As he gets ready for his second IATA annual general meeting as director general, Tony Tyler is looking forward to lively discussion as his members gather in Africa for the first time in more than two decades.
"South African Airways kindly invited us, and it seemed like a good time to come back," says Tyler. "It's a good year to be here because it is the 50th anniversary of the African union and we've just seen the Abuja Declaration, which promises to be a real milestone on the road towards global standards of aviation safety here in Africa. And South Africa is the latest member of the 'BRIC' economies."
Tyler says improving safety must be the priority if Africa's airlines are to reap the rewards of the continent's growth, and having the AGM in the region is an important step in achieving that. "The IATA AGM is a big story, because for several days Cape Town becomes the global centre of commercial aviation. And that gives us a platform through the media and other stakeholder engagements to make public the important agenda we've got here for aviation in Africa, particularly on the safety side."
Last year, IATA members did not suffer a single western-built jet hull loss. But while the safety standards of those African carriers on the IATA operational safety audit oversight register are up with the best, the African safety statistics "still don't look too good because it's the other airlines that are not on the IOSA registry", says Tyler. "The Abuja Declaration has said that everybody's got to move onto the IOSA registry and this meeting gives us a great opportunity to get commitment from the various stakeholders."
And while it's been another busy year globetrotting, Tyler is pleased that he has begun to see his lobbying efforts reap rewards. "Going around the world lobbying, you don't see the results straight away. And as a businessman that's different to what I'm used to, and a bit frustrating. But what you realise is that if you do it consistently, thoroughly and persistently, then you do make a difference. And that's going to help everyone in the industry for years."
Tyler identifies two examples where IATA pressure has begun to have an effect. In India there have been "some improvements" in the charging regime for airlines at airports, he says. "And the president of one country clearly listened to me when I explained that we thought their airport policy was wrong, and the policy is being reviewed."
Other highlights for Tyler over the past 12 months include the EU's decision to "stop the clock" on its emissions trading system implementation and to rethink its airports package. "There will be some very important discussions and decisions to make here in Cape Town about the whole climate change issue," he says.
IATA's long-running project to migrate its industry settlement systems into five global hubs is going smoothly, says Tyler. Connected to this is the restructuring of the regional offices that is seeing the existing seven branches being consolidated into five centres. This is designed to simplify the association's structure and allow its decision-making process to be more agile.
"We realised that to be successful in delivering our strategy, we needed to improve our organisational effectiveness. In too many areas, everybody was involved in the decision and it was not quite clear who was making the decision. Decision-making will now be closer to the members and accountability will be clear."
The big talking point around IATA since last year's AGM has been the association's initiative to shake up the global distribution system sector with its New Distribution Capability (NDC). Designed to decomoditise airlines' product offerings, NDC will be a major theme in Cape Town and Tyler can't wait to show his members how well the project is progressing.
"I'm so excited about NDC," he says, and is encouraged by the "qualified support" IATA is now seeing from some of the GDSs about its plans. "If you don't really understand what NDC is all about - and I think that describes where many people are - go and look at our demonstrator in the exhibition hall and the scales will fall from your eyes. This isn't a product IATA will be selling. It's an example of what will be possible once these standards are developed and in use by every airline."
And GDSs can rest assured that there will not be a blood-sucking leech in sight!