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Governance in airport regions: dialogue is paramount for building consensus

Collaboration between airport area stakeholders can play a positive role in promoting constructive dialogue, especially among stakeholders who might, at times, have different interests. During the ARC’s latest event, Governance of airport territories: a European overview, it was shown that open dialogue can foster a shared vision for the airport areas.

The ARC, with the support of Gava Town Council, El Prat de Llobregat Town Council, Barcelona City Council and Government of Catalunya, organised a conference on the governance of airport territories on 12 April 2019, in the town of El Prat. ARC President, Erich Valentin, said: The ARC strives to be the voice of European regions and it’s 25 years since we are doing this successfully. We remain a key information provider and a competent centre for regions and today’s conference was a great opportunity to provide our members with best practices on the governance of airport territories.

The Secretary General of the Catalan Ministry of Infrastructures, Isidre Gavin, confirmed the key role of the ARC in regional growth and policy, mentioning that the ARC is a unique partner for airport regions who want to boost their economic activity.

This event gathered public authorities, local communities, airports and operators. The participants agreed that building consensus among airport area stakeholders, especially on complex decisions, such as planning, expansion, zoning, etc., is essential.

Consensus can be achieved if all concerned parties are involved in the decision-making process, as the mayor of El Prat, Lluis Tejedor Ballesteros, implies: Local authorities in airport regions should not just be able to react to the decisions made about the airports at the national level, but they should rather be part of the discussions.

Also, the mayor of Gava, Raquel Sanchez Jimenez, stressed the need for cooperation between airport area stakeholders: We are working together with the airport for a common strategy. We are representing around half a million residents and we have a strong political will to defend their interests. The future planning of the region has to be based on consensus between the airport and the surrounding urban areas; this is why it is very important that we participate in the decision-making process.

Indeed, dialogue with stakeholders is key in airport governance. Cesar Trapote, lecturer and researcher at the Technical University of Catalonia, insists that dialogue and integrated social value are two main tools for airport system management and common requirements in all types of governances, particularly in airports.

Engagement plays a fundamental role in strengthening the relationship between airports and local communities, especially when it comes down to overcoming the trust deficit. As John Stewart, chair of HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise), explains: Engagement helped Heathrow Airport and local communities to work together on initiatives that they can jointly support, despite their differences. This helped establish a working relationship: communities admit that the airport brings considerable economic benefits, while Heathrow, thanks to dialogue, understands better what residents actually want.

When engagement is successful, regions prosper. In the case of Vienna Airport, mediation and regional coordination were crucial for the construction of a 3rdrunway. Franz Joechlinger, working on environmental and sustainability management at Vienna Airport, asserts that the permanent communication was beneficial for both the communities and the airport, especially because the airport was able to be solution-oriented and to make sure that the city of Vienna is not affected by landings on the 3rdrunway.

In other cases, like the case of Barcelona, engagement is recognised as necessary and further efforts are made to enhance it. Ignasi Ragas, a consultant on transport and territory, gives more information about the current situation in Barcelona: Some of the key stakeholders are not involved in the governance process at the moment, but efforts are being done to develop a culture of community engagement.

As for the City of Vantaa, the city hosting Helsinki Airport, consistent stakeholder management and engagement is crucial as well. The project manager of the City of Vantaa, Ulla Ruuskanen, gives more details: Vantaa offers a framework for cooperation and a forum for exchanging information and ideas. We strongly believe that all stakeholders should be involved to ensure ongoing development.

Finally, Jordi Candela, Director General of Airports of Catalunya and member of the ARC Executive Committee, brought the good news that the ARC is launching a study on governance of airport territories. This study will establish a strategic benchmark on airport governance and will provide best practices to support a regional model of airport governance.


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