Montreal Hosts ACI
International Conference

Airports Council leads off Montreal Civil Aviation Week

By Byron Toben

I’ve waited fifteen years to attend the Airports Council International annual conference here in Montreal. Let me explain.

Last time this organization, ACI, comprised of most airports in the world, held the event here in Montreal (the Aviation Capital of the World – see end of this article) was in September 2001. I arrived at the Palais des Congres on the second day, September 11 at noon, not having heard the horrific news that morning. The event was in disarray, as the delegates, mostly managers of airports, scrambled to return to their home cities by bus or car. Those furthest away were grounded here for four days until flights began again.

Peter Bergen CNN

Peter Bergen – Image:CNN

Some of the same individuals showed up this past week and finally enjoyed a peaceful and informative session.

Welcoming all 2200 registrants were Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO of ACI-North America and Anglea Gittens, Director General of ACI-World.

Two of the main topics on the heavy agenda were Security and Environment.

The opening General Session featured Crisis in Communications. Jim Cherry, CEO of Aéroports de Montréal moderated a panel of three whose operations suffered world attention recently. They were Tan Sri Bashir Ahmed Abdul Majid, advisor to Malaysia Airport Holdings, who discussed the still mysterious missing flight MH 370, Scott Clements, CEO of Fort McMurray Airport on the major forest fire there and Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport on its recent terrorist attack. All three stressed how preparations in communications between staff at all levels, as well as the general public, was necessary to alleviate the damage caused by natural forces or human intervention.

marc garneau

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau

Later, the keynote address on terrorist threats was delivered by Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, and author of five books. He distributed his latest, United States of Jihad, about America’s home grown terrorists, a copy of which was given to all attendees.

Westmount’s own Marc Garneau, Canadian Minister of Transport, also delivered salient remarks about ACI’s interaction with ICAO, after which Ms. Gittens distributed plaques to airports reducing their carbon footprints as they rose from stages 1 to 5. Most of these were Canadian and Western US airports, although the first and only top level so far was in India.

This year 2016 is the 25th anniversary of ACI’s birth. Its official magazine Airport World was an anniversary special which also placed our own Montreal-Trudeau (now 75 years old) in the spotlight.

I was amazed at how many women are now running airports and indeed the cover article of the current issue of the quarterly Voice of Airports Centerlines is Shattering The Glass Ceiling… a look at the industry’s leading women.

In a world of declining industries, air travel continues to grow. Forecasts up to 2040 predict this to continue, fuelled in great part by the burgeoning middle classes in China and India.

Supplementing the dozens of educational workshops was a huge 150 exhibitors’ hall featuring booths of suppliers, consultants, commercial tenants, and future digital enhancements. The whole event was a cornucopia of aviation updates for an aviation aficionado like me (involved in the regulatory and legal aspects in a former life). In a world of declining industries, air travel continues to grow. Forecasts up to 2040 predict this to continue, fuelled in great part by the burgeoning middle classes in China and India.

Although the Internet and Skype have reduced the need to travel for some, large segments remain. For pleasure travel, “You can’t e-mail a vacation”. For business travel, some “eyeball to eyeball” sizing up and privacy remains important. For cargo, time sensitive (ladies’ fashions?) or high value small size items (gold bars, electronics). Obviously feathers don’t qualify for air travel… unless unplucked and flown by their creators.

Aviation carries economic benefits beyond borders. Here’s a few random worldwide stats (2015):

Jobs supported by aviation: 62.7 million
Global economic impact: $ 2.7 trillion (3.5% of Global GDP)
Passengers carried: 3.56 billion
Commercial Airlines: 1,402
Commercial Aircraft in service: 26,065
Airports with scheduled commercial flights: 3,883

Why Montreal Is The Capital Of International Civil Aviation

It hosts the following:

ICAO – International Civil Aviation Organization. This is a specialized United Nations agency, established in 1944 by 54 countries at the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. Members are now 191 states with permanent observer status to other groups, including IATA, ACI and IFALPA. It produces many consensus driven Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) to encourage global norms.

IATA – International Air Transport Association is the trade association of the world’s airlines. Founded in 1945 by 57 airlines, it now has 265 airline members in 117 countries, representing 83% of world traffic. It seeks harmony in forms, fares and rates, travel agent relations and technical matters.

IFALPA – International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations was founded in 1948 and based for years in London. In 2012, it moved to Montreal. It has 100 pilot associations representing 100,000 pilots.

ACI – Airport Council International, established in 1991. Its annual statistics cover 2300 airports in 160 countries.

IASL – McGill Institute of Air and Space Law, created in 1951, is the leading such school in the world. It has trained some 1,000 specialists over the years and holds many conferences, seminars and other events as well as generating leading edge research and important publications. Many of its grads now hold key positions in government, industry or academia in their many home countries.

Feature image: abdallahh via

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club. He is also a  former legal officer for IATA.

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