ATN: After a year as CEO of Geneva Airport, what have been your main challenges and achievements so far?
AS: I came from outside the business so I had to quickly work out the main challenges and actions required. For example there was a strong need to regroup the whole organisation around a common plan for the next 15 years. Soon after my arrival I found that this was even more critical and urgent than I thought, since the airport is approaching capacity limits.
We started by reorganising Geneva Airport’s top management to fully recognise that while we have, at the center, our directors of commercial and operations, we need to focus much more on finance, human resources, technology, infrastructure and facilities, and – as we’re an urban airport – effective external communications and sustainability.
Then we started to change the way we manage infrastructure projects, as requested by our supervisory authority. Now we have a much clearer vision of what we must do by 2030. We have also defined five strategic objectives and indicators and we check every project against these objectives to ensure they’re strategically aligned.
ATN: You have your 15-year strategy, but what do you want to achieve in the next five years?
AS: We must quickly develop our infrastructure to provide a positive experience for people going through the airport – this is our core role. Over the next years we also want to expand our already good intercontinental services and connections, as we’re mainly a point-to point-European airport with 80% to 90% of our connections within Europe. Geneva Airport is the engine for the Lake Geneva region, which has above-average economic growth in Switzerland, so we want to further strengthen our role.
ATN: Regarding infrastructure, when will your new terminal facilities open?
AS: We’ll open our new East Wing – new gates and waiting areas for intercontinental flights – in the second half of 2020. We’re also preparing to renew our baggage sorting system, raise the capacity of the terminal and improve our runway. We have one runway so we’ll work on increasing its capacity and the space available for aircraft parking.We have to balance our impact on our neighbours and the environment on the one hand, with our role as a regional economic engine on the other. We’re an urban airport so it’s important to get this right.
ATN: How many passengers do you have a year, and what is your current capacity?
AS: Last year we had 16.5 million passengers. We could probably accommodate three or four million more but it could get tight, so we’re adding two further extensions in the security checks area and expanding capacity elsewhere. We’re also completing advancing the front of our check-in hall by 6 metres, gaining space for check-in.
ATN: What will be the airport’s capacity with the new infrastructure?
AS: We forecast 25 million passengers in 2030, which means our strategic development plan should accommodate this volume and lay the foundations for the years beyond.
ATN: Geneva is a point-to-point airport and easyJet and Swiss have bases at GVA. Do you want a higher proportion of connecting passengers?
AS: Today under 5% of passengers are connecting – typically this isn’t within the system but it’s self-connecting. So we have, for example, people coming with MEA from the Lebanon and then connecting to fly to North America. We have plans to slightly increase such connecting traffic to help give new intercontinental services enough passengers. Perhaps we’ll see between 7% and 9% connecting passengers. We have no wish to become a hub and it’s a self-connecting scheme we’re looking at. Actually, we want to use the capacity of our point-to-point network in Europe to draw people through Geneva to our intercontinental flights. We’re very central in Europe so, for example, if you’re travelling from Portugal to China and self-connecting, you can fly from Portugal to Geneva with easyJet, TAP or Swiss, and then with Air China to Beijing. This is very efficient, given that we’re close to the shortest air route and we can offer short connecting times.
ATN: There is a risk with self-connecting that if you lose one flight, you can’t get compensation and the airline doesn’t put you on the next flight. Do you have a plan to help passengers?
AS: Occasionally if something happens with their connection, passengers can be left on their own. Also, they have to fully get out of the airport’s security area before checking in again. So there’s clearly something to be developed that will allow you to go directly from baggage arrival to a check-in area, without leaving the controlled area. We’re also looking at greater support so that if something happens to your connection, we can step in and help. Something like this is already done for example at London Gatwick.
ATN: What is the percentage of low-cost flights at Geneva Airport?
AS: Around 45%, made up of 43.6% for easyJet and some flights with Vueling, Eurowings and Wizz Air. We hope to keep low cost at around 50% of the total.
ATN: Last year you launched a security system to check passengers’ shoes without them having to be removed. How has this gone and are you selling the system to other airports?
AS: It’s shown excellent results and, although some passengers’ shoes still have to be removed, it’s a very small percentage. Passengers know before they go through the security gate that their shoes will not set off the alarm, so everyone’s happy. We’re working closely with the startup technology company involved, testing the system at our airport and currently two other airports are acquiring it too.
ATN: Can you name them?
AS: No, but they’re a bit to the east of here, they’ll be in use in the next year and many other airports are interested as well. Beyond our own interest in such innovation to improve passenger satisfaction despite having only limited space, we also have interest in this system from innovation platforms such as ADP as there are clearly huge benefits.
ATN: Over the past year, have passengers been happy with the system?
AS: Many people like it but then the system operates in the context of the security control which many people don't much like. It is still hassle and naturally some passengers think it’s too stringent. It certainly enables us to speed up security control, which generally makes passengers happier.
ATN: What is Geneva Airport targeting in terms of new routes, your low-cost to legacy carrier mix, and regions of the world?
AS: We’re focusing on Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America. In Asia the possibilities include a second route to China to a more commercially oriented city such as Shenzhen, and new services to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. We’re also looking at new services to sub-Saharan Africa, either through a hub in central Africa or directly to South Africa; South America and especially Brazil; and possibly more flights to North America.
ATN: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with ATN readers?
AS: Geneva Airport is working closely with airlines and airports, because the airport is increasingly an integral part of the journey. We're exploring new collaboration with several airlines to make the airport a more positive experience for the passenger, and more related to their ongoing travel. For example this could involve partner airlines’ passengers using airport restaurants before their short-haul flights, and new offerings for premium passengers for all our airlines rather than just for one. We need to improve collaboration between airlines and airports and put aside any disagreements about airport taxes – after all, airports need airlines and airlines need airports. It’s a two-way street and at Geneva we can provide airlines with high load factors and excellent financial results. Point-to-point travel should not be only about low cost. It's also about the whole passenger experience and we’re paying much more attention to this.