As Latin American and Caribbean airline leaders arrive in San Juan for this year’s forum, parts of the region are being battered by economic headwinds which are making life difficult for some members.

But ALTA executive director Eduardo Iglesias, who welcomes delegates to his home country for this year’s event, is confident these are short-term worries and that the region can still look towards solid growth prospects.

“In the first nine months we’ve continued to see a 5% growth over 2014 – that’s six million more passengers,” says Iglesias. He expects this year will close out 8-10 million passengers ahead of 2014, at around 210 million passengers.

“So even though we are going through an economic slowdown and some traffic adjustments, we continue to grow. I am fully confident that as soon as this situation turns around we will see more growth in traffic and the expected doubling in traffic in 10-15 years.”

Iglesias, now two years into his role at ALTA, has been gradually adapting the association as he gains a greater understanding of his members’ requirements. This has ranged from streamlining processes to revamping committees.

“We’ve put forward some new ones and wound up one or two committees that were not up to a standard we wanted,” he says. “We have a new committee on aircraft fleet management with a special emphasis on lease returns, which is proving to be very effective.”

Work is also well advanced on “some new software and systems solutions that should be very useful for the airlines”, and these are expected to be rolled out before the end of this year. ALTA has also been working to update its existing website, while in parallel creating a “next-gen” site fully compatible with the mobile generation.

“It takes a while for you to understand the mindset of the members, the needs of the airlines and the affiliates. Last year helped me visualise all their needs and helped us plan our agenda for this year,” Iglesias says.

Topics up for discussion during over the next few days are close to ALTA’s heart and the needs of the region, says Iglesias. These include areas such as open skies; the economic benefits of air travel; distribution; attracting more finance and investment; safety; and airports.

Iglesias wants to reignite the once close relationship that existed between airlines and airports. “Somewhere along the way that partnership was lost, and we are trying to loop back and extend our hand to airports to develop a joint agenda,” he says.

A delegation from ACI’s Latin American and Caribbean division is due to be present at the forum, and Iglesias is looking forward to some useful talks with them.

In the distribution arena, Iglesias wants to drive the technology agenda. He likens the situation to airlines having the best restaurants on the side of the highway, but no one can see them. “Technology is changing very fast and we will answer that concern that the airline industry isn’t able to react at the same speed as other industries.”

Iglesias also expects the impact of the current headwinds buffeting some parts of the ALTA region will be a key talking point.

“In Venezuela these are political and economical, and in Brazil it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the currency devaluation. Latin America continues to be highly dependent on commodity exports and we still have a long way to go to become a ‘final product’ export region,” he says.

There may be some economic headwinds blowing strongly across our host island this year, but Iglesias is very excited to be showcasing his homeland to forum delegates. “I was born and grew up here so for me it is a privilege to welcome everyone to Puerto Rico,” he says.

“We’re an island in the Caribbean that shares Spanish and American cultures. We are currently facing some economic challenges, but I’m fully confident we will overcome those in the future,” he adds.

Source: Flight Daily News