Outgoing chairman of IATA's board of governors Willie Walsh believes the association’s recruitment of Alexandre de Juniac has given it the right voice at a crucial time for the industry.
IAG chief executive Walsh completes his year as chairman of the IATA board at the end of the association's AGM in Cancun – a year in which former Air France-KLM chief de Juniac took over from Tony Tyler at the helm of the organisation.
"One of my key responsibilities was to make sure that [the transition] went well and Alexandre felt comfortable in the new role and I provided him with the support he might require. I think he has done a fantastic job," Walsh told FlightGlobal in an interview ahead of the 4-6 June AGM.
"He settled in very quickly. He was clinical in terms of his assessment of where he believes IATA is doing good work and where IATA can improve its performance. He's established himself as the leader of the organisation and I think everyone is looking forward to hearing from him in Cancun to get his assessment of his first year in charge."
De Junaic's predecessor, the diplomatic Tony Tyler, marked a stark contrast to the more vocal approach of Giovanni Bisignani. And Walsh believes the further change in style and personality will again benefit the association.
He says: "He's only the seventh director-general or CEO of IATA, so it doesn't come around all that often to have a change in leadership. You saw the change in style when Tony took over from Giovanni, and now again from Alexandre taking over from Tony. I think it's healthy for the organisation to get different styles of leadership appropriate to the challenges that the industry faces at that stage.
"It's not just the message, it's how that message is delivered that is important." He adds: "I think Alexandre has done that in a very professional and very diplomatic – but, when he needs to be, a very forceful – manner, and that is a style that is appropriate at the moment. So I think IATA's voice is being heard. We are listened to and what we see now is our view on issues is being sought, and I think that's a very positive development."
A challenging first year in charge for de Juniac began at the crunch ICAO general assembly last autumn, at which a global market-based measures scheme to tackle aviation emissions was agreed – an outcome IATA had spent much of Tyler's tenure working to secure.
If ICAO was at the top of the in-tray when de Juniac took up the role in the summer, less expected have been the moves by the US and UK authorities to introduce restrictions on carrying personal electronic devices on board certain flights.
IATA issued a strongly worded response to the mooted extension of the US ban on PEDs from specific countries, to also apply to European flights, on the eve of a crunch meeting between EU and US officials. For now, at least, the USA seems to have put the measures on hold.
The existing restrictions issued by US and UK authorities remain in place. But the fact that the US and UK measures applied to different countries raised eyebrows, particular given that the US ban applied to several Gulf states.
"It does bring into question some of these measures, whether they are genuinely driven by safety and security requirements or whether there are other political reasons behind it," says Walsh. "I think that became more obvious when you saw the UK impose a ban on a different list of countries than the US ban. That, I think, does raise the issue in the public's mind about the credibility of these issues, and that is damaging to the industry.
"What we want as an industry is a dialogue of a common understanding of the problem and a common understanding of the actions that can be taken to mitigate the risks that have been identified, and none of us want to see the competitive landscape distorted by different measures being applied by different countries."
This issue will doubtless be among the topics discussed during the AGM. But overall Walsh expects the industry to be focused on IATA's core role.
"It will continue to be the basics of IATA which are fundamental to the industry, which are things like the settlement systems, which everyone in IATA values, and to make sure that's being done in a secure fashion – cyber security is obviously a concern for everyone.
"Ensuring IATA's voice is heard at ICAO where regulations are being debated," he adds. "Ensuring that the decision at the last ICAO, in relation to climate change and CORSIA, gets translated into an effective scheme and IATA continues to lobby to get more countries to participate on a voluntary basis, which will give greater credibility to the scheme.
"And having a good dialogue in relation to the challenges the industry faces, including those of security and making sure the industry is not burdened with regulation that is unnecessary, is unhelpful and goes counter to the interests of the consumer that we serve," he adds.
As for Walsh, he says he's thoroughly enjoyed his year as chairman. "I've been on the board of governors for some considerable time and I enjoy it and take my responsibilities seriously," he says. "It's great to see so many leaders within the industry wanting to participate. It's one of the things we've done recently: we've looked at our governance to see is it effective and can we make it more effective, and we actively involve more people in the running of IATA."