The new executive director of ALTA, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, is promising to give the association a stronger focus on collaboration between the region's stakeholders – aided by the setting up of a new office in Panama.
"We'll have new employees working from Panama, because Panama is closer to the industry in the region," de Oliveira tells FlightGlobal on the eve of his first Airline Leaders Forum in the role. He adds that ALTA – the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association – "is not leaving Miami".
Nevertheless, de Oliveira, who took up the executive director role on 1 October, will be based at the Panama office from January 2018. That decision marks a break in the trend for executive directors to work from Miami, outside ALTA's region of focus.
The new Panama office will be at the centre of campaigns that directly address the region's issues, while the Florida office will handle ALTA's industry relationships, he explains.
ALTA will be "joining offices" with one of de Oliveira's previous employers, IATA, in both Miami and Panama. This development is part of a drive to foster collaboration. "When you join efforts, you are much stronger," says de Oliveira.
"We will be working more closely with our partners: governments, airlines and other [ALTA] members; other associations like IATA and the A4A [Airlines for America]; and many other organisations."
He hopes that being based in the region will help ALTA address a range of issues that affect its members. Alongside longer-term concerns, these include economic recession in Brazil, depreciated currencies in a number of countries, and difficulties in repatriating revenue from Venezuela.
ALTA's new leader took up the role following the departure of Eduardo Iglesias after a four-year stint.
Most recently, de Oliveira worked as World Fuel Services' vice-president of supply development for Latin America and the Caribbean. Before that, he spent 10 years at IATA, leading fuel and airport campaigns that involved interactions with governments, oil companies, fuel service providers and airports in the Americas, Africa and the Middle East regions.
Pre-IATA, he worked in various roles during 12 years at Shell.
Reflecting on his career and the qualities that make him the right person to lead ALTA, de Oliveira observes that "selling ideas is sometimes much tougher than selling products".
His IATA experience is particularly important. "I was really engaged in work to convince people, to make things happen in the industry," he recalls.
Brazil-born de Oliveira says that under his leadership, ALTA will intensify its focus on costs, while continuing to work on the four key pillars outlined by previous executive director Iglesias: selling the economic benefits of aviation; safety and security; efficiency and productivity; and the environment.
He complains that the percentages of income handed to national governments by airports such as Santiago, Bogota and Lima is "insane, compared with other parts of the world".
Latin America is "very well known as one of the most expensive areas of the world to fly", de Oliveira asserts. "We have expensive airports, we have expensive fuel...
"Basically, [cost is an] area where we'll work hard, and we'll put more resources into ALTA to do that."
Unsurprisingly, de Oliveira also cites infrastructure as a high-priority issue in the region. He believes that while airlines have been investing in new aircraft and offering very competitive fares, governments are not keeping their side of the bargain when it comes to developing airports and air traffic control.
"We see most of the airports in the region are very congested and [the increasing number of airlines] makes them even more congested – we see low-cost airlines growing, increasing the number of passengers, increasing the number of movements... You need investment in airport infrastructure and in air traffic control to cope with the growth."
Complexity in the region's regulatory environment is another challenge that de Oliveira is hoping to address with his collaborative approach.
"The region needs to work a little bit more without borders. Because aviation is a business that is really global," he says. "An airline that does a check in Country A should also be approved for Country B. The pilot that flies in Country A should also be able to fly in Country B," he adds, seeking to illustrate a lack of joined-up thinking on regulatory requirements across the region.
Along with these pressing challenges, de Oliveira is also keen to broaden ALTA's membership, amid the growth in low-cost carriers in the region.
"We have a list of target airlines we would like to bring to ALTA," he states. "Of course, low-cost carriers would be welcome, but our biggest targets are the Brazilian airlines. We have only two Brazilian airlines in ALTA. We would like to bring in Gol and we would also like Azul as part of our membership."
When asked how he might convince such carriers to join, he cites the example of how industry associations such as ALTA helped to cut aviation taxes in Brazil – an advantage that far outweighs the cost of membership.
He also suggests ALTA will be working hard to address the problem that Brazil, he believes, has "the most expensive fuel in the world".
Brazil is a key talking point in the industry for other reasons: de Oliveira knows from experience how important the country's economy is to the region. He suggests the economic situation there may be improving after a tough few years.
"I am Brazilian, I was born in Brazil. I remember as a kid when my father received his salary the whole family would go to the supermarket to stock up on food because inflation was really high," he recalls. "Then, after some years, Brazil started nearing the top of GDP and income lists. But then we had a crisis again."
He believes things are looking up again, with the aviation industry providing a key indicator: "If you see the Brazilian air cargo industry, it is growing faster than the passenger [numbers], and that's a good indication that the economy is growing. That means the economy is heating.
"I'm quite sure that in a few years we'll have double-digit growth again in [Brazil's] aviation industry. There's a lot to do in terms of infrastructure, passenger rights, cost of fuel. But I believe changes will come and Brazil will start to be back on track."
More reasons for optimism come from indications in some countries that governments are at least partly beginning to appreciate the benefits that aviation can bring.
"We've seen the co-operation between Brazil and Argentina in terms of the traffic between the two countries, helping each other with infrastructure, with benchmarking, with air traffic control, with concessions at airports, with many things," he says when asked about the region's success stories.
He also cites Panama as "a very good example of how aviation can bring an opportunity for a country to grow", with businesses relocating to the country thanks to the abundant connectivity being driven by Copa Airlines.
As the ALTA Leaders Forum approaches, de Oliveira says host country Argentina provides another positive story for the region with its recent opening up of aviation to overseas players. It also reflects some of the region's challenges, however, with its ageing infrastructure.
But while there will be plenty of talking points at the 19-21 November event in Buenos Aires, de Oliveira is clear about his overall aim.
"My main objective is to put ALTA at the top of the mind of the region again," he says. "Selling the idea, selling ALTA as an organisation that supports the industry, together with my team, to make ALTA top in the mind of governments, top in the minds of airlines in the region...
"[I want to put] ALTA in a position where it helps to create a great environment for aviation in the region."
Source: Cirium Dashboard