What do you do when the current ‘dip’ in the air passenger growth graph of your airport looks like an abyss when compared to what now looks like the barely registered potholes of past major crises?
To find out, Swinburne’s Department of Aviation, in conjunction with the Smart Cities Research Institute, asked Lyell Strambi, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Australia Pacific Airport Corporation (APAC), to present Swinburne’s annual Aviation Leadership Lecture on 19 October.
Mr Strambi has kept his faith in the industry, with a career spanning forty years – working at Ansett, Virgin Atlantic, and Qantas – to be appointed CEO and MD of APAC in 2015.
Responsible for operations and development of Melbourne and Launceston Airports, he now oversees a direct workforce of 300 and around $10 billion in assets.
In his words, his career is ‘fairly seasoned’ when it comes to crises, having survived the 1989 pilot’s strike, the oil embargo, SARS, 9/11, and the global financial crisis.
9/11 and the Covid-19 chasm
As Chief Operating Officer of Virgin Atlantic, Mr Strambi remembers the 9/11 experience professionally as akin to being pushed off a ledge and on the way down realising that there is a rope around your leg.
“As you’re falling, you’re looking back at this rope and thinking ‘my God, I think this rope is too long!’… There was a real chance we would fall on the rocks before the rope came to our rescue. So, our focus was on spending a whole lot of time trying to tie knots in that rope.”
Moving into the present and speaking of the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 situation, he expanded on the analogy, saying “again, it’s a bit like being pushed off a cliff, but the chasm we are being pushed into is so big you can’t even see the bottom. You can’t see the other side of the void that’s in front of us. And I look around and I can’t see a rope.”
But according to Mr Strambi all is not lost, as history shows, the industry has always recovered. With this in mind, APAC has embraced a three-phase model for the COVID-19 situation: proactively responding, ensuring resilience for survival, and preparing for the inevitable rebound.
He provided some professional insights into Melbourne Airport’s response, the risk management and contingency measures undertaken and the corporate and financial restructuring.