People matters

Sustainability: The social pillar

Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey reflect on the human factor in sustainability.

We are very proud to say that this article marks the completion of 10 years of ‘People Matters’ columns that we have written for Airport World.

We didn’t expect the column to be in demand for so long, but as things have turned out, people challenges have become increasingly crucial for airports, the format has been attractive and the column a success.

Since ‘People Matters’ started in January 2014, we have written 60 articles on a wide range of people challenges relevant to airports.

That meant 60 times when we had to decide what to write about, how to research the topic, and how exactly to work together on the article; 60 occasions when we had to agree on what line to take and what we wanted to say; 60 periods we drafted and redrafted until we had a final version which met our standards; and 60 ‘moments of truth’ when we had to deliver the finished product to a deadline and for critical review by the editor, Joe Bates.

As we reflect on our experience, it is clear to us that even for such a comparatively simple task, the human effort and skills required to sustain a consistent standard of delivery are significant. Quite apart from the technical skills of the writing itself, there is a need for collaboration, an ability to juggle priorities, and the self-discipline and drive to see the job through to completion.

And as with many jobs done over a long period, resilience is key. There are always occasions when there are distractions and difficulties which make it hard to focus. It helps that we feel that the work we are doing is worthwhile and that our contribution is appreciated. We need to keep a positive mindset and attitude.

How is this relevant to airports? Many of the same considerations apply – and the human factor is even more important in this complex work setting. Many people need to work together to deliver sustainable high performance.

Attitudes and behaviour are crucial. People with a sense of emotional commitment to their airport and its purpose can transform the passenger experience. A recent publication (2023) by ACI EUROPE’s Leadership and HR Forum, People Engagement Guide, aims to provide a practical, easy to follow and implementable approach to developing the kind of culture which supports this sustainable high performance mindset.

It brings together findings from research, best practice and collective experience from European airports. It focuses on how to create the kind of positive, inclusive, people-oriented environment that can help all those who work for airports to feel motivated and enthusiastic about both their organisations and the work that they do.

Organisation culture is but one aspect of the ‘social pillar’ of sustainability, which many airports are now addressing. Other elements include community engagement, corporate social responsibility, diversity, equality and inclusion and governance.

Leading and managing the changing and complex environment and the uncertainties that the future holds will also require collaboration, innovative thinking and interdependent teamworking.

The traditional Human Resources function’s remit has enlarged to include all of these aspects along with ensuring the long term viability of the organisation.

We hope to be around ourselves for a few more years to continue to map and comment on these exciting challenges.

Arrivals and departures

The Royal Schiphol Group has annouced that Pieter van Oord will become its new CEO next summer. He will succeed Ruud Sondag, who will stay on until March 1, 2024, at which point he will no longer be available due to other commitments. In the period March to June 2024, CFO, Robert Carsouw, will serve as interim CEO.

Another incoming CEO who won’t be onboard until mid-to-late 2024 is Gilles Rufenacht, recently named as the retiring André Schneider’s successor at Geneva Airport. He will assume the role in the autumn of 2024.

Elsewhere in Europe, Christian Poulsen, has been confirmed as the new CEO of Copenhagen Airports. He has served as acting CEO since Thomas Woldbye’s departure to London Heathow, and will take up the role on a permanent basis from January 1, 2024.

LaGuardia Gateway Partners (LGP), the manager and developer of LaGuardia Airport’s new Terminal B, has named Klaudia FitzGerald as its new chief operating officer.

Carrie Hurihanganui, chief executive officer of Auckland International Airport Limited and Dr Kijmanawat Kerati, president of Airports of Thailand have been elected to the board of ACI Asia-Pacific & Middle East.

About the authors

Terri Morrissey and Dr Richard Plenty run ACI’s Human Resources training. They received a Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association in June 2022 for their leadership in advancing global psychology.

Contact them at

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