Combined Flight Plan

Partnering to Solve New Demands

By Yvonne Bilshausen and J. Somer Shindler, United Airlines

After decades of insufficient spending on aviation infrastructure and technology, many of America’s airports require renovation, expansion or full replacement. As the aviation industry continues to age, airlines and airports will need to work together to cost-effectively provide better and more efficient services to growing passenger numbers.

Defining the Challenges

A simplistic analysis of modern aviation might suggest that airlines and airports operate under different sets of principles, assumptions and priorities. Airlines, as private sector organizations operating in a highly competitive and low-margin market, have developed strengths in network operations, cost controls, fleet and logistics planning, and flexible operational planning. On the other hand, airlines generally operate as tenants in their networks, resulting in underdeveloped experience in facilities maintenance or management, fixed asset life cycle planning, or infrastructure asset management systems.

Conversely, airports are generally public organizations, accountable to a variety of stakeholders and act as a driving force in the local and regional economies in which they operate. Because of this, they must maintain a long-term perspective. Not surprisingly, airports have developed the ability to conduct capital improvement and airport master planning; however, long-range planning typically does not incorporate facility or asset management systems planning. Because of this and the nature of fixed assets and capital investment time frames, airports generally are unable to act with agility and short‑term responsiveness.

Despite their differences, airports and airlines value predictability, balance and agility. Whether planning for the short or long term, both entities are focused on achieving operational continuity and beneficial expansion for their shared customers, based on sound capital investments and operational expenses.