KLM's Peter Hartman has ridden shotgun as IATA chairman for Tony Tyler during the director general's first year in charge
A number of major issues were faced by KLM's chief executive Peter Hartman during his term as chairman of IATA's board of governors, in an eventful time for the industry.
Since succeeding David Bronczek in mid-2011, Hartman has chaired the board through volatile fuel prices, an escalating row over the EU Emissions Trading System, a growing eurozone debt crisis and continuing political unrest.
Hartman views Europe, a principal topic for debate in Beijing, as one of the issues that has dominated his tenure. "Europe is in a financial crisis, the situation in the USA is also not very strong. Around the world, the results of the airlines are deteriorating, but the point is that Europe is at this moment, the worst," he says.
Reiterating IATA's position over issues such as the ETS, he says: "We make it very clear with IATA that we are sponsoring a global system. We are not supportive of a system that only applies for Europeans or that Europe will dictate to the rest of the world what to do."
Hartman began his term as chairman in line with the arrival of new IATA director general Tony Tyler, who succeeded Giovanni Bisignani after a decade at the helm. But they both found themselves entering a storm as IATA came under fire over its perceived lack of transparency in an unprecedented attack during Bisignani's last annual general meeting.
"Wow!" says Hartman when recalling the dramatic manner in which the situation unfolded in Singapore last year. "After the discussions we had in Singapore, it was absolutely necessary that we brought a more transparent approach," he says.
A team was created by Tyler and Hartman, and after discussions with a number of airline chief executives, proposals were sent to IATA's board of governors.
"The way Tony, myself, the team and the other CEOs who were members of the board of governors managed the process, I strongly believe, was very transparent and open," he says, adding that "all our colleagues from the Gulf" were involved.
The proposals, to be discussed in Beijing this week, were circulated to IATA members at the end of last year and although Hartman is uncertain that all concerns will be fully satisfied, he feels "everybody has had sufficient time to react". As such, he does "not expect any unexpected movements" in Beijing and says he and Tyler "would both be disappointed if that happened again".
"We are a large association with many members and it is impossible to please everybody. You also have to find a compromise and I think what we are bringing to the table now is the first step in a more transparent IATA," he says.
Confident that what happened in Singapore will not be repeated, at least over the same issues, Hartman does not believe it should be the way in which any problems are addressed. He feels that the manner in which the grievances were aired in Singapore meant that emotions came into play, "which are not easy to control".
"What always surprises me is it happened in front of so many people. I would have preferred that we discussed it on another table... My preference is that if you have these kind of problems, we discuss this internally, and that is exactly what we did," he says.
Hartman says members should remember that by "staying together, we are stronger than working in a split scenario and hopefully that is now the case". However, he says it is "understandable that people require or say, 'I would like a more vocal voice because I'm growing and I'm also getting more and more important in the industry'".
The theme of unity and solidarity will be developed during the conference. "If you see the developments in the Middle East and other areas, the political unrest, we should realise that many of our colleagues are in distress, they have big problems, not only with their jobs, but with their private lives," he says.
"I can assure you that we feel extremely involved and committed to these people. All these airlines are IATA members and it is very sad to see the problems they have," says Hartman. He hopes that such considerations will put perspective on proceedings in Beijing and says: "It doesn't make sense to complain about everything - that is absolutely something we do not want to do."
Having been, in his words, "deeply involved" in Tyler's appointment in 2011, Hartman says IATA has a "totally different leader that better fits the face of IATA at this moment" and describes him as "the right man, in the right place, at the right moment".
Yet Hartman is also quick to acknowledge the "great contribution" made by Bisignani: "You know when he started, the shape the industry was in and the shape the industry is in at this moment."
Looking forward, Hartman says: "We are in extremely turbulent times and I won't say it was never so bad, but I think it is extremely bad at the moment. I wish I could say next year will be better, but that would be a very dangerous statement." He adds that the industry must cope with many unpredictable variables: "We have no clue how the crisis in Europe will evolve, what the fuel price will do, how the political instability in the world will develop."
Whatever happens, Hartman says that it is imperative for airlines "to keep our people motivated, because if they are not motivated, you won't see passengers that are happy and appreciating our products."