INTERVIEW: IATA director general Tony Tyler

Rio de Janeiro
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IATA director general Tony Tyler outlined his "new vision" for the association at this year's ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Rio de Janeiro, heralding a notable change in tone from that of his colourful and outspoken predecessor Giovanni Bisignani.

"I want to see IATA as a strong voice in the chorus rather than a soloist," the new IATA boss tells Flightglobal Pro. "I'll be speaking firmly, but privately."

Bisignani, who stepped down in July after a decade at the IATA helm, was known for his forthright speeches and for "shouting politely" at governments, regulators and airports. His direct and aggressive style when dealing with the industry's stakeholders won him plaudits from his airline colleagues, but ruffled many feathers elsewhere.

"There's only one Giovanni. I come with a pretty solid industry experience and bring my own personal style, which is different from Giovanni's," the former Cathay Pacific Airways chief executive says.

"We can best help our members by being seen by our regulators and other industry stakeholders as an expert, unbiased source of information and knowledge, so IATA has a brand which is seen to be a thoroughly professional and reliable partner."

Tyler emphasised the need for airline associations to work in tandem. "ALTA and IATA are part of the same team," he told delegates at the ALTA leaders forum. "IATA has the global role and ALTA is regionally based. One of my priorities is to make sure we work even more closely together and make the world a better place to do business."

On taking a more conciliatory approach to dealing with the issues facing the industry, Tyler says he will "give it a go". "If people don't listen when I speak softly, I suppose I might have to take a different tack.

"Privately, I'm saying things in a fairly robust way to ministers and regulators who I meet, but I don't think it is particularly helpful to berate and complain publicly about what they are doing.

"We stand more chance of influencing if we have access to their offices and places where they're thinking about changing the rules, rather than just berating them from the outside."

As the IATA director general's role involves constant rounds of high-level meetings, Tyler says he is taking a positive message to governments. "I'm saying that we don't even need a lot of positive help but we just need you to get out of the way and not put barriers in our way and we'll deliver."

Tyler's mission is to make sure IATA delivers more value to its members. "Having come from a member airline I want to see IATA delivering value, because the airlines very much need it." He says "innovation" is a theme he is "gently trying to introduce without a lot of fanfare", which sums up his style.

Bridge-building with airports, often on the receiving end of a Bisignani rant, is already yielding results. "I've been given a very warm welcome by Airports Council International and am developing good dialogue with them," he says. "What I'm keen to do is work positively together on all the things we have in common and be grown up about the fact that in some areas we're always going to be pushing and pulling in different directions.

Another area of frustration for Bisignani was the global distribution system suppliers, who often ended up on the receiving end of an IATA broadside. "GDSs are very important industry partners," says Tyler. "The GDSs aren't going to go away, and we need to engage with them. Ultimately the future's in our own hands and we, the airlines, must find ways ourselves of doing things which lead us to a sustainable business model. Complaining about other people making money isn't going to help us."

Bisignani's final annual general meeting, held in Singapore in June, was notable for an unusually disorderly session, when several airline chief executives - including Emirates' Tim Clark, Qatar Airways' Akbar Al Baker and International Airlines Group boss Willie Walsh questioned IATA's integrity.

Tyler admits he was not entirely surprised by the events in Singapore, and he thinks the passionate opinions on display show that members care deeply about IATA. "Why would they care? It's because they think IATA matters, which is a good thing."

Tyler says since arriving he has held discussions with the individuals concerned, and has already begun to implement changes. This includes reviewing the association's governance.

"The board is going to have a look at those recommendations at our meeting next month. I hope that this will help to make IATA more transparent and more responsive, which were two of the complaints made."

Tyler sees the events of Singapore as par for the course in today's environment. "I'm not afraid of it and I'm quite expecting that at future AGMs I'll be challenged and held to account, and we need to have answers. We'll be ready to do that in Beijing next year."