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SIA’s Goh Choon Phong and Lion Group’s Rusdi Kirana honoured at 2015 CAPA Asia Pacific awards dinner

Singapore Airlines Group CEO Goh Choon Phong scooped the top award at the 2015 CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation Awards for Excellence, held on 23-Nov-2015 in Singapore as part of CAPA’s 2015 Asia Aviation Summit. Lion Group founder and CEO Rusdi Kirana received the CAPA Legends Award (CAPA Hall of Fame) while Mr Goh was recognised as the 2015 Asia Pacific Airline CEO of the Year.

Qatar Airways received Asia Pacific Airline of the Year Award; Bangkok Airways, Peach Aviation and the Qantas Group also received awards under the airline categories. Dubai and Mumbai were winners in the airport categories, picking up awards at a CAPA Gala dinner hosted by Travelport.

Now in its thirteenth year, CAPA’s Aviation Awards for Excellence are intended to reward airlines and airports that are not only successful but have also provided industry leadership in an always changing environment. At a time of industry upheaval, our winners are adopting strategies that offer new directions for others to take up.

Initially limited to Asia Pacific and the Middle East, CAPA expanded the awards in 2012 to include all regions. This year the Aviation Awards for Excellence were presented at two gala dinners, one for the global industry on 7-Oct-2015 and one for Asia Pacific including the Middle East on 23-Nov-2015.

See related article on the 2015 global winners: Ethiopian Airlines, IndiGo, Qantas, Athens, Budapest, Vancouver, IBS receive awards at CAPA dinner

Award candidates were independently researched and short-listed by a team of analysts at CAPA - Centre for Aviation and by partners at Heidrick & Struggles. Winners were then selected by two independent and separate panels of judges, one panel for the global awards and one panel for the Asia Pacific awards.

The judges for the 2015 Asia Pacific awards included: Guy Farrow, Peter Harbison, Andrew Herdman, Azran-Osman Rani, Emirsyah Satar and Andrew Stephen.

For the Asia Pacific Airline of the Year and the Asia Pacific Airline Chief Executive of the Year categories votes were also solicited and received from 20 high level industry executives. For these categories a winner was selected by combining the votes from the panel with the votes from the sample of industry executives.

Qatar Airways was named the CAPA Asia Pacific Airline of the Year. This award is given to the airline that has been the biggest standout strategically during the year, has had the greatest impact on the development of the airline industry, established itself as a leader, and provided a benchmark for others to follow.

Qatar Airways Senior Vice President South East Asia and South West Pacific Marwan Koleilat accepted the award from CAPA Executive Chairman Peter Harbison.

Qatar Airways was selected by the judging panel for its remarkably fast expansion and rapid emergence as a global leader. Qatar has particularly made a strong statement in Southeast Asia with 50% seat capacity expansion over the last year. Qatar is now the third largest non-ASEAN carrier in the Southeast Asian market.

“Qatar has pursued rapid growth over the last year, launching over 10 new destinations and adding capacity to numerous existing destinations,” Mr Harbison said. “Other milestones from 2014 included moving to a new hub airport in Doha, taking delivery of its first A380 and becoming the launch operator of the A350.”

CAPA noted that Qatar also has started expanding its portfolio overseas by acquiring a stake in British Airways parent IAG. In late 2013 Qatar became the first Gulf carrier to join a global alliance and has since forged partnerships with several oneworld members.

Passenger traffic has more than doubled over the last five years and will continue to grow rapidly as Qatar now has over 200 aircraft on order. Qatar also has become one of the world’s five largest cargo carriers.

Peach Aviation was named the CAPA Asia Pacific Low Cost Airline of the Year. This award is given to the low cost airline that has been the biggest standout strategically, established itself as a leader, been most innovative, and provided a benchmark for others to follow.

Peach CEO Shinichi Inoue accepted the award from Mr Harbison.

Peach was selected by the judging panel for quickly establishing itself as a leader in the emerging Japanese LCC sector. “Peach became the first pure LCC in Japan when it launched operations in 2012. In a challenging and increasingly crowded marketplace it has differentiated itself through product and strategic innovations,” Mr Harbison said. “It has now been profitable for two consecutive years and, most importantly, has proven the LCC model can be successful in the Japanese market.”

Peach now operates 22 domestic and international routes with a fleet of 17 A320s. CAPA noted that it has been able to stimulate rapid growth at Osaka Kansai, its main base, and in Aug-2015 became the first LCC to operate from Tokyo Haneda. Peach has often kept a low profile and has pursued steady growth, but this has delivered results – financially, strategically and from market perception. 

Peach quickly developed a strong and well recognised brand in the Japanese market, enabling it to differentiate itself from competitors. It boldly set out to target female travellers, whom Peach identified as typically booking leisure trips for the family. Peach has gone on to appeal successfully to a wide base including senior citizens and business passengers.

Its success in international routes is driven in part by its ability to attract inbound passengers, which now account for 60% of its total international traffic. Peach has been able to stimulate traffic and promote one-day return international trips from Japan to nearby short haul markets, previously unthinkable.

Developing its own check in kiosks has been one of several product innovations. Peach’s independence from All Nippon Airways, which owns a minority 39% stake in the carrier, has been critical. This distance has enabled the management team to pursue cost reductions and develop a new type of airline for Japan. Peach and its fellow LCCs are contributing to a revival of local and international passengers, delivering clear benefits for the Japanese economy.

Bangkok Airways was named CAPA Asia Pacific Regional Airline of the Year. This award is given to the regional airline that has been the biggest standout strategically, established itself as a leader and demonstrated innovation in the regional aviation sector.

Bangkok Airways President Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth received the award from Travelport Vice President Asia Pacific, Air Commerce, Damian Hickey.

Bangkok Airways was selected by the judging panel for its impressive track record of profitability even during challenging times and innovative partnership strategy.

“Bangkok Airways was the most profitable airline in Thailand in 2014, growing and remaining in the black despite the civil unrest in Bangkok,” Mr Harbison said. “It completed an IPO in Nov-2014, becoming one of only a few Thai companies to go public in the most difficult of years.”

Bangkok Airways has remained profitable through the first three quarters of 2015. The airline has differentiated itself strategically, continuing to grow, boosted by an expanded partnership portfolio.

CAPA noted that Bangkok Airways’ partnership strategy, which focuses on providing domestic and regional international connections with over 15 foreign carriers, has enabled the airline to grow rapidly in recent years in a short haul market that has become otherwise dominated by low cost carriers. Its strategy of owning and operating three airports, including in the popular resort island of Samui, also provides a unique selling point and helps insulate it from competition.

Over the last year Bangkok Airways became the largest foreign airline in Myanmar, reinforcing its strong position in the relatively under-served Indochina region. Bangkok Airways is also the second largest foreign carrier in Cambodia and Laos, enabling its partners to access key fast growing secondary markets.

“Bangkok Airways has proven there is still a niche for full service carriers in Southeast Asia’s short haul market – even independent regional operators that are not part of major airline groups,” Mr Harbison said. “Bangkok Airways has gone against the grain and thrived in an intensely competitive marketplace.”

The Qantas Group was named the CAPA Asia Pacific Airline Turnaround of the Year. This award is given to the airline or airline group that has had the most impressive turnaround while establishing an innovative strategic direction for their business and the industry.

Qantas was chosen by the judging panel for the group’s remarkable turnaround. While all operating segments of the group are now profitable the judges particularly noted the turnaround of the Asian full-service operation (the Qantas medium-haul network) and the turnaround of the Singapore-based Jetstar Asia low-cost operation.

“What Qantas has achieved since mid-2013 is one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of the aviation industry,” Mr Harbison said. “The restructuring is particularly noteworthy as it was intelligently implemented without the benefit of Chapter 11 style bankruptcy protections.”

CAPA noted that Qantas turned a pre-tax profit of almost AUD1 billion in the fiscal year ending Jun-2015 (FY2015), surpassing market expectations and representing a turnaround of AUD1.6 billion compared to the prior year. All operating segments are now profitable, including the international division which has returned to an operating profit after several years of losses – and is now expanding again. Jetstar Asia also returned to the black in FY2015 after enduring in FY2014 the most challenging year in its history.

The turnaround at the Qantas Group follows a period of significant losses and restructuring initiatives which have proven to be successful despite being controversial internally, publicly and politically. The transformation has been driven primarily by process related cost-cutting initiatives and strategic adjustments. Qantas also has forged several new partnerships including a bold tie up with Emirates and more recently with China Eastern, providing a springboard for growth in the key Chinese market.

At Jetstar Asia the turnaround was driven by halting expansion, cutting costs and growing higher yielding interline/codeshare traffic through new or increased partnerships. Jetstar Asia now has by far the largest portfolio of interline partners among LCCs in Asia and one of the largest in the global LCC sector. 

Mumbai Airport was named CAPA Asia Pacific Airport of the Year. This award is given to the airport that has been the biggest standout strategically, established itself as a leader and done the most to advance the progress of the aviation industry.

Mumbai was selected for the innovative development of T2, which has enabled Mumbai to emerge as one of the leading airports in Asia.

“The construction of T2 was an incredibly complex infrastructure project which required a massive new terminal to be constructed on a very constrained land bank on the site of an existing busy and fast growing airport. Despite these challenges, the operator has successfully delivered an iconic terminal that is architecturally and aesthetically spectacular and which has transformed the passenger experience,” Mr Harbison said.

CAPA also noted that airlines have benefited from the airport's very committed focus on improving airside efficiency. Over the last five years Mumbai Airport has managed to increase runway capacity from just over 30 movements per hour, to 45 movements per hour, peaking at just over 51. That places the airport amongst the best in class globally for a single runway operation. The innovative approach to runway management has created new slots and improved on-time performance. (Mumbai has two cross runways but it finds it more efficient to use just one of them.)

The airport has been modernised over the last several years by a consortium led by GFK. Modernising and expanding an airport in the heart of a city provided a mammoth challenge but the project was completed at one of the lowest unit costs among all recent airport projects. The design for T2 set a new benchmark in the industry as it conceptualise for the first time a four-level vertically integrated design.

Mumbai Airport opened the first stage of its domestic pier in early 2015, with more airlines progressively moving in over time. This enables passengers to connect between domestic and international services under one roof, in place of the very inefficient and lengthy process of transferring between the distant domestic and international terminals. This should further enhance Mumbai's hub potential.

Singapore Airlines Group CEO Goh Choon Phong was named CAPA Asia Pacific Airline Chief Executive of the Year. This award is given to the executive who has had the greatest individual influence on the aviation industry, demonstrating outstanding strategic thinking and innovative direction for the growth of their business and the industry.

Mr Goh accepted the Airline Chief Executive of the Year award from Mr Harbison.

The judges selected Mr Goh for his daring and successful implementing of several major new strategic initiatives that has positioned the SIA Group for future growth despite intensifying competition from LCCs and Gulf carriers.

SIA has made more major strategic changes than any full service airline group in Asia and perhaps the world since Mr Goh took over as CEO at the beginning of 2011,” Mr Harbison said. “Projects under Mr Goh include the launch and expansion of long haul low cost wholly-owned subsidiary Scoot, increased involvement and now the proposed takeover of short haul low cost carrier Tigerair, the launch of new Indian joint venture carrier Vistara, the introduction of premium economy, investment in Virgin Australia and several new partnerships including joint ventures with Air New Zealand and the Lufthansa Group.”

CAPA noted that the past year has seen several major milestones for SIA including the introduction of premium economy, the acquisition of a majority stake in Tigerair (which the group is now trying to fully take over), the transition to a 787 fleet at Scoot, the launch of a new joint venture long haul LCC in Thailand (NokScoot), the launch of a full service joint venture carrier in India (Vistara), the opening of a new JV flight training centre with Airbus, the acquisition of new ultra long range aircraft which will enable the resumption of non-stop flights to North America, the implementation of a joint venture with Air New Zealand and the forging of a proposed new joint venture with Lufthansa. SIA also has been expanding partnerships with several other carriers as it seeks to improve its offline offering.

Meanwhile SIA has continued to evolve its multi-brand model by pursuing interlines between its FSC and LCC brands and deciding to transfer routes from Singapore Airlines and SilkAir to Scoot. While SIA has reinvented itself in order to capture growth in the LCC space, it also has been reinforcing its position as a leading premium carrier with the introduction of a new generation of in-flight products.  

“The evolution of SIA under the first five years of Mr Goh’s leadership has been remarkable, particularly given how the group has generally been known for its conservative slow moving nature,” Mr Harbison said. “The new strategy is still not yet fully implemented and the group still faces challenges including an increasingly competitive marketplace. But the bold strategic changes implemented by Mr Goh improve SIA’s long term position and unlock growth after a decade of flat traffic and declining profits.”

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths was named the CAPA Asia Pacific Airport Chief Executive of the Year. A new category established for 2015, this award is given to the airport executive who has demonstrated outstanding strategic thinking and innovative direction for the growth of their business and the industry.

Mr Griffiths accepted the award from Mr Harbison.

Mr Griffiths was selected for successfully managing Dubai through a massive expansion programme and completing an unprecedented runway improvement project.

“In 2014 Mr Griffiths oversaw one of the largest ever runway improvement projects, which required Dubai to operate with only one runway for three months,” Mr Harbison said. “Despite the runway closures Dubai was able to overtake Heathrow in 2014 as the world’s biggest international airport as passenger throughput increased by 6% to 70.5 million.”

CAPA noted that much of the UAE’s economic success comes from the performance and growth of Dubai International Airport. Mr Griffiths became CEO of Dubai Airports in 2007 and has since overseen the operations along with massive development. He managed Dubai International Airport’s successful launch of Terminal 3 in 2008 and is now in the process of overseeing a USD7.8 billion expansion plan.

Concourse D will soon be completed with 32 additional gates, lifting Dubai's capacity from 75 to 90 million annual passengers. Mr Griffiths also leads Dubai World Central, which will eventually be the world’s largest airport with capacity to handle 240 million passengers and 16 million tonnes of freight annually once fully operational.

Lion Group founder and CEO Rusdi Kirana received the CAPA Legend Award. The Legend award is an occasional award, given to individuals that have stood out as making a substantial long term difference to the industry in which they work. They display rare talent and people skills, so that not only do they change the external environment, they invariably also generate substantially positive corporate improvements.

Pak Rusdi accepted the award from Mr Harbison.

In a span of only 15 years, Lion has emerged as one of the world’s largest airline groups, with a fleet of over 200 aircraft and over 500 more aircraft on order. The group now includes five airlines across three Southeast Asian countries and a leasing subsidiary.

Lion is the leader in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest and fastest growing aviation markets, and has been pursuing rapid growth over the last two years in Malaysia and Thailand. Lion has become the first LCC group to establish a full service subsidiary, giving it an innovative multi-brand strategy in its home market.

“The rapid rise of Lion is one of the biggest success stories in recent aviation history. Rusdi Kirana started with practically nothing and has built an impressive group of carriers that have driven a fundamental shift across the Southeast Asian aviation landscape,” Mr Harbison said. “The emergence of Lion as market leader in Indonesia would not have been possible without Rusdi Kirana’s hard work, creativity and strong strategic leadership. But it is his bold expansion into other Southeast Asian markets that really sets Pak Rusdi apart and has made him one of Asia’s leading entrepreneurs.”

CAPA does not present a Legend Award annually but only occasionally decides an executive’s career accomplishments merit induction into the CAPA Hall of Fame. Pak Rusdi becomes only the tenth inductee into the CAPA Hall of Fame, joining Seri Bashir Ahmad, Dr Cheong Choong Kong, Sir Tim Clark, Brett Godfrey, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Sir Maurice Flanagan, Rob Fyfe, CW Lee and Ray Webster.

About CAPA, Heidrick & Struggles and the CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence

Established in 1990, CAPA – Centre for Aviation is the leading provider of independent aviation market intelligence, analysis and data services, and high level strategy events covering worldwide developments. Heidrick & Struggles is a premier professional services firm providing executive search, culture shaping and leadership consulting services. It has a specialist aviation team which works with airline, airport and the broader aviation industry, clients across the globe.

The CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence have recognised strategic leadership in the aviation industry since 2002. The awards are not driven by customer surveys or sponsorship. They are independently researched by CAPA and Heidrick & Struggles and selected by an independent international panel of judges.

Initially limited to Asia Pacific and the Middle East, CAPA expanded the awards in 2012 to include all regions. This year the Aviation Awards of Excellence will be presented at two gala dinners, one for the global industry and one for Asia Pacific including the Middle East.

For more information on the CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence and CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation Awards for Excellence, including media queries, please contact Brendan Sobie, CAPA Chief Analyst and Aviation Awards for Excellence Co-moderator, at bsobie@centreforaviation.com

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