SINGAPORE (eTN) – The recent IATA Annual General Meeting in Singapore was a very special event for Giovanni Bisignani, currently the Association CEO. It was indeed its ultimate appearance in front of an audience assembling the entire airline’s industry with some 700 airlines and air industry CEOs. By the end of July, Giovanni Bisignani will retire after ten years of activity. Giovanni Bisignani is now 65 years old. Prior to becoming IATA’s new Director General and Chief Executive Officer, the Italian was also President of Italy’s national carrier Alitalia from 1989 to 1994.
At the head of IATA, Mr. Bisignani re-shaped and re-focused completely the air transport industry, during a decade of – according to its own words during Singapore AGM – some of its most challenging times: terrorism, rising oil prices, natural disasters and pandemic fears, tax rises, economic crisis, etc. The most recent events were Japan’s tsunami and unrest in the Middle-East. “Airlines spent a decade in survival mode. But today, we came out safer, stronger, leaner, and greener, because we found the courage to change dramatically. There are few industries around the world which implemented so many transformations,” he explained. The IATA CEO is especially proud to have improved the airline’s financial situation. “We barely [broke] even when fuel was at US$25 a barrel. In 2011, we expect a US$4 billion profit with a barrel reaching over US$110,” added Mr. Bisignani.
Mr. Bisignani was not a stranger to this metamorphosis. He fought with all his energy against what he called monopoly suppliers: fuel suppliers, airports, GDS, and governments have been his target over the last decade. IATA CEO became famous for shouting, “Basta!” to all monopoly suppliers when delivering his annual State of the Global Air Transport Industry. Then he created IATA’s Wall of Shame to pin on this wall, governments or airports authorities abusing their power or position. Over the years, Aéroports de Paris, BAA, South African Airports, the UK Civil Aviation, India, Holland and Austria, and Chancellor Angela Merkel from Germany were or are among the nominees. GDS such as Amadeus, Abacus, or Sabre were associated to leeches in 2010 during the Berlin AGM.
Much progress has been achieved thanks to the strong voicing of IATA, which he took his role with seriousness and passion to defend the airline’s industry. Much has been achieved, especially in ways to rationalize costs, to simplify business practices, to become committed to reduce CO2 emissions, and to improve safety with a new IOSA program fixing strict norms. “IOSA has turned into the global benchmark for safety,” indicated Mr. Bisignani. IOSA has today 365 airlines on its registry, while the number of accidents has been the best in the airline’s history with one accident for every 1.6 million flights. This represents a 42% improvement since 2000.
Giovanni Bisignani’s successor is Tony Tyler, until this year CEO of Hong Kong flagship air carrier Cathay Pacific. The choice seems judicious as Mr. Tyler has over 30 years experience in the travel industry. And as some IATA members from China pointed out, Mr. Tyler will finally bring into IATA management an Asian perspective. This is probably the best sign of recognition to Asia’s achievement. Asia is already the world’s largest air transport market in passenger numbers and will represent a third of the world’s passengers output in 2013. “I will probably be very different than my predecessor. And I am afraid that I will not have the same way to bring the same entertainment of high drama style in my speeches. But if the style is different, the commitment and the strength of the message will be the same. I know what [the] priorities are. My goal is to make the world a better place for airlines to do business,” declared Mr. Tyler. “Basta!” might be out, but the fighting spirit is likely to endure.