At an Australian Airports Association (AAA) division meeting in the Northern Territory town of Gove last year, the representatives of two regional airports raised some issues they were having with their airfield lighting.
They were looking for advice on how to address the issue after being unable to solve the problem on their own. They started talking, and together were able to work out a solution for both of their airports.
And since returning home, they’ve stayed in touch and continue to support each other as they manage their airports.
For AAA national chairman Tom Ganley, that’s the power of the AAA’s national network of members.
“Some of that technical networking is creating collaboration that makes the industry better,” he says.
“In this case, two of the airports were able to resolve something together, when that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
“The AAA really provides that little bit of inspiration.”
Ganley is the deputy chief executive of NT Airports, which operates Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek airports.
While his extensive career in the industry spans more than 30 years, he considers his start in airports soon after finishing school as somewhat accidental.
Back then, he took a three-month cadetship at Alice Springs Airport in a move that would set the path for his career over the next three decades.
“It was just a really enjoyable experience – I worked under the control tower and it was an exciting place to work,” Ganley says.
“There was just a sense of purpose and there was momentum and always something happening there.
“You really see the importance of community at regional airports and the staff are generalists that get to know about every part of the operation.
“It showed me that airports should be an asset that the community are part of.”
Ganley stayed to work on the airport’s terminal construction project, and later spent time at Adelaide Airport and Sydney with the Federal Airports Corporation.
But it wasn’t long before he returned to the Territory as Alice Springs Airport’s commercial manager to oversee its privatisation. After that, it was on to Darwin Airport, where he has been for almost 20 years.
Ganley says it was in Darwin that his association with the AAA really began.
“When I moved to Darwin, one of the things that excited me about the AAA was the collaboration with other airports,” he says.
“I went to a local division meeting and saw that it helped the small airports but also had the reach of the larger airports.
“I also attended the AAA National Conference and just saw what a great initiative it was to meet people from other airports and share experiences and problems and look for opportunities.”
When NT Airports chief executive officer Ian Kew retired from the AAA Board in 2014, Ganley stepped into the role of NT Director.
He was named National Chairman in 2019, and says he’s looking forward to continuing to lead the AAA’s growth and development.
“What we are really offering our members is connectivity, the chance to build capability and realise the potential of our industry,” he says. “For our major airports, it is a real privilege to help these large ships that run the industry to continue to grow for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
“And our regional airports gain so much from the community of technical experts and industry leaders that the AAA has created.”
He points to the Federal Government’s 2019 announcement to establish a $100 million regional airport fund as a good example of how the AAA is making a difference for the industry.
The fund was announced following the AAA’s years-long Protect Regional Airports campaign to ensure sustainable regional airport funding nationally.
“To confirm bipartisan support for the regional airport fund was a great outcome and a huge achievement for our team,” Ganley says.
“It will plug about half of the funding gap facing our regional airports – that will be a real lifeline and it’s not a small chunk of change.
“It will be exciting to see the first projects to be funded by the program get underway in the near future.”
But the focus for 2020 will be on further industry changes, with the implementation of updates to CASA’s MOS Part 139 regulations and new government security requirements to continue during the year.
“The MOS 139 changes are a positive step for the industry but the confirmation of those updates is really just the beginning,” Ganley said.
“We need to make sure that our members know what it means to them, and that will involve a lot of education and ongoing dialogue in the year ahead.”
He says the AAA will release updated online education modules and Airport Practice Notes reflecting the changes to help airport members transition to the new standards.
More broadly, Ganley sees sustainability becoming an increasing focus for the AAA and the airport industry.
“We saw that at the AAA National Conference on the Gold Coast. Safety, sustainability and efficiency will be a significant focus over the next five years.”