the Development Programme for African Airports.This will assist members through the following actions: Developing and providing training and technical assistance.In addition, the program may undertake any operations directly related to the benefits of ACI Africa members.

Looking forward to a shift of culture, we arelaunching the59th ACI Africa Board and Committee Meetings and Regional Conference and Exhibition to be held from 14 to 20 April of this year in the dynamic city of Lagos, Nigeria.The theme of this conference is “Business Transformation for Sustainable Development of African Airports”. The conference will discuss the need for a change in the perception of business in African airports, to improve the profitability of infrastructure, optimize resources, generate profits and ensure the sustainability of the business.

All this would not have been possible without the engagement of the members and stakeholders, representing our regions. Many thanks to them, with their support and dedication as we are confident that in 2018, airport safety, security and efficiency can be even further enhanced for the benefit of the public and African economy.

  • In your opinion what were the toughest time that you have faced in the business world of aviation?

For decades, the aviation industry has had to counter and respond to the threat of terrorism. It is evident that the toughest time we faced was the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that shook the airport industry deeply upsetting the passenger perception of safety globally. Airports and the entire aviation industry were profoundly changed by this event; it was a tragic day many of us will never forget. Since then, air transport continued to be a high-profile target for terrorists. While the number of attacks has declined significantly, the threat has not.Aviation security has undergone significant changes since 2001 and ACI has taken a very active role in informing regulatory authorities of the impact of new security rules, helping to shape those rules and ensuring that changes in security are communicated to airport authorities. In addition, ACI has formulated a number of policy positions on security issues which guide the organization and member airports. These can be seen in the ACI Policy Handbook Chapter 7. They are supplemented by more detailed position papers on specific issues, which are developed in response to developments in the industry.

The APEX in Securityprogramme will help airports identify problems and support experts in providing assistance through these programmes, training, and development of guidance material.

  • Looking back, so you have any regrets?

Honestly,I have no regrets. I am fortunate to pursue a career in a very dynamic environment, full of challenges.and where we there is no room for boredom

  • How do you create balance between your personal life, your marriage and your work?

The ACI Africa office is composed of a small team that is spread over four African countries.

Our regional Headquarters is located in Casablanca, Morocco; the Director of security is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Head of communicationsis based inLagos, Nigeria, and the Head of the programs works from Dakar, Senegal. We use new technologies to communicate and work together.

For me personally I take advantage of the periods between missions to stay with my family because I have no constraint to work from any place as I have a good internet connection. ACI Africa is rather office less paper less.

  • What do you do for relaxation and any hobbies?

Sport is my passion.I am a techsavvy and I watch a lot of movies.

 

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