After twelve years of leading Airports Council International (ACI) World, I will step down as Director-General on 30 June 2020 and hand the reins over to Luis Felipe de Oliveira who is leaving his post as the Executive Director and CEO of ALTA, the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association.
I know he will bring the kind of collaborative, win-win approach to problem-solving that will be necessary during the crisis and which fits so well in the airport environment. His experience in multiple sectors in our industry will be a benefit, as will his appreciation for the federated nature of ACI which is key to forwarding the progress of the highly diverse airport sector.
I hope readers of ACI Insights will enjoy the following conversation and become more acquainted with Luis Felipe de Oliveira, and the skills and wisdom that he will bring to ACI World.
Angela Gitten (AG): Looking back to your history, what attracted you to the aviation industry?
Luis Felipe de Oliveira (LFO): I was born in a very small city in the countryside of Brazil. Growing up, my family used to attend a sports club that was near an airport, which we would often visit to see the small airplanes going in and out. I remember thinking that one day I would be able to fly. This became a reality when I was 7 or 8 when a friend of the family flew me over the city. This was a memorable experience that I will never forget.
From there, I began thinking about my aspirations. I had hopes of leaving the countryside and reaching new heights. As a young adult, I was unable to get a pilot’s license because of its very high cost at the time. Instead, I decided to pursue chemical engineering in Rio de Janeiro. I used to travel 1,300 kilometers by bus to see my family during school breaks because there were no flights to my city.
My first job was with Shell, where I began working at Santos Dumont Airport in Rio de Janeiro, which, to me, is one of the most beautiful airports in the world. I worked as a Supervisor of the Shell fuel facilities at the airport. This was my first real integration into the airport life and community. I always joke that I have jet fuel in my blood, which makes me passionate about aviation.
The real turning point for me came after 12 years of consistent career development when I was living in the Netherlands and the company gave me an opportunity to move on to another job outside of aviation. The dilemma I faced was that if I stayed with Shell, I would need to leave aviation which was my passion. I thus decided to leave Shell and join IATA, where I worked for 10 years and which gave me good experience working within an international trade organization. I then worked with the World Fuel Services in a business development role before assuming the position of Executive Director and CEO of ALTA, where I have worked for the last 3 years.
For the past 25 years, I have been working within the aviation industry where my passion lays. I have had the privilege to work with great professionals in a truly global industry.
I am passionate about travel as it provides memories that one will never forget, and which allows us to grow as a person. My family and I love to visit different places.
AG: What perspective will your background bring to ACI?
LFO: From a general perspective, I have had the opportunity to work within airports during my fuel times and I am well acquainted with the process and responsibilities needed in terms of safety, contracts, and security. I also have experience dealing with airports in all regions and, as a frequent traveler, have a passenger perspective.
On the advocacy side, I believe I have acquired the assets needed to run a global organization with multiple stakeholders, managing to find the common ground among them. My professional experience at both IATA and ALTA provided me plenty of opportunities to strengthen this skill.
In addition, I have the private sector view, which favours running an association like a business in financial terms, with clear objectives, advocacy targets, and coordinated actions. My experience at ALTA is a good example of this.
To summarize, I believe that it is the mix of my non-profit and private work experience that brings me a well-rounded perspective in terms of leading ACI forward, and in addition to the very good team that we already have in place.
AG: What made you look at ACI World as your new challenge?
LFO: I did have initial concerns about applying for the position since it coincided with my decision to move back to Europe from Latin America to reunite with my family.
However, the position fits all the requirements that I was searching for: the natural next step in my career of leading an international organization where I could apply all of my learned skills, being able to bring a different perspective, and being able to face new challenges.
Of course, succeeding you will not be easy shoes to fill. However, I like to think of the succession not as a replacement, but as an opportunity to do the same job but with my own flavour and perspective.
AG: You will be joining at a challenging time for the aviation industry; what will be key to the industry’s recovery from the impact of COVID-19?
LFO: The first step is alignment. This is the first time in the history of aviation that we have a global pandemic where all actors in the ecosystem are suffering from the impact of COVID-19. The only way that we can recover is by working together. In this way, we will be able to create a positive movement with harmonization at its base.
The second important factor will be how we adapt to and integrate health concerns within aviation. There will most likely be many requests from governments and global regulators in terms of health control, from possible health screening to health passports.
These changes will need to be in alignment with all stakeholders and harmonized globally. The organization of the process will be very important, and we will need to work very hard in the next few years to make sure that airports’ concerns and interests are integrated.
AG: Looking at the longer-term outside of COVID-19, what should the industry’s priorities be?
LFO: The key elements will be increasing partnership and cooperation, becoming more sustainable, and leveraging technology. So first, how can we include more people in our system, for instance with the tourism industry and businesses at large? Second, how can we become more sustainable through social and environmental responsibility? And third, how can we utilize technology and innovation to improve all facets of the industry to help us grow and cope with the many challenges we face, including improving the passenger experience?