MIAMI — Aviation leaders from all continents have gathered in Miami this week for the Annual General Assembly of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a major industry forum that brings together the leaders of the main airlines and their business partners, in order to charter the future of air travel.

“Miami will be the capital of the global air transport industry as its most senior leaders gather to discuss critical issues such as safety, security, sustainability, meeting passenger demands and revitalizing the air cargo sector,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Open Skies Controversy Put Aside?

While the controversy arisen by U.S. airlines and some U.S.-based associations regarding the alleged financial help provided to Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways (GC3), the issue is absent from the agenda so far.

During a press conference held in Washington D.C. last May, Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Group Chief Executive Officer for Qatar Airways, assured that he would not bring up the subject during the AGM, but also admitted that other GC3 carriers might.

“IATA stands for Air Transportation, IATA stands for free access to markets, IATA stands for protecting their members from unnecessary accusations from any—not only from airlines but from any industry—so, it is not acceptable to me that IATA is sitting on the fence,” he said. “This is a matter I will raise between me and the general director of IATA.”

Major challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean

With 8 percent of the world’s population and only 5 percent of the aviation market, the Latin America region is a prime target for growth in the industry. Recognizing the potential financial windfall, both for the industry and the region in general, a special session — Opportunities and Challenges in Latin America — focused on growth and stability in the region during a special briefing on the eve of the IATA AGM. And, while some of the session focused on prior success and the accomplishments of carriers in the area much of it was dedicated towards addressing what is seen as woeful deficiencies in infrastructure and the regulatory climate.

Peter Cerda, IATA’s Regional Vice President, addressed the lack of adequate infrastructure and excessive taxation and protectionist measures from local governments that are hampering the growth of the industry in the region.

“It is important for the region’s governments to understand that the real value of aviation is the global connectivity it provides and the growth and development it stimulates. Aviation is highly susceptible to increases in taxation, onerous regulation, and the inconsistent application of rules and regulations,” said Cerda. “However, when governments adhere to global standards and work in partnership with the aviation industry, the positive economic repercussions aviation brings are easily attainable. The efforts by air carriers to create a dynamic and thriving aviation industry will only be realized if governments work to ensure excessive taxes and regulations don’t stunt its excellent growth prospects.”

One of the largest specific efforts on this front comes in the form of a new Mexico City international airport, slated to open in 2020, being built to relieve the currently overloaded Benito Juárez facility. Also announced during the session was the signing of an MOU between IATA and both the old and new airport authorities, under which IATA will provide technical and operational assistance in the construction and transition process. This includes helping with slot management at the current airport in an effort to keep things operating smoothly until the new, larger airport opens at the end of the decade. It will also include transitional guidance for moving operations to the new facility as well.

This is not the first time IATA has become deeply involved in specific tasks related to improving the aviation infrastructure in the region. After much concern and more than a few dire warnings, the organization and Brazil’s aviation authorities managed to run a reasonably reliable operation last year during the World Cup, a level of progress many thought impossible. And those improvements have held over to the current operations today improving the ranking of Brazil’s aviation market in the global community, although it still has a long way to go.

Cerda also talked about the case of Venezuela and the repatriation of funds from international carriers serving the country. “We hadn’t had any relevant progress in the negotiations so far and, to be honest, we don’t believe we will see any advances in the coming two years,” he admitted.