Paul Griffiths at Aviation Club lunch on 19 September 2019

The Aviation Club UK

Guests at the September Aviation Club lunch last week were treated to an usually forthright and detailed overview of the industry by Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths. In addition to his views on airport capacity (see  BTNews story here), he had much to say on other areas.

Find below an edited version of his remarks, courtesy of BTNews:

“Aviation touches hearts and minds, ignites passionate debate and is a key form of personal mobility – we are after all an island, and about to become more of one it would seem.

Air transport is key to our economic success and social progression. A 2018 WTTC study showed travel and tourism comprises 11% of the UK’s economy or about £231bn and employs more than 4.2m people. With the potential impact of Brexit, deal or no deal, this contribution could be even more vital.

The last time I was here at the Club in 2013, I spoke of the need for a radical change in thinking in the UK by politicians, the crippling effects of taxation and the need for a solution to airport capacity issues.

Sadly, a lot of the demands for change go unanswered today. However, today I want to continue to discuss the need for more forward-thinking about aviation and its needs for the 21st century and that’s not just about planes but trains and automobiles too.

With planes, there has been clarification of the future type of aircraft that will dominate – highly-efficient, twin-engine, longer-range, smaller aircraft rather than larger multi-engined aircraft.

The way we use our time means that the pursuit of speed has given way to the pursuit of economy and sustainability.  The A380 is the last of the line rather than the first of the next, conceived when two-engine aircraft weren’t allowed to fly transoceanic by the most direct route. Now nobody bats an eyelid to count the engines on the aircraft.

Another massive change is the sensitivity around the ecological impact of the industry and its growth. Changing attitudes towards personal carbon footprint are moving faster than the technological advancement to mitigate the effect of emissions.  Irrespective of the debate about the human impact on climate change, it must be intuitively right for us to manage our curation of the planet. Sustainability is therefore a major challenge for the industry.

The industry has worked to address the concerns through introduction of lighter materials in aircraft, airspace optimization, research into and adoption of biofuels with up to 60% of manufacturers’ R&D budgets now spent on finding alternative sources of propulsion”.

Expanding on the airport capacity debate, Griffiths said he believed the industry had to go back to understanding what an airport is – an effective interface between ground and air. “There should not be more and more land take to build expensive and service-hostile infrastructure to concentrate more and more people into single spaces for the convenience of everyone except the end customer”.

“Rather”, he said, “The industry must examine ways to realise fully the considerable benefits of aviation while accelerating measures to mitigate the environmental impact. The challenge was how to cope with that in a sustainable way and this was now both an urgent and important requirement”.

He went on: “If we can solve the many problems of sustainable growth, then the benefits are enormous – after all aviation supports 63m jobs, nearly $3trn of global GDP, is a catalyst to create better conversations and enables cultures to reach a better level of understanding and respect”.

“The focus of approach to airport design and development simply must change. It shouldn’t be about how we create more capacity at pinch points but more about how we can use the latent capacity in the entire transport ecosystem and apply this on a global basis.

“The way forward for airports is utterly interwoven with the way forward for ground transportation and other methods of personal mobility where sustainability will be driven by advancements in technology, their acceptance by society and joined-up thinking to ensure cost effective and coordinated development.”

Future airports will become intermodal hubs, Griffiths went on, connecting aviation with high-speed ground-based transport systems such as autonomous cars, trains, hyperloop, SkyTran, Air Taxis, UMVs and “others which we cannot even imagine today”.

He continued: “While that may be a feasible and sustainable way forward, the intermediary steps required to get there are fraught with risks associated with the age-old problems”.

“These are – can we get politicians to think beyond their four-year terms to develop a long-term intermodal strategy, can we find funding mechanisms that don’t punish consumers and can we get governments to cooperate internationally to create incentives for technological developments and R&D and the global standards and regulatory framework needed to unlock the value of a fully-integrated intermodal transportation system?”

“Currently, although the inherent challenges are plain to see, the leadership of some of the world’s most influential economies is taking us backwards instead of forwards – but it’s time that we start the discussion so that incremental improvements and developments are considered in the broader context.”

“From an airport standpoint, that means before taking decisions to expand both physical and environmental footprint, we examine and exhaust the opportunities to unlock the latent capacity that is hostage to our legacy processes

“And if and as we do develop new infrastructure, we need to ensure it is done around these core principles: Sustainable, affordable, efficient, intermodal and customer-centric.”

Griffiths said if these principles were followed, “we may be able to shape the growth of the industry for decades to come and ignite the conversations that are needed within and across industry and governments for a more sustainable way forward.”