What’s the main challenge facing airports today?

Airports face several interlocking challenges. Decarbonisation needs to be balanced with business viability. There are digital transformation demands and expectations around emerging future flight technologies. Climate adaptation and extreme weather events coupled with increased geopolitical tensions are causing economic shocks and disrupting operational activities. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, airports also need to understand their vulnerabilities, particularly if another complete shutdown becomes necessary.

Many of these challenges are emerging risks that aren’t backed up with historical data, and there are also workforce challenges, with organisations needing to establish ways to attract skills and achieve more with less experienced teams.


How can these issues best be tackled?

Insurance and risk management partners can help airports take an agile, multifaceted approach to existing and emerging risks, turning challenges into opportunities where possible. We also have the perspective and relationships to collaborate with stakeholders across an airport’s entire risk ecosystem, which is crucial to building true resilience. For example, our Airport Risk Index (ARI) tool compares an airport’s resilience to 19 potential major threats against 110 anonymised airports globally. It’s been the backbone of our discussions with senior leaders and risk managers since it was launched in 2022, helping them deliver resilient planning pathways.

Airports need resilience and adaptability if they want to flourish

What did the aviation sector learn from COVID-19 and the ensuing recovery?

COVID-19 was spectacularly complicated, but I’m still impressed with how airport leaders, regulators and policymakers worked together. It also reminded us about the importance of resilience and adaptability, underscoring the need for flexible operational models and efficient crisis management and highlighting the significance of sustainable practices. The recovery emphasised the value of collaboration, information sharing and utilising technology to enhance operational efficiency and passenger safety. All this against a complex backdrop of skills and staff shortages.


What have you learned?

When we set up WTW’s Airport Risk Community in 2018, it was always intended to be a forum for sharing best practices and knowledge for the industry. The pandemic emphasised its importance and membership has swelled to more than 1,000 risk management and airport industry experts. It helped members navigate the uncertainty around the restart and it’s become an important part of the collaborative approach that we take with our risk partners. We believe it will help organisations respond efficiently when the next black swan swoops down.


What single piece of advice would you give an airport operator in today's climate?

The aviation insurance market has been in a very complicated position for the last couple of years as it has responded to the pandemic, increased geopolitical tensions and the changing risk profile of the industry as a whole. The best advice is to proactively engage with your risk management and insurance partners and help them understand your organisation and the steps that you are taking to mitigate your risks.

The industry is constantly changing, so you need to keep talking, share knowledge and use the expertise that’s out there. 

Darren Porter, WTW

Darren Porter, managing director for Global Aviation & Space, WTW