Ask Paul Hodgen about his airport career and he’ll be the first to admit that it almost never happened.
“In 1978, I left uni in Northern Ireland, having completed a thesis on ground transportation at Dublin Airport and was actually offered a job in London as an airport planner with the British Airports Authority,” Hodgen says.
“But I turned it down to work with British Airways.”
“I then ended up working in airlines for 33 years – holding executive roles in almost the entire span from legacy flag-carriers to low cost operators and in that time, moved around the world from Europe to Africa and the Middle East to Asia, the Caribbean, and the USA.”
But it was in Australia that opportunity knocked for Hodgen to take another look at a life working in the airport industry.
“I left the executive team at Jetstar to join Australia Pacific Airports Corporation (owners and operators of Melbourne Airport and Launceston Airport) and that started a new career in airports,” Hodgen says.
“I worked at Melbourne for almost three years as part of the team delivering the new T4, with us starting out with a blank sheet of paper and eventually taking the design to tender for construction of the 10 million passengers-per-year terminal, apron, car parks and transport interchange. I’ve now been working in the aviation industry for over 41 years and it has been a wonderful industry to be part of.”
Now leading the charge at the award-winning Launceston Airport, Hodgen joined the Australian Airports Association (AAA) Board in 2017 and was named deputy chair a year later.
He says it has been a “particularly enjoyable Board” to be part of, because the directors are closely engaged with the AAA’s membership, particularly through state division meetings and the association’s events program.
“I believe a lot in the work of the state divisions, which is really important and allows us to share information between airports across each state,” he says.
“We are competing, but we also share a lot of similar challenges and the state division has been a very professional exchange, with our people being only too happy to pick up the phone and talk.”
“For me the Board is an extension of that work with our members, with the directors focused on developing strategies and creating a national program which delivers benefits to the entire industry.”
“Personally, at this stage in my career, it’s about being able to inform and contribute to the industry.”
“With an earlier extensive background within airlines, I think I am also able to bring an additional perspective from that of one of our key customer groups and through the lens of the traveller. ”
Hodgen says that for him, seeing the first round of regional airport fund grants awarded would be a highlight for 2020, after the AAA’s long campaign to secure sustainable regional airport funding.
“In the context of smaller regional airports and aerodromes, one of the things I’m looking forward to is seeing some of these projects really taking off. It’s going to be great to witness some of this as it transpires,” he says.
Hodgen also highlighted that, “contributing to a smooth transition to the impending enhanced security screening arrangements and likewise to the new MOS139 is also likely to occupy much Board attention over the coming year.”
Looking further ahead, Hodgen believes that building increased awareness about how airports are contributing significantly to both the economy and to their own communities, would also be a focus for the Board.
He says this will be more important than ever in the wake of the Australian bushfires, as the industry works with airlines and government agencies to support the recovery of the tourism industry.
Bringing people back to affected regions is something both major and regional airports can help support, he says.
Within the industry, he foresees a need to pay increasing attention around forging career development pathways for young industry professionals, preparing them to be the industry leaders of the future.
As a former Board member serving on the Launceston Chamber of Commerce and a current director of Tourism Industry Council Tasmania, Hodgen is a strong believer in airports playing a key part in supporting the economic growth and success of their wider regions.
“The whole concept of social licence is something we’ve got to be aware of and address on an ongoing basis, through things like sustainability and how we work with our communities.”
“For my team at Launceston Airport, that includes being actively involved and engaged part of the local, regional and Tasmanian tourism industry, in a state with an economy that is more dependent on tourism and tourism jobs than any other state or territory in the country.
“As we witness evolution in the number of aspiring gateway airports, this is something that our larger regional airport members and non-state capital airport members are likely to seek to become more and more involved in.”