By ICCAN Commissioner Howard Simmons
During the lockdown period, I have, like most of the population, been adjusting to the different technologies needed to keep in contact with my family, friends and work colleagues.
A virtual conversation doesn’t quite replace that face-to-face contact but during these testing times it has been a jolly good alternative and one that I’ve become accustomed to.
Last week the Heathrow Community Engagement Board (HCEB) held the first meeting of its new Independent Forum, which I attended virtually from the comfort of my own home. Although I’m sure it was not quite how the HCEB intended to launch this new forum, which has been established as a way for local communities and stakeholders to publicly monitor and scrutinise the airport, everything went smoothly and effectively.
I and my fellow virtual attendees heard updates from Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye about the airport’s operations during Covid-19 and how it intends to recover from the pandemic and we were given the chance to quiz him and his colleagues and raise any issues or concerns.
It dawned on me that, given the circumstances, it would have been very easy to postpone the meeting, but I and my ICCAN colleagues were very pleased to see it go ahead and the Forum clearly has great potential.
The aviation industry is going through a perilous moment and we empathise with the many thousands of people who will be affected by the uncertainty that lies ahead. But it strikes us as an opportune moment for airports to reflect on the way that they engage with their local communities.
Even though airports may feel that they have less to communicate as they experience this dip in people flying, we would counter by saying that this is exactly the right time to keep those conversations going. Despite fewer planes in the sky the issues around noise haven’t gone away so engagement is still crucial.
Now is the time to keep building on the social capital airports have worked hard to build up in their local areas.
Unfortunately, we don’t know when we will all be able to sit in a room together to discuss with them. That is why we are currently looking at how airports can continue to engage effectively on noise, particularly by adopting new innovative technologies and methods for a piece of work we plan to publish later in the year. We want to reflect on the impact Covid-19 has had and how airports can develop their practices for the benefit of communities and wider stakeholders.
As people become more used to online meetings, the previous geographical and time restraints of holding face-to-face meetings matter less, so it is up to airports to utilise technology and keep the conversations going.
While it doesn’t replace face-to-face meetings as a way of allowing us to keep in touch, stay involved and engage with people from friends and neighbours to CEOs, it is a vital lifeline for many of us in these times, and we encourage airports to make best use of technology to keep the conversation with their communities going.