The power of airport associations

Written exclusively for International Airport Review, Ian Law, Chief Digital Transformation Officer for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and Aisha Obaid Almheiri, the Director of Information Technology Affairs Department at Sharjah Airport Authority (SAA), discuss the most important objectives industry technology associations must focus on.

Airports’ technology to-do list has never been so packed. From artificial intelligence (AI), process automation to modernising airports’ data architectures and piloting robotics, airport technologists have an overwhelming array of complex technological themes to traverse. These topics cannot be tackled in isolation. More and more we turn to communities of peers, and other industry and technology experts, both nationally, regionally, and internationally to help navigate these challenges.

Spearheading innovation through regulation

Our representative bodies, like Airports Council International (ACI), the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), and Airport Regions Council (ARC) play a vital role in bringing our industry together to work on common objectives that benefit our entire industry.
As we look at the coming tsunami of technological challenges, we see five important objectives on which our associations’ technology communities must focus their efforts.
First and foremost, we must continue to lead our industry as its technology thought leaders, bringing innovative answers to intractable challenges and, through our associations, advocating for the policies and standards that ensure the most effective running of our industry.

Working together to deliver revolutionary technologies

The power of associations lies in their ability to coalesce volunteer members around a specific shared issue, to work intently to strip it to its essential parts, and to develop direction, policy, and solutions to solve it and to share and learn from the experience.
A recent example is private wireless networks (PWN). At a meeting of ACI World’s Airport Information Technology Standing Committee (AITSC), members voted PWN as their most complex and critical issue to tackle. AITSC members formed a PWN task force and, together with business partners and regional associations, recently launched the ACI’s 5G e-book. There are many other examples.
Our second objective deals with rethinking our industry’s technology skills base in the wake of the paralysing impact of the pandemic on our technology workforce, coupled with the significant shift to new technologies like cloud platforms and services and AI. A recent straw poll of issues with airport tech leaders showed IT organisational design and staffing as a top five challenge. In conjunction with our associations, airports will need to assess the industry’s technological capability and capacity needs and advocate for the right programmes to address our skills and resource deficits.
Our industry has a long tradition of collaboration and co-operation. Many years ago, ACI, IATA and other associations facilitated a global collaboration on the development of the all-important common use standards, still a cornerstone of aviation today. Our third objective must be to avoid the temptation of pursuing polarised interests, opting instead to collaborate on programmes of mutual benefit and to co-operate to support the achievement of respective goals.
In this regard, business partners play a critical role in our committees, providing their unique perspective of cross-industry working and bringing insight and know-how to craft effective solutions to very specific problems. Active business partners are a vital ingredient on every industry technology committee.

Using technology to address aviation’s workforce needs

Developing airport-specific technology training is essential to bringing new and much-needed technological talent into our industry and is the centre point of our fourth objective. While airport technology is certainly a complex and interesting area of specialism, the airport IT community lags other airport disciplines like safety, security, economics, operations, and environment, in providing explicit airport technology training and certifications. We must redress this imbalance immediately.
Our final and most important objective addresses our technology committees’ membership. The quality of our leadership on every aspect of our agenda, from thought leadership to talent development, will derive from the geographic, generational, ethnic and gender diversity of our committees’ membership. We must keep pushing to make our work relevant across the entire industry and we can only do this if our representation mirrors the industry we serve.
International associations by their nature draw out differences in thinking and approach to better inform choice and decision making. Difference is essential to finding meaningful answers and it relies on inclusion.
As our industry embarks on its most significant technological shift ever, we will depend on our industry associations like never before to muster the industry’s collective brain trust to navigate a new generation of challenges. They will serve us as well as we serve them. 

About the authors

Ian Law
Ian Law was appointed Chief Digital Transformation Officer for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) in May 2022. His responsibilities include the development and delivery of LAWA’s digital transformation strategy, oversight of LAWA’s Information Management and Technology programme and LAWA Guest Experience. Prior to his appointment, Ian was Chief Information Officer (CIO) at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Ian is the current Chair of ACI World’s Airport Information Technology Standing Committee (AITSC) and an industry contributor on the American Association of Airport Executives’ (AAAE) Airport Consortium on Customer Trust Programme (ACT).

Aisha Obaid Almheiri
Aisha Obaid Almheiri is Director of Information Technology Department at Sharjah Airport Authority (SAA). She has extensive experience in and around airports, with her work dominantly focusing on managing IT.
She has been a part of the SAA for 17 years, Aisha holds a degree in Multiculturism and Leadership from the University of Dundee and a BA from the American University of Sharjah and EMBA from the University of Sharjah. She is the current vice-chair of ACI World’s Airport Information Technology Standing Committee (AITSC), and the first female and the first UAE-based IT leader in the position.

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