MIAMI — Tony Tyler is the director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association, a group that represents the interests of the world’s airlines. Before coming to IATA in July 2011, he built his career at Hong Kong-based John Swire & Sons beginning in 1997, moving over to the group’s Cathay Pacific Airways. He rose to become chief executive in 2007. During his time at Cathay, he served on IATA’s Board of Governors, including as its chairman from June 2009 to June 2010. He spoke to AirwaysNews about juggling a diverse group of member airlines, the need for having global tracking capabilities and working with airports on aviation security.

AirwaysNews: IATA just finished celebrating 100 years of flight in 2014. What are your top three priorities you have for the organization in 2015?

Tony Tyler: For the industry as a whole, staying profitable is the biggest challenge. The picture is certainly brighter than it has been for several years, with falling oil prices and stronger GDP growth. However, there are a number of risks in today’s global environment—political unrest, conflicts, and some weak regional economies—among them.

IATA is focused on addressing the targets and priorities set by our board. These are very demanding and cover areas such as enhancing aircraft tracking performance through best practices in coordination with ICAO, industry and member airlines; securing widespread government support for sharing security information for risk assessments when operating near conflict zones; increasing e-Air Waybill penetration to 45 percent; advancing our Smart Security initiative to more airports in partnership with Airports Council International, making the Fast Travel suite of self-service options available to more travelers, improving the already very high settlement rates and accuracy for our financial systems such as the Billing and Settlement Plan; and so forth.

Tyler with Qatar Airways Chief Executive and IATA Chairman Ahkbar Al Baker. (Credits: IATA)
Tyler with Qatar Airways Chief Executive and IATA Chairman Ahkbar Al Baker. (Credits: IATA)

IATA members come from myriad different backgrounds and operate under differing rules when it comes to management. How does IATA work to be the voice for such a diverse group of airlines?

As part of our 70th anniversary celebration, we have adopted a phrase: ‘Flying Better. Together.’ This really captures the role of IATA. While it’s true that our membership is highly diversified, they share many things in common, beginning with a commitment to safety, which is why they adopted the IATA Operational Safety Audit as a requirement for membership in IATA. IOSA has become the only globally accepted standard for operational safety auditing.

We also enable the industry to speak with a single voice with governments and infrastructure providers on issues of shared concern, such as protecting the environment, fees and taxes, and the adequacy of airspace, runway and terminal capacity.

And that points to another way in which IATA represents hundreds of diverse airlines. Aviation is a global business that relies on global standards and practices. It would be very difficult—if not impossible–for a single airline or even a group of airlines to achieve a global standard on things like e-tickets or bar-coded boarding passes or standards for transitioning paper processes to electronic in air cargo.

Another example is the New Distribution Capability initiative that will transform the way air products are retailed to corporations, leisure and business travelers, by developing and adopting a new, XML-based data transmission standard for communications between airlines and travel agents.

Our members also share a desire to reduce cost and complexity, which we continue to address through the Simplifying the Business initiative to streamline processes and drive out waste and inefficiency.

And of course, IATA operates the financial settlement systems that are the backbone of the industry, enabling the swift, reliable, and efficient movement of hundreds of billions of dollars between airlines and their travel partners.

How do you think consolidation and increased technological sophistication have affected IATA’s relevancy to its members?

If anything, it has increased it, particularly when we look at technological development. Standards are vital to the successful widespread adoption and integration of new technology and processes–and standard setting has been IATA’s raison d’être for all our 70 years. Looking at consolidation I would say that it is certainly a positive development for the industry and therefore for IATA, but that overall, aviation remains highly fragmented, so there is still a long way to go in that regard.

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off at Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Credits: Laurent Errerea)
Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off at Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Credits: Laurent Errerea)

At the 2014 AGM, you said that IATA is working with ICAO and experts from around the world on finding the best options to improve global tracking capabilities. You said a draft recommendation would be sent to ICAO in September. Where are you with those recommendations nine months after the disappearance of Flight MH370?

The recommendations of the Aircraft Tracking Task Force, a cross-industry group coordinated by IATA, were presented to ICAO in early December and will be considered in ICAO’s development of a Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS) which is expected to be taken up at ICAO’s 2nd High Level Safety Conference [this] week.

The ATTF report includes a set of performance criteria for aircraft tracking. It recommends that airlines evaluate their current tracking capabilities against the performance criteria and close any gaps within a 12 month time frame.Some already exceed the report’s suggested performance criteria. For others, closing the gap may take more than a 12-month time line for every aircraft.

Once final recommendations are released, who will pay for global tracking?

It is not really possible to put a cost figure behind this. In many cases it may be a matter of using equipment already in the cockpit or introducing new procedures or working with other stakeholders such as ANSPs. In other cases an airline may have to invest in new systems or capabilities to meet the criteria. But at present there is no silver bullet solution. However, we are just a few years away from the implementation of spaced based systems (space based ADS-B for example) which have the potential to enhance coverage very significantly.

Looking at aviation security, you have been vocal about how airlines are helping to fund this with not a good return on their investment, noting that passenger say security is their biggest hassle. How is IATA working with airports and government agencies to ensure security at a reasonable cost and with less hassle for travelers?

I want to emphasize that the existing process works and that passengers are secure, but this all comes at a huge price to airlines and our customers. Airlines are spending over $8 billion a year on security but the system that has been created is neither efficient nor user-friendly. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in our 2014 Global Passenger Survey said that a bad security experience at a transfer airport will affect their future connecting choices.

(Credits: IATA)
(Credits: IATA)

To address this we are working with Airports Council International on Smart Security. Smart Security aims to improve security, and remove the hassle through a combination of process changes and technology, so that passengers proceed smoothly and swiftly through security checkpoints with a minimum of queuing and disrobing. Our board has challenged us to obtain commitments from 20 airports to conduct a Smart Security diagnosis in 2015 or 2016 while moving those previously committed to the Smart Security Proof-of-Concept to implementation.

Smart Security is about more than giving passengers a better experience. Smart Security will be better security because it will enable resources to be directed where they are most needed through adopting a risk-based model. Furthermore, by 2034 airlines will carry approximately 7.3 billion passengers, more than double the number today, according to our 2014 Air Passenger Forecast Global Report. If we don’t’ change how security is managed, airports will be overwhelmed.

We also are working with ACI to identify ways to improve the passenger flow at security checkpoints with existing technology and infrastructure through the Security Access and Egress project.

Where is IATA with implementing the Fast Travel self-service options? How many — which ones — airlines and airports are currently using the technology?

We are making good progress but there is still a lot of work to do to achieve our targets for Fast Travel Penetration. Currently 21 percent of air travelers have access to at least four of the six Fast Travel options and our 2015 target is to boost that to 37 percent so we have a big challenge ahead of us.

How do you think IATA should evolve to provide value to not only its membership, but also the traveling public?

That’s an interesting question. Clearly our mission and focus is to lead, serve and represent the global airline industry, but many of IATA’s activities have and continue to have a direct positive impact on the traveling public. Our settlement systems make it possible to purchase a ticket for international travel on multiple airlines with a single ticket in a single currency.

The Simplifying the Business projects have brought near-universal adoption of e-tickets and bar coded boarding passes and paved the way for e-boarding passes. The Baggage Improvement Program, an initiative undertaken between 2008 and 2012 contributed to a better than 50 percent reduction in mishandled bags. The NDC technical standard will enable passengers to have access to all an airline’s product and service offerings when shopping through the travel agency channel and to receive customized offers if they choose.

And the IATA Travel Centre is a valuable resource for those seeking information about things such as visa and health requirements when visiting international destinations. So what we do makes a big difference to the traveling public, but of course through the services and facilities provided by the airlines, most of which are IATA members.

How is planning going for the AGM in Miami? What will be some of the topics covered at the meeting?

Planning is going well and we expect a very informative and successful meeting. 2015 marks IATA’s 70th anniversary so we will certainly have some special activities around that milestone. It’s probably a bit early to talk about the program content.