Research provides airport operators with the opportunity to explore what others in the industry are doing, objectively reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of current industry practices, and provide a holistic understanding through which informed decisions can confidently be made. By looking at and analysing how others have succeeded, and even failed, operators can gain valuable knowledge on how they might improve their operations for customers, stakeholders and even the wider community. As the saying goes, “It’s good to learn from your mistakes, but it’s better to learn from other people’s.”
Research can be broadly separated into two categories: academic and industry. While both can be beneficial individually, when utilised together they provide operators with a holistic foundation on which informed theoretical and practical changes can be made.
Academic research helps airport operators access a realm of international knowledge allowing them to not only look to domestic airports for direction, but turning to airports globally for a comprehensive outlook. Not only does academic research serve as a wealth of information, but it is often at the forefront of emerging trends or operating models within the industry, which can then be studied, adapted and applied in domestic contexts.
In addition to highlighting the future direction of the aviation industry, academic research also allows reflection of past practices. It is often in hindsight that mistakes or avoidable pitfalls are identified, as well as steps or solutions that could have been implemented to prevent aforementioned mishaps. By being retrospective within your own operation, past failings can be avoided through informed future planning.
Furthermore, academic research helps to challenge outdated or misinformed mindsets by critiquing what is considered “relevant”. Through research, operators can look beyond the immediate airport and aviation industry, finding inspiration, insight and learning in a variety of industries and contexts. In applying theoretical models of airport operations or planning, academic research has the ability to combine schools of thought to identify new opportunities for learning, which can then be applied into the airport environment. Oftentimes, by broadening to academic horizons, innovation can be found, even in contexts or industries that were previously not perceived to be comparable to airports or aviation.
In addition to academic research, airport operators can engage in industry research, which holds significant value from a practical standpoint. Industry research has the ability to take airports out of isolation, and look to the contribution they make, or have the potential to make, within the context of the wider community or region.
A common example of industry research is benchmarking. Benchmarking can provide powerful information for airport operators, by offering a lens in which they can evaluate themselves in the context of their peers. Benchmarking of what other airports in Australia or overseas are, by way of example, charging for aircraft landing fees, allows an airport operator to gain perspective and potential to reflect on their strategies.
Industry research may also be used to highlight ‘best practice’ approaches, both domestically and internationally. This may be in consideration of high ranking airports with regard to customer service, efficient modes of transports to/from the airport, retail offerings at the airport, or integration within the city or surrounds.
Industry research allows an airport operator to reflect on common practices, understand the context of their own airport better, and make informed decisions for strategies moving forward.
BENEFITS FOR AIRPORTS
Both regional and capital city airports can benefit from regularly engaging in academic and industry research. For regional airports, the value of research might stem from benchmarking exercises such as a comparison of landing fees and charges, lease rates and terms, or a comparison of terminal infrastructure and layout. Capital city airports can also see tangible value from research. For example, international best practice comparisons, which might outline how a large international airport has an ever increasing customer service ranking and what steps were taken to get there, can help inform other airports on how best to improve their own customer service practices.
Our airport planning team at The Airport Group finds immense value through regularly undertaking research and reviewing research undertaken by our colleagues and peers to maintain currency with the industry. Conducting research and having a sound understanding of current airport conditions around the country, and the world, allows consultancies to apply a ‘sense check’ to their work and provide relevant and fit for purpose advice to clients.
Regularly engaging in research is a valuable habit for any airport operator, but it is hard to know where or how to start. The good news is, it is not as hard as you think. Research does not have to be an elaborate or detailed mission. Remember, you are not writing a thesis. All you need to begin is simply your computer. Using any search engine, start to explore what information is out there and available to you online and on public domains or forums. Once you have established a solid starting foundation, branch out by engaging with universities or firms such as The Airport Group to garner a more in depth understanding and to finetune critical review and analysis skills. It is important to be aware that not all information is equal in quality, with some sources being more reliable and credible than others. If you can successfully learn to navigate sources and distinguish between sources that are truly valuable and those that are inaccurate or flawed, equipping yourself with a base of knowledge to then engage either in-house professionals or a external consultancy to perform more in-depth analysis for your individual operation or project.