This blog is a long one today but essential, so get a cup of tea or coffee and get comfortable.
This week, a friend and business partner messaged me to tell me that all our hard work with Delta Airlines (DL) paid off again. As shown in the following link, we would meet with their network planners periodically in Atlanta and at World Routes and Routes Americas Forums. We would talk about business cases for flying to cities we had studied as unserved markets. Our earlier talks contributed to their decision to start the Shanghai non-stop flight from Atlanta in July 2017. Yesterday (Friday, July 29, 2022), DL announced it would begin air service from Atlanta to Capetown and Tel Aviv on December 17, 2022, and May 2023, respectively.
This announcement is excellent news. Typically, these reports attract many not remotely involved in air service—sometimes even against it— who rush to take credit. As I told a former CEO, “even though I head air service development, it is a team of collaborators that make these flights happen.” The ‘collaborators’ understand that air service works by the route development team taking leadership. They enhance the efforts at attracting new air service with their support. These include the chambers of commerce, investment authorities, international affairs team, economic development agencies, the diplomatic community, and folks who work hard to ensure we have an airport and city worthy of selling to international travelers. These stakeholders know their actions lead to a win-win for everyone.
Pivotal Business For Long-term Growth
In any city, region, or country, air service development, or as the Europeans call it, route development, involves finding the uniqueness of the place you are selling and enhancing its value for the recipient. Remember, on the passenger side, the markets are leisure travel, business, and visiting friends and family. The bonus is cargo and mail on this side of the world. In other regions where belly cargo is vital for profitability, passengers may be the bonus to the revenue earned from moving freight.
Air service is slow primarily in its results. That’s why it can be imprecise where the influence lies. However, I am accustomed to industries where relationships build a business in addition to bolstering trade. I worked in industrial development, helping companies find and access foreign markets, aka trade promotion or international marketing. Soft actions lead to concrete results. For example, we would support a company to get barcoding and nutrition facts on their label to access the US market. Today, that company, Susie’s Hot Sauce, cannot produce enough for the demand.
These pivotal careers followed me. As a trade negotiator, I spent weeks in Guyana working on the revision of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, Establishing the Caribbean Community, Including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. I got involved around 1998-1999 as a member of the Inter-Governmental Task Force (IGTF), mainly to push for protection for disadvantaged countries, regions, and sectors. Later, as a diplomat, I worked in many areas related to goods, services, intellectual property trade, and ancillary issues like Trade Facilitation. I believe that my contribution pushed us closer to the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) that came into force in February 2017, years after I left Geneva and diplomatic work.
Air Service Development Works to Improve a City’s Value
The same thing happens with air service. Because these businesses are based on relationship momentum, like the courtship of dating that should continue into marriage, you can reap returns later once you invest enough emotional capital. (Click on this link to learn more about emotional capital) For example, several times, I visited Panama City, Panama, and so did some of my partners and former CEO, all to see Copa Airlines start service in Atlanta. They hesitated for many years until calling me in mid-2021 to say in their lovely Spanish accent, “hey Elliott, we have some good news!” They started service in December 2021, and by all indications, the flight is growing in success. By now, the network team had become my friends. I knew who got married when, who had babies, who broke their arm, and their vacation spots and they knew mine.
The same relationships helped to recruit Qatar Airlines and Turkish Airways in 2016. Despite the challenges some new carriers face, as the story in this link points out, they still succeed because the market is not a zero-sum game. As a result of the work of my team and me, we have seen many more new air services to Atlanta, from JetBlue to Frontier and Spirit. I have lost count of the number of new cargo airlines based on making Atlanta Airport a cargo-friendly airport and taking care of stakeholders and on-airport partners. Adding features like a truck waiting area and a Cargo Community System was part of my goal to activate some of my old trade policy work, like Trade Facilitation. If you paused to read the link on emotional capital above, you would see how I build trust and loyalty with the business community. There are many more potential new air services riding on the relationship capital built over the years, so chances are we may still see new announcements as time passes.
Career That Makes a Difference
New air service means more diversity in destinations. Travelers and want-to-be travelers now have options. I told my staff, “we are connecting this region to a global marketplace. We are building bridges to relationships with families, friends, tourists, and business people. More diversity in destinations is good for the people the airport serves.”
My business partners at the city’s various agencies, whether for the chamber, tourism, international affairs, investment authority, or economic development, all know and expect that an airport is here to serve the community. Passengers buy food and beverages in concessions and shop at retail outlets and park their cars. All of this generates revenue. But it’s not just passengers who benefit the airport and the community. A direct flight of one international airline is over $138 million annually in direct, indirect, and induced revenue influence. In an economic impact assessment study I worked on, we found that air cargo is a significant driver of economic activity, supporting about 103,600 jobs, including quality jobs and incomes supporting the livelihoods of Americans.
With this sense of mammoth achievement for my career, I let my ardent readers know that I am no longer working with the Atlanta Airport. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my peers in this and other airports worldwide. I had fun mentoring my team and whoever had the stamina to listen to my constant story-telling with some life lesson or message stringed to the end.
I look forward to engaging with all my interlocutors under my partnership company, Thera Solutions Group.
Many have reached out from all over the world and still are, and I appreciate you tremendously. I am passionate about helping an economy grow and create wealth so everyone benefits according to what they put in. I look forward to working with many stakeholders and partners worldwide, from both old relationships and new ones yet to be made. You can reach me via my blog, social media, or Thera’s contact page. Many of you already have my telephone number.
What is Thera Solutions Group?
Thera Solutions Group is a consulting, design, and economic advisory company, an idea that came to my partners and me a few years ago. As with any entity, the company will likely evolve as we grow, partner with other businesses, and market change. I now have more time to lead this evolution than the occasional weekend work. Our clients are worldwide, given the Thera team’s and its partners’ experience. I am thrilled to return to using my foreign languages to work with Spanish and some French clients. You know how languages work. If you don’t use it, you lose it! As the name suggests—Thera is an ancient city in Greece, some 6,000 years old—our objective remains to build lasting legacies in any project that we work on based on fostering foundational infrastructure, whether policy, process, strategy, or physical infrastructure and design. As with all my other ‘pivotal’ careers, I want to leave a positive impact after I have “kicked the bucket.”
There are still projects I have left with a superb team to handle. These include the Modern Air Cargo project and other airport projects. For those partners attached to the Airport, don’t hesitate to seek me out for help. I still believe Atlanta is a great place to do business, and I will support companies to set up here.
Now I can utilize what I have learned at the world’s busiest airport, plus my diplomatic career and industrial development career, to help other countries, regions, and sectors that are also disadvantaged. It feels like Deja Vu! Plus, my children and many other family members, colleagues and friends have given me support to to boost my legacy journey. My daughter referred to my growth as an emancipation!
As part of building legacies that will outlast me, I will continue to write through this blog and other means and speak at forums that value my opinion and expertise. I will speak in a panel at the Air Cargo Handling Logistics conference, 5-7 September 2022, in Athens, Greece, with many esteemed global freight experts. The topic is “The Need for Evolution and Integration – The New World of Logistics: We Must Adapt to Remain Relevant.” Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a reunion of many global experts on logistics. I hope to meet other thought leaders and business partners there to discuss how we can position this industry to serve and benefit from new technologies, more advanced processes, greater collaboration with airports and federal agencies, and sound leadership.
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