Alexandre de Juniac has barely paused for breath during his first few months as IATA director general.
The global geopolitical, regulatory, security and operational quandaries have come quick and fast since his appointment was formally ratified last June.
"When you move from an airline to IATA the two big differences are the following: you don't have the operational and social pressures on your back any more, and on the contrary, you deal with the same subject from a different angle – from the industry perspective, from an international perspective," he states, speaking to FlightGlobal in his office overlooking Geneva airport's runway. "You travel more and you meet more government officials to defend the industry. It's the same issues, dealt with differently. You significantly broaden your scope."
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when de Juniac was confirmed as Tony Tyler's successor as IATA director general last year, mainly because his name had not been among the front-runners in much of the industry gossip. But a review of his experience – particularly his background in the public sector – shows why he was viewed as an attractive candidate by IATA's board of governors.
Before taking the IATA role, de Juniac had been at Air France-KLM since 2011, serving first as head of the French side of the business before becoming group chief executive in 2013. While he enjoyed some success as an airline chief, notably swinging the group back to a net profit in 2015, his tenure was blighted by a familiar issue in France: conflict with unions.
Most notoriously, two members of his senior Air France team literally lost the shirts off their backs when a meeting to discuss job cuts was interrupted by protesters in September 2014. Speaking at an industry lunch earlier this year, de Juniac jokingly gestured to his pristine white shirt when asked whether he missed being an airline chief.
Aside from some time with French industry giant Thales, de Juniac is also known for this work in politics during the 1990s and early 2000s, including as an adviser to future French president Nicolas Sarkozy and later as chief of staff to future IMF chief Christine Lagarde, who was serving as France's finance minister.
That mixture of experience arguably leaves him well placed for his current role, which requires him to initiate and oversee dialogue with stakeholders, including governments, on a range of issues affecting the industry.
De Juniac has already coined a "business of freedom" catchphrase in response to one industry challenge, first using it during a speech at the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) Leaders' Forum in November, just days after Donald Trump had won the US presidential election and a few months after the UK had voted to leave the European Union.
"We think that this [business of freedom] message is particularly essential these days," de Juniac says. "We are seeing in the current period protectionist and border restriction rhetoric in many countries."
His early confidence reflects the fact that as a former member of the IATA board of governors, de Juniac already had a strong understanding of the association's function within the industry.
"We defend the interests of the industry. But as we are a well-established institution, we have an authority that is different from a normal trade association," he states. "We are an institution with the authority and ability to regulate – of course with the input of others – that gives us a special authority and special skills.
"We are also offering a lot of services to the industry. So we are lobbying, issuing standards and offering services; it is quite a diversified range of services."
His views on IATA's remit within the aviation industry are familiar, but he has already made some fundamental changes that mark him apart from previous directors-general. Most prominent among them is the introduction of the IATA 2020 initiative, setting out 10 key aims for the organisation. Previously, the director general would discuss the next year's priorities with the board every December, but de Juniac recognised this could create a short-termism unsuited to the issues at hand.
"[The IATA 2020 goals] correspond to our day-to-day business or horizon, which is not a short-term horizon for many things we are doing," he says.
He has helped to create 10 goals – two internal and eight external – covering topics such as infrastructure, regulation, safety, security, taxation, charges, distribution, innovation, payment and broadening of IATA's membership. "They have been approved by the board of governors. We are now developing the action plan and KPIs for this organisation to have a clear strategic roadmap," he says.
De Juniac is also aiming to strengthen IATA's position as the main port of call for stakeholders such as governments when they are looking for aviation industry input. "I want to increase IATA's position as a reference authority," he says. "When we talk about aviation, the eyes should turn to IATA."
A key element in fostering that authority is IATA's geographical scope. De Juniac's experience so far is that demand for the organisation's expertise is strongest in regions with less-developed aviation frameworks.
"In [a recent visit to] India for instance, we met with all levels of government, including the top dog," he recalls. "We feel we were particularly well received, we were listened to. IATA's voice plays a key role in a big country like India. In China, the same thing."
In countries with developed aviation frameworks, however, that need for IATA input is naturally reduced. "Clearly the countries in which aviation is strong and very old... they value IATA slightly less than countries that have slightly less experience and less expertise... That's normal," de Juniac states.
This means that Africa – potentially "the next frontier of our industry", he says – Asia and the Middle East are places where demand for IATA's input is particularly strong, whether for its regulatory expertise or its services.
"Even in the US we have been received by the top authorities," de Juniac states. "They also have their own administration and own authorities who are particularly strong, but we work very closely with them."
IATA's authority to speak for the industry still looks to be built on solid foundations; de Juniac says the organisation currently represents about 83% of global passenger traffic, for example. A notable gap in the IATA membership, however, features some of world's biggest low-cost carriers. Ryanair and EasyJet are not members, despite being in the top 10 global airlines by passengers carried. De Juniac wants to address this.
"We are more and more low-cost, but you're right to say the biggest ones are not members," he says. "It is among our priorities for 2020 to enlarge our membership base to the low-cost companies." When asked how IATA will achieve this, he responds: "We will convince them that being a member of IATA is profitable for them, that we add value."
The blurring of lines between different carrier types will also help IATA to attract these budget operators, de Juniac believes. "The evolution of the low-cost world [means] these companies are... becoming closer to the full-service companies," he says. "Now you have a continuous chain between the ultra-low-cost and the full-service companies. This has increased the interest of some low-cost carriers to join IATA because they have common issues, common problems with their full-service colleagues."
That common ground has been reflected in the rise of groups such as Airlines for Europe (A4E), in which some of the biggest names in low-cost airline leadership – including Michael O'Leary of Ryanair and Carolyn McCall of EasyJet – are full, paid-up members alongside legacy groups such as Air France-KLM, IAG and Lufthansa. But de Juniac does not see this as a challenge to IATA's authority to speak for the industry.
"They defend the regional issues – but we work very closely with them because a lot of regional issues are extensions of worldwide topics that IATA is dealing with," he says.
"In addition, we have quite powerful resources and numerous experts that we can provide to the association to defend it or to work on the issues they are dealing with," he adds. "So it's a close collaboration – very, very close."
An awkward issue around IATA's membership, inherited by de Juniac, is that US and Gulf carriers sit side by side as high-profile members of IATA while an unresolved dispute around accusations of state subsidies rumbles on. He says, however, that this is not a problem. "The fact that we have this big conflict doesn't prevent them from participating and being active members," he says.
One example of US and Gulf carriers having shared interests that can be advanced by IATA is infrastructure improvement.
"It's among our top 10 priorities for IATA 2020: to significantly advocate in favour of developing infrastructure to cope with the growth in traffic," de Juniac says. "What we ask is to be in the loop from the beginning. To give our position, our advice, our guidelines, our limits within which the project should be designed and implemented."
On the infrastructure situation in the Middle East, de Juniac describes the region's airspace management arrangements as "totally suboptimal", and urges strong co-operation between countries to counter this.
In the USA, the Trump administration recognised ATC improvements as a priority when the president met with US airline chiefs in February. "The new infrastructure policy... we welcome that, because the US needs investment in infrastructure," de Juniac says. "But we set the same criteria on capacity, affordability and efficiencies.
"We are also in China working on improving on the airspace management to avoid delays," he says. IATA is concurrently aiming to bring China into line with worldwide slot guidelines by ending the country's efforts to adapt the system through initiatives such as slot auctions.
Infrastructure also highlights an area where IATA straddles advocacy and consultancy services. The organisation has worked in a consultancy capacity with the Mexican government on the airports programmes, for example.
But de Juniac knows that IATA will ultimately be judged on its ability to influence such projects for the benefit of the industry it represents. When asked to describe what a successful infrastructure outcome might look like by 2020, he says: "If we are able to maintain the [London Heathrow third runway] project at reasonable financial limits, we would consider that progress. If we convince the Gulf states to create something – an institution or whatever – to co-operate on air traffic management, we would consider that a positive outcome. If we can accelerate the next general SESAR [Single European Sky ATM Research] programme or US equivalent, that would be a positive step forward."
One big challenge faced by de Juniac, however, is that stakeholders do not always go to IATA before making decisions that affect the industry. One recent high-profile example of this was the introduction of a ban on large electronic items in the cabin of certain flights to the UK and USA from some Middle East countries.
De Juniac is clear that IATA wants to be involved before such initiatives are introduced, particularly as it has a tailor-made "Smarter Regulation" framework for consultation with governments. "This consultation as a principle should always happen before, because it's much better to ask the specialists what they are thinking about the set of measures envisaged by the government, otherwise it can lead to something that is inefficient or inapplicable," he states.
"We do not pretend to have all answers or to be geniuses, but we claim to know how to transport people and goods, and to have practical ideas on how it should be done because we have experience transporting millions of people and millions of tonnes of cargo every day," de Juniac adds.
"Smarter Regulation" reflects what is bread and butter to IATA – its role and experience in regulating the industry – and de Juniac is clearly frustrated that governments did not take advantage of this. "I have called the head of the TSA [the US Transportation Security Administration], we have written to the UK and US governments," he says. "Our technical teams have worked very closely with the security administrations involved in those measures and frankly we haven't received very convincing and satisfactory answers up to now.
"Putting the electronic device in the [aircraft] belly is not totally convincing if the problem is the risk of explosions. But we don't know if that's the risk," he adds.
While justification for the electronics bans remains elusive, de Juniac says IATA has lobbied to prevent the action being extended in its current form.
IATA was also not consulted before the Trump administration attempted, initially in January, to ban people travelling to the USA from certain Middle East counties. This again left de Juniac frustrated, not least because "as a matter of principle we are opposed to any limitation on travel or exchange of goods. We don't want the borders to be closed or to be restricted."
He does, however, acknowledge that countries have a right to manage their borders. "We recognise the responsibility of the state to define what is the access to the country... but we would like to be informed in advance for these measures to be implemented properly without creating confusing and a complete mess in airports.
"We are not in agreement with these measures, but if you do it, do it properly," he states.
Adopting new measures is a challenge he faces on several fronts already as director general, with the implementation of ICAO's CORSIA emissions standards being another high-profile example. De Juniac is keen to highlight how unusual it is for such a huge industry to self-regulate – an achievement that bodes well for future challenges he might face with IATA's diverse global membership.
"I strongly believe that having carbon-neutral growth starting in 2020 and reducing our emissions by half in 2050 compared with 2005... is an incredible achievement," he says. "Everyone who has a stake in this industry has a duty in terms of preserving our environment and limiting our carbon dioxide emissions."
Asked whether he is concerned about Trump’s ambiguous rhetoric around the USA's commitment to climate change initiatives, de Juniac takes a firm line.
"We would be very disappointed to see one of the key countries in this agreement leave or to have doubts on the validity and opportunity of this agreement," he states. "It would be a disaster for our industry, because then it would trigger... a national system, which we're trying to avoid."
Safety is another key focus for de Juniac and IATA. Flight-tracking standards, developed to avoid a repeat of an aircraft being lost, as was the case with Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in March 2014, are due to come into force from November 2018 as part of an effort led by ICAO. Meanwhile, IATA's IOSA safety audit programme now has about 415 carriers on its registry, versus an IATA membership number of 265.
While de Juniac says he does not see the need to actively convince more airlines to become IOSA certified, he does suggest modernisation of the system should increase its attractiveness. "We have to modernise our IOSA system by digitalising the audit itself, and we have to update it and revisit it regularly to ensure it is accurate and consistent and we reach the right objectives," he says.
He cites Africa as an IOSA success story, stating that there were zero jet hull losses and no fatal accidents on the continent in 2016.
De Juniac also talks up IATA's New Distribution Capability (NDC), which is still in the early stages of adoption by the industry. "We think that NDC is a key evolution for the airline that wants to control access to their customer base and have a more direct channel with their distribution network," he says, adding that IATA's One Order initiative is an important step beyond NDC.
Since he spoke to FlightGlobal, de Juniac's inbox has swelled further as the forced ejection of a passenger on a United Airlines flight became a global story about overbooking practices.
"There are calls for more heavy-handed government oversight [of overbooking]," he said in early May during a speech at a travel industry event. "That would be a retreat from the competitive market forces unleashed by deregulation. The video was so shocking that it would be easy for lawmakers and regulators to get caught up in this groundswell of outrage."
Delegates at de Juniac's first IATA AGM as director general in early June will certainly not be short of talking points.
Source: Cirium Dashboard