Airports by their nature are complex pieces of transport infrastructure, impacting a wide range of internal and external stakeholders who often have varying, or competing, needs and desires. Airport stakeholders may include: airlines, passengers, airport tenants and users, airport operators and managers, freight and logistics providers, local communities and local, state or federal government departments (to name a few).
With so many parts comprising the whole, ensuring that each stakeholder is engaged, heard and valued is not only essential to ensure the success of day-to-day operations, but also the implementation of strategic plans and capital improvement projects.
Stakeholders can significantly influence outcomes so it is necessary for airport owners and operators to consider if they are effectively engaging and, if not, how they can be better facilitating stakeholder engagement. Effective stakeholder engagement has a direct impact on an airport operators ability to gain a ‘social licence to operate’ from their stakeholders.
To ensure that you as an airport operator or owner are facilitating effective stakeholder engagement, below are some recommendations that we encourage are implemented:
- Be transparent with stakeholders about the process and the use of their feedback. Having clear, consistent conversations with stakeholders helps to establish relationships and build trust. This is important not only when providing information, but also in managing the expectations in which this information can and will be addressed. In most situations, disappointment arises due to unmet expectations. By communicating openly and honestly, unrealistic expectations can be managed, and the likelihood of disappointment reduced.
- Work together with stakeholders to establish ongoing engagement communication. Feedback is only one part of the engagement process, with the other component requiring you, as an airport operator, to demonstrate you have heard what your stakeholders are saying and are now taking steps to integrate their feedback, where appropriate. This isn’t to say that all feedback will be relevant, applicable or even achievable – sometimes things will be outside of your control (and this is something that should be communicated to stakeholders). Nonetheless, an engagement process that ensures feedback is not a ‘one-off’ step is important in building relationships and trust with stakeholders.
- Engage stakeholders early in the planning process. Stakeholders not only have the power to influence outcomes but also to provide enlightening insights into the operation of an airport. External and internal stakeholders should be engaged from the beginning so that all inputs are taken into consideration throughout the planning process. This will ensure the airport operator is well-informed from the beginning of the project, potentially mitigating challenges or conflict.
- Employ varied means of engagement. There is no single or ‘right’ way to engage with stakeholders, however certain methods may work more effectively depending on the type of stakeholder. For example, the community may be engaged through online surveys or public forums and workshops, while industry bodies, airlines or local council members may benefit from one-on-one engagement. It is important that the most appropriate means of engagement is considered and employed by airport operators in order to maximise the benefit of the engagement.
Stakeholder engagement is a critical element of any airport planning of investment process and requires thoughtful communication to foster strong, positive relationships. By building trust and openly communicating with stakeholders on a regular basis, challenges can be addressed and overcome through collaboration and cooperation. In this way, everyone can benefit and an airport can gain a social licence from its stakeholders.
At The Airport Group, we recognise the ever-changing environment at airports of all sizes and the increasing expectations and requirements for stakeholder engagement. As an advisor for our airport and airline clients, we see it is our responsibility to help our clients facilitate communication between themselves and their stakeholders. To learn more about how we work alongside airports to aid in implementing and undertaking effective stakeholder engagement programs and processes, view our services here.