by Mary Ellen Eagan
I’ve been on the road this fall at conferences – a whole lot of air miles, too many hotels, chicken lunches, and name tags (someday these will be designed for wearing on something other than a suit jacket lapel), but lots of great discussions, more than a few cocktails with good friends, and many laughs along the way. Some common themes emerged; here’s a recap of my highlights/takeaways:
At ATAG, ACI and Canso jointly released a document entitled Managing the Impacts of Aviation Noise, which provides a concise summary of airport noise issues, strategies for mitigation, and an extensive series of case studies. On community engagement, the report recommends following guidance issued in Eurocontrol’s Collaborative Environmental Management (CEM). One key difference between the European approach and ours is that the airport is at the center of the discussion. I am pleased to have contributed to the document.
ACI World Environment Standing Committee (Geneva)
Australia has seen good success in improving relations by having a very engaged and completely independent Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, who serves as a neutral party facilitating discussion of noise abatement alternatives, and educating the public using language that is not jargon. The Australians also provide guidance to airports (and others) on how to properly address complaints. And Canada recently released an Airspace Change Communications and Consultation Protocol for engaging communities and other stakeholders in discussion of proposed airspace changes. It, too, puts airports at the center of the discussion.
My presentation at ACI focused on the concept of social license to operate (SLO), which originated in the mining industry. The premise of SLO is straightforward: owners of businesses and other enterprises that generate negative externalities must secure permission from stakeholders in order to grow – sometimes even to operate. And that permission is earned (not simply granted), by engaging stakeholders in a relationship that evolves from acceptance to trust. As shown in the illustration below from Social License institute, deteriorating levels of trust can lead to active political engagement and protest, as we’ve recently seen with the No Fly movement.
This annual gathering of almost 300 CEO’s of firms in the A&E industry provides great perspective on the state of the industry, trends in financial results and other industry benchmarks, and an opportunity for firm leaders to share experiences on all kinds of issues facing our industry, including talent shortages, ownership transition models, and implications of new business models, technologies, and regulations. My favorite moment of the conference was my realization – during a fancy dinner at the Harvard Club – that the nine other CEO’s I was dining with were more interested in talking about their pets than their businesses. CEOs are people, too.
John Putnam (KKR) and I provided a session on emerging noise issues. Much of that discussion focused on PBN issues, the challenges posed by NEPA requirements in evaluating PBN procedures (not only at individual airports, but on a metroplex scale), and implications of FAA Reauthorization on airport noise issues.
There was much discussion at the Annual Meeting on the need to engage politically in conversations about airport development. ACC President TJ Schultz’s knowledge and insight into FAA funding and other political realities provides ACC member firms (especially small ones like HMMH) with context for making strategic decisions. I am honored to have been elected incoming Secretary/Treasurer for 2016, and look forward to serving on the ACC Executive Board with Don Bergin and Roddy Boggus.
ACI-NA’s Marketing and Communications conference held a session on airport noise. This is very exciting to me because the longer I’m in this business, the more I’m convinced that a good deal of airport noise issues can be addressed by better communication. I’ve come to this for several reasons: (1) first, we know that only about 30% of people’s annoyance to aircraft noise can be attributed to the noise level – that leaves a lot of opportunity for using “non-acoustic” measures to address noise issues; (2) after 30+ years in this industry, I am positive that people don’t suddenly start complaining about aircraft noise unless there has been some change in their environment or their life: a new runway, a new procedure, a new home, a new job (and increasingly, retirement). Working with stakeholders to understand the reasons for those changes often goes a long way toward resolving annoyance – sometimes it can be addressed, but even when it can’t, folks generally are satisfied that they have been listened to and validated.
Bottom line: sometimes the best consulting one can offer is to listen.
Looking forward to a brief respite (though I’m presenting remotely to the Aircraft Noise Non-Acoustic Group (ANNA) in The UK on Thanksgiving – hopefully not messing up the turkey too badly in the process). Then back on the road again in December to wrap up the year at ACC/BAG Global Business Summit (London) and ACI/ACC Planning and NEPA Workshop (Washington).