ALTA: New executive director sets out his vision for association

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There is no disguising the passion that ALTA’s newly appointed executive general has for commercial aviation.

"I’m a frustrated pilot," jokes Eduardo Iglesias, explaining how as a lawyer he came to spend the last 14 years in the airline business. "I ended up studying aviation law as a way to put together my interest in aviation with my professional side of life."

Iglesias took over the helm – or more appropriately the control wheel – of ALTA two months ago when the energetic Alex de Gunten decided to return to industry after almost a decade in charge. And his Puerto Rican-born successor will start to put his own stamp on Latin America’s airline association over the next two days at the Airline Leaders Forum in Cancun.

Iglesias joined the airline industry in the late 1990s when he was hired by Federico Bloch to TACA International Airlines in El Salvador, to work in the legal team. By the time he left this summer, Iglesias was legal vice-president at Avianca Holdings, having built up a wealth of experience helping develop Grupo TACA’s cross-border divisions and overseeing its merger with Avianca.

With his legal pedigree, Iglesias brings a new slant to the ALTA leadership at a time when it is particularly appropriate for the association’s relationship with governments and other industry stakeholders. "The association is trying to reflect what the CEOs of Latin America and the Caribbean are seeing as their main concerns looking into the future," he says.

"The message that the CEOs are sending is that is probably time that we develop a new matrix of the challenges we face in the region, so my background could help focus the association on lobbying and making sure that the rules and regulations are aligned with a common approach to the ongoing issues.

"I was part of the Latin American ‘out of the box’ think-tank in terms of aircraft interchanges [at TACA], and I know and have experienced what you can achieve by setting your goals high. Now it’s time to come into the association and see how far we can get on the regulatory, legal, and relationship side."

So Iglesias is taking the opportunity at the Forum, as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, to draw a line in the sand, reflect on what the association has achieved over the last decade, and draw up the next set of objectives to keep the momentum building.

"When you look back over the last 10 years, you will see there are a lot of achievements by our members," he says. "We are no longer followers – we are trendsetters."

He names as examples of the region’s pioneering spirit the aircraft interchanges that big players such as TACA and LAN have employed between their international divisions, as well as common code and single-brand operations. The interchange strategy has enabled the groups to maximise the utilisation of these expensive assets, and in doing so paved the way for the introduction of new advanced-technology aircraft which help deliver improved safety standards.

"Now it’s time to go back to the table, sit down with our members and work on new objectives. I know the CEOs share a lot of concerns," Iglesias says.

One issue becoming increasingly prevalent concerns the rising number of disparate customer-protection rules popping up throughout the region, he says: "Each country is adopting a completely different approach. There’s no consistency, and you have to establish how many regimes may apply to one international passenger."

Iglesias points to the Montreal Convention on passenger rights, which advocates a single international rule for these situations.

Another issue "giving a lot of headaches" is the approach Latin American governments are taking to antitrust legislation, which can prevent airlines participating in commercial partnerships with foreign carriers.

"While the North Atlantic operators have joint ventures operating partnerships with blanket antitrust immunity, you have the Latin American and Caribbean authorities limiting this.

"If our airlines want to participate in these agreements, they must convince their own local authorities to be able to join, and this is proving difficult. We need to work not only on lobbying the governments, but also on educating them."

The need for better education is a theme going forward, says Iglesias: "We must educate the governments on what we need for the future. The same way we did with the aviation authorities to have the interchange of aircraft and to adopt single branding, etc. It seems that we will now need to focus on some other people we left aside in the areas of customer protection and antitrust laws."

Another area in which the region must do better is around aviation infrastructure, and that includes airport and air navigation services: "Even though we are enjoying some new airports in terms of facilities and investment – for example Bogota and Quito – but they must keep pace with growth and introduce more modern navigation aids to be able to fully exploit the new infrastructure. We must make sure that the technology on the ground matches that in the air."

Despite his legal background, Iglesias is very comfortable talking about flight operations. And he hasn’t given up on his dream to be a pilot, if he can find the time in his busy schedule to fit in the training: "One of these days I will do it," he says.