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Future less intrusive: IATA boss

Future less intrusive: IATA boss

Giovanni Bisignani is a tough act to follow. But although temperamentally - and directionally - opposite, it looks like Tony Tyler will do just that.

» Special Reports | Thursday, September 15, 2011 • Air News Times
The tall, cool, Oxford-educated Brit and former CEO of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways took over from the shorter, ebullient and bluntspoken Italian as directorgeneral and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on July 1 for a five-year term.

Bisignani's near-decade at the helm of the airline industry lobby group is considered one of its most effective, although rockiest, periods - beset by SARS, the fallout from 9/11, the Iraq war, soaring fuel prices, mounting passenger frustration over airport delays, spiralling security charges, a severe recession, terror scares, H1N1 and other issues that buffeted the perennially precarious airline industry.

Many of those issues remain, Tyler said in an interview Tuesday, just before he rushed across the street for meetings at the International Civil Aviation Organization, Montreal's other international aviation headquarters.

Security and safety remain uppermost in the minds of his 230 member airlines that account for about 93 per cent of traffic internationally.

But the security-trumps-all mindset has resulted in an airport experience that has become so "intrusive, inefficient and unpleasant," said Tyler, that "as traffic grows, the current system's going to break down. It's broken now, just about. Go to any major airport ... Frankly, it's time for a review of where we've got to and where we're going."

Unlike many critics of the loss of privacy and sovereignty posed by stringent, ubiquitous security measures, Tyler said there's nothing inherently wrong or dangerous about screenings and background checks by police and intelligence forces.

"If 10 years ago somebody had explained to you what people are happy to share on Facebook now, you'd have thought they were mad - you'd never have thought it possible."

Anyway, added Anthony Concil, IATA's communications director, credit-card companies know practically more about the behaviour and habits of their clients than intelligence gatherers.

Tyler noted that most years, roughly 2.5 billion passengers are greatly inconvenienced - some to the point of forsaking future trips - and not one terrorist is caught.

"So it's not even a question of a needle in a haystack. If there's no needle, we need to make the haystack smaller."

There's still some way to go before IATA's proposal to institute a checkpoint of the future - a tunnel of technology that would vet, clear and seamlessly stream flyers safely from curbside to their seat - is feasible.

"Within a five-to sevenyear time frame, it's conceivable that a lot of the intrusiveness and inconvenience of today's screening process could be done away with."

"(Passengers) would keep moving through the airport, not have to do all this awful stopping and stripping and all that stuff."

Tyler defended the widespread practice - recently adopted in a second try by Air Canada - of charging for all non carry-on luggage.

It's part of the "unbundling" process necessary for traditional airlines to contain costs and compete with low-cost carriers.

Discount carriers stripped out many of the services traditionally offered by legacy carriers, like choosing seats, check-in counter staff, priority boarding, extra bag surcharges, meals, and "people quite liked that."

"So airlines learned that an unbundled product is preferred.

"You can say you're being gouged or that you're saving money when you don't check a bag in."

Business-and first-class passengers are subsidizing the lower economy fares, he said, including their formerly free checked baggage. "But I can tell you that if there's enough consumer pushback, someone will come in and do something else."

Tyler would not wade into the controversy of Emirates Airlines being denied additional landing rights by Ottawa at the behest of Air Canada, which deems the competition unfair.

But he reiterated IATA's long-standing advocacy of eliminating "any such impediments" to free market forces, including foreign ownership restrictions for airlines.

Airlines have tried to get around obstructions by signing co-operation agreements, but they don't make up for business lost by an industry in need.

No other business - pharmaceuticals, computers, carmakers - has such limitations imposed on its growth, he said.

One little-known but considerable aspect of his job, Tyler noted, is the $300 billion from member carriers that IATA handles each year.

IATA acts as a clearing house for various transactions like money from travel agents on its way to the airlines or cash that airlines pay each other when a passenger flies multiple-leg routes on various airlines.

"It's a pretty important part of my day to make sure that money doesn't get lost," he said.

The Montreal Gazette
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