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The new airport leaders

by Dr. Pierre Coutu, Head of AMPAP

The Airport Management Professional Accreditation Program (AMPAP) is developing a new generation of airport industry professionals and leaders. We talk to Head of AMPAP, Dr. Pierre Coutu

How did AMPAP come about?

The initiative was started thanks to the foresight of ICAO and ACI, and their respective heads in 2007 – Taïeb Chérif (ICAO Secretary General) and Robert Aaronson (ACI Director General). They based their ideas around two core ICAO principles.

First, international co-operation is the best guarantee of success given the massive collective challenges facing the industry. Second, training must be universally accessible, affordable and timely.

ACI understood that the best investment for a safe, secure and sustainable future was through heightened industry knowledge, relentless exposure to best, shared practice and a constantly growing network of peers across the world. ACI was doing a sound job of representing its members, but the organization saw others providing training and skills development for senior managers. Perhaps they could do it better, with more focus?

ICAO was fulfilling its mandate for creating and requiring the standards that provide safe and secure air transport. But they’d been less successful in creating a standard for minimum levels of competency, particularly in the management of airports.

ICAO and ACI then discussed the project with CEOs at airports of all sizes around the world, before launching AMPAP in 2007.

Was the timing important?

I don’t think it would have succeeded if we’d started much earlier. It’s only in the recent past that the concept of an airport as a commercial enterprise has taken hold. Twenty years ago, most were still part of a bureaucracy, such as a Ministry of Aviation. Today it’s vastly different.

The second reason is that, as new global operators invest in airports across borders, they’re inevitably looking for global standards.

So proactive senior managers more often than not fully supported by their employers – have to consider gaining qualifications that are more specific to this newly energized sector, international in nature, and recognized as a global management standard.

The International Airport Professional (IAP) designation earned by those successfully completing AMPAP courses provides that assurance.

Do IAP graduates become change agents?

Very definitely. Since we ran our first course in 2007, about 425 airport executives have graduated, from all corners of the world. The vast majority of those are CEOs/General Managers, deputy CEOs/VPs, or Directors.

The balance are executive advisers or section managers. These are driven professionals – and like any professional involved in an accreditation program, they expect to succeed. They do so by focusing and learning about best practice; about what works in other environments, other airports.

We’re already seeing job advertisements for senior airport executives stressing a preference for IAP graduates.

And in southwest France, the home of Airbus, the Toulouse Business School recognizes the IAP qualification by discounting both the time and money needed to study for its Aerospace MBA. Other universities are looking to do the same thing.

As with all professional programs of this sort, the cost of achieving IAP qualification is a significant investment. Many of the decisions to enroll senior staff are taken by CEOs concerned with succession issues, including top executives who are new hires from a different industry.

Some CEOs have put all of their direct reports through the program. It’s becoming a statement about the kind of airport business that is being run.

Are you succeeding in your ambition to have a global mix of airports?

Yes, very much so. In absolute numbers, our biggest market is Asia Pacific, with just under half of all AMPAP candidates (including graduates). But I’m sure that won’t surprise you, since it’s the most dynamic air transport market.

Our second biggest market is North America with 19%. That’s a good and growing trend and reflects not only change within the US and Canada in terms of airport professionalism, but also greater involvement of North American airport companies in other parts of the world.

Participation from Europe is somewhat disappointing, with 13% of candidates. With so much change going on in a crowded sector, we hope to see more. Africa is running at about the same rate (12%) which is encouraging, and Latin America and the Caribbean make up the rest, at 8%.

Investment in the program is an important strategic development for many developing countries. In the past, many have tended to rely on expatriates from Europe or North America to provide the senior management skills. That is rapidly changing in favor of country nationals.

As for candidates by airport size, the four main sectors (<2m passengers, 2m-10m, 10m-30m, >30m) are pretty much evenly mixed. Again, that would never have been possible 20 years ago.

But today, thanks to advances in technology, including the pay-as-you-go model provided by SITA, small airports with a handful of flights a week can offer much of the same functionality as the bigger airports. They will have a different perspective on customer service and operational management – but always valid.

Bear in mind that the AMPAP courses are based on perhaps 10% ICAO and ACI guidance and 90% learning and discussion around best practice. The different viewpoints of the CEO of a 30m-plus airport and a 2m airport can be transformational to each other.

Do you mix nationalities, regions and size of airport?

Always. The more diversity the better, for candidates as well as for instructors. Naturally, the variety of professional and cultural perspectives greatly adds to the depth of learning.

Is your IAP Community of Practice for alumni?

That’s right, but it’s not just another alumni association, meeting for an annual dinner and game of golf! It’s a fantastic (and an obvious) way of reinforcing the value of the AMPAP accreditation. It ensures that graduates continue to focus on best practice, and continue to network. It becomes mutually reinforcing.

The Community of Practice was launched at the ACI World Airport General Assembly in 2012. Its vision is to be the premier global platform where IAPs can help advance the practice of airport management. It will gradually and increasingly contribute to the thinking and evolution of airport management.

It will provide graduates with a continuing wealth of knowledge and experience to which they can contribute and from which they can keep taking. They may get practical solutions to problems, or they may be able to call on IAP colleagues for help in tackling a thorny problem.

How will AMPAP keep evolving?

We’ve been going for seven years, but AMPAP is still in its infancy. There are some fundamentals we have to resolve. For example, at the outset, it was decided that the language of the program would be the universal language of aviation, which is English. That’s important if we are to continue to benefit from a mix of nationalities and national cultural variations in the operation of airports.

However, this approach imposes some limits on our reach – for example, to senior executives of Chinese mid-range airports. It also presents some issues in Latin America.

I feel that everyone gains the best advantage through a global graduate base and a continuing mix of nationalities. But we shall keep it under review.

As the program evolves, we’ll be enrolling more people who have grown up in a digital world. They have a more internationalist approach to most things and they are typically more traveled than any previous generation. Their expectations will doubtless be subtly (or maybe not so subtly!) different from our first graduates. That’s a very exciting prospect for us all.

What role has SITA played in AMPAP’s evolution?

SITA has been a major part of AMPAP’s success from the outset. It’s highly respected not only because of financial support as our Premier Sponsor, but because to date SITA has nominated more than forty of its own senior staff as participants in the program.

It is mutually reinforcing, because it allows SITA the opportunity to explain at first hand the key role technology has to play in resolving the constant dilemma of balancing the demand for more and better services with constant constraints on finance.

SITA’s involvement also confirms the value of AMPAP’s core vision. Our global transport system has grown and flourished thanks to international co-operation. We’ve learned that working together is the only valid approach to enabling the cross-fertilization of ideas.

The simple idea of creating a standard global measure of professionalism and achievement for senior airport executives is delivering that vision and we’ll continue to do so.

Dr. Pierre Coutu is Executive in Charge of AMPAP, on behalf of ICAO and ACI. He is the President of Aviation Strategies International, a specialist in aviation and airport strategic management, and in performance management.

“Developing professionalism in airport management and the next generation of airport leaders are core priorities for ACI.  In today’s increasingly complex and global airport business, AMPAP offers a unique international context for managers to expand their skills, broaden their horizons as well as acquire an international support network of key professional contacts that will serve them throughout their careers.”
Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World

AMPAP Snapshot

As a strategic initiative born from a partnership between ACI and ICAO, the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Program (AMPAP) was launched in March 2007.

It provides accessible, affordable and universally available specialized management training to the global airports community, leading to the International Airport Professional (IAP) designation. 

AMPAP seeks to develop a new generation of airport leaders in all functional areas of the airport business, promote the adherence to the highest professional standards and effective sharing of best managerial practices—all in a cross-cultural, highly interactive learning environment.

AMPAP’s objectives are to:

  • Increase expertise – develop the professional knowledge and skills of airport management personnel worldwide to ensure the safety, security, efficiency and environmental sustainability of air transport.
  • Share expertise – optimize sharing of expertise among the world’s airports.
  • Establish uniform standards – encourage adherence to uniform standards and awareness of best practices.
  • Promote professional excellence – promote recognition of professional excellence in airport management as well as of airport management as a profession.

The program is restricted to individuals in a management position within a civil airport organization. Equivalent personnel working with eligible stakeholder organizations can join to earn the AMPAP Associate Diploma.


  • The course consists of four mandatory courses and two electives within a three-year timeframe.
  • Some courses involve five days of classroom training.
  • Some courses are offered online spread over a four-week period (equivalent to five days of classroom work).

The curriculum covers all functional aspects of the airport business. It includes key areas such as:

  • Operations
  • Security
  • Safety
  • Financial Management
  • Commercial Management
  • Airport Development and Planning
  • Airport Environmental Management

By mid-2014, more than 1,000 airport executives from all corners of the globe had joined the program, including scores of staff from stakeholder businesses including ICAO, ACI and associated World Business Partners (WBPs) as well as Civil Aviation Authority representatives.


The program cost currently averages €12,000, with 70% set as the pass mark. If a result between 50-69% is achieved, an essay exam can be taken to achieve a pass for the mandatory courses. If the result at the end of the course is below 50%, then the candidate must leave the program.

However, the failure rate is, by definition, low – by the mere fact that those sponsored by their companies to undertake the program are leaders or have leadership potential, and they are highly self-motivated and ambitious to succeed.

Go to for more information.

ICAO is committed to encouraging and enriching the knowledge and expertise of current and future generations of aviation professionals. AMPAP is a groundbreaking program including a curriculum to ensure a safe, secure, efficient and environmentally sustainable air transport system. ICAO is proud to support this creative and unique venture with ACI.”

Nancy Graham, Director, ICAO Air Navigation Bureau


The SITA view

Catherine Mayer, Vice President, SITA

Being the Premier Sponsor of AMPAP since its inception over seven years ago has not only provided significant brand exposure for SITA. It’s also given SITA’s senior managers incredible networking opportunities with airport leaders from around the world. 

Web of contacts

No longer limited to just a specific functional area or region, the SITA team can learn from airport experts and continue the relationships through the AMPAP Community of Practice, creating a very effective web of contacts.

Many SITA participants have said that this experience has helped them grow airport leadership relationships and communications, gaining valuable insight into the airport business.

Similarly, AMPAP participants from around the world have expressed their appreciation to SITA – not only for the financial sponsorship – but also for the active course participation of SITA managers who share industry knowledge and IT expertise with the airport community. 


Knowing that the majority of SITA leaders won’t have the opportunity to work directly for an airport company, AMPAP is a great way to learn about the operational and business aspects of the enterprise as well as the thought and management processes of the airport managers our teams support, work with, and sell to. 

I believe that SITA’s commitment and support of AMPAP – as Premier Sponsor since its launch – have brought strong benefits to both SITA and the airport teams. It’s been exciting to facilitate registration and individual participation, as well as distribute graduation plaques to the enthusiastic SITA participants, knowing their careers have been enhanced through their participation in this fantastic initiative.

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