A Personal View

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, like many other European airports, is facing another busy summer. Flying is more popular than ever thanks to a better economy and relatively low fares.

Meanwhile, we have to make sure there is a smooth process in place for all those passengers. As an airport, you cannot do this alone; you have to depend on many stakeholders like border control, customs, airlines, security and handling companies. In fact, managing an airport can feel rather like conducting an orchestra; everybody has to play in tune. What makes it more complicated is that those stakeholders can sometimes have different objectives; private companies want or need to make money and provide good customer service while public organisations have to inspect, check and sometimes stop passengers.

We pride ourselves on our excellent public/private cooperation; we have even formalised the relationship! There is a platform, which is dually chaired by the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security and the CEO of Schiphol Group. This is essential for a co-operation such as ours and ensures commitment from the highest level.

It was not always like this. Like so many innovations in the industry, creating this platform was the result of a major incident at Schiphol Airport: a diamond robbery which took place airside in 2005, and the subsequent public enquiry. One of the conclusions was that the airport had hundreds of cameras, which were not allowed to be utilised by the government, even though many government agencies were working at or around the airport. Only by court order were images distributed to the appropriate authorities. The government therefore decided to set up a fund to expand camera use and make cameras available to public parties, with the condition that the private entities involved would contribute an equal share into the fund. Thus, the first official public/private cooperation at Schiphol Airport was born.

Now, since the official start in 2006, we have a Steering Committee – the ‘engine’ of the platform – which is co-chaired by our COO and the security director of the appropriate authority. The committee has eight working groups incorporated into it: the airport AVSEC committee, the border control committee, cargo security & customs control, criminality & public safety, and even cyber security.

We have also incorporated our National Aviation Security Committee and the Schiphol Aviation Security committee, required by ICAO Annex 17, into the platform structure.

Of course, there are terms of reference drawn up, but more important is the agreement that the daily needs of (aviation) operations inform conversations and decisions made by the platform. Every party in the platform still has its own responsibilities, but there has been a definite shift in culture over the years towards a more open and co-operative method of working. The different parties now help each other in difficult times, without attributing blame to one another in the press and, most importantly, encourage each other to do better or more.

…managing an airport can feel rather like conducting an orchestra; everybody has to play in tune…

A good example is the cooperation between customs and border police: when there was a lack of staff to check passports, customs employees were trained to do this work and helped out last summer. Also getting our new CT equipment to work was the result of effective cooperation.

…different parties now help each other in difficult times, without attributing blame to one another in the press and, most importantly, encourage each other to do better…

Of course, we in the Netherlands have a big advantage: one large hub airport and short travel distances between the airport and our government capital makes meeting each other much easier than in other, larger countries. But everyone has a form of public/private cooperation at his or her airport or even harbour. Embrace it. Make it more intensive –because nowadays not working together is not an option. Besides that, it can be fun and can provide energy, encouragement and support to everyone involved.

So let us cooperate – everywhere with everyone; there is no alternative!