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The Airport of the Future

November 2, 2016

This blog is based on the write-up on the Airport of the Future, which can be found on

Helios is a consultancy specialising in air travel – air traffic management (ATM) and airports. Their offices have a grandstand view of the Farnborough Airshow, and they kicked-off their 2016 Farnborough Airshow Seminar Week with a highly interactive seminar, challenging an invited group of senior professionals to consider the case of ‘airports in the 2050s’.

The seminar used scenario planning techniques, which encouraged the guests to challenge themselves, and their usual way of thinking. So, although the air show outside suffered disruption from torrential rain, inside we were using the example set by mother nature to consider how airports of the future might respond to unpredicted and challenging natural, man-made and geo-political circumstances.

The day was led and facilitated by two very different, yet complementary, experts in the field: Mike Pearson, Helios Sales and Marketing Director, has spent much of his career advising on major airport developments around the world and Gill Ringland, CEO and Fellow of SAMI Consulting, is a renowned expert, trainer and best-selling author on scenario planning and strategy.

Scenario planning is a powerful methodology that does not focus on a single ‘right’ answer, which is almost certain never to emerge. Rather, it explores several alternative futures. It is all too easy to fall into the mind-set of expecting more of the same and then doing nothing about it. This exercise demonstrated how scenarios can help us to better develop and future-proof strategies, identify early indicators of change and provide focus for long-term planning.

In this case, we set three broad scenarios with differing political models, global responses to new technology and even the hypothetical re-emergence of powerful city-states, all to explore how airports might evolve in the future.

As you might imagine, we enjoyed thoughtful, robust and wide-ranging interaction and interventions from all of our guests, who contributed fascinating observations to enrich each scenario. Here are just a few of the interesting threads from the day which resulted from consideration of how airports might evolve in different global scenarios:

  • The key to unlocking additional capacity in Europe is as much about a strong transport strategy with clear political backing, as it is about technology advances and physical infrastructure.
  • Continued developments in aircraft and ATM technology help to unlock new traffic patterns and flows, affecting airline models, passenger experience and opening up new opportunities for secondary airports.
  • Regional airports may face the threat of less government funding as political priorities shift and private investment in airports increases…’uberisation’ of transport, reductions in staff, increased virtualisation, charters and co-location with technological and industrial partners are all potential ways they can respond to make their business more viable.

A successful business model today will not necessarily be as effective in the future, as the competitive landscape and business environment changes. Bringing in an external perspective can prove particularly useful when applying scenario planning techniques and allow the group to expand its thinking and understand the drivers of change.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow and CEO.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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