The Hidden World Of An IATA Slot Conference

Daniel Fowkes
10 Dec 2022
· Uncategorized 

Twice a year, IATA puts on a slot conference, with the purpose of this voluntary assembly to provide a forum for the allocation of slots at fully coordinated airports (Level 3) and for the attempt to reach agreements on schedule adjustments, capacity limitations at Level 2 airports and more. Again, an assembly attended by both IATA and non-IATA airlines.

The bi-annual conference sees aviation delegates from around the world convene in one location. In November of 2022, Melbourne Airport became the host airport for the 151st edition of the Melbourne Exhibition Centre in the southern part of Australia, with next year’s 152nd Slot conference taking place in Dublin, Ireland.

The Slot Conference is a fundamental meeting for more than 1,000 delegates and is held in June and November of every year. Melbourne’s edition marked the return of many representatives after years locked down due to the restrictions imposed by governments during the global pandemic.

Melbourne city skyline at twilight in Australia

Airline delegates during the conference can meet with airports in a convention-style room, cornered off from general visitors. The room is much like a banquet dining hall, each table dressed perfectly with a white cloth and the tables laid out meticulously.

Each table represents a specific airport attending the conference. At the front of the, you may have Brazilian airports. Twenty rows back, San Francisco and Melbourne Airport are found, and airports from Canada and Columbia are in the middle. While a hall seems to have no apparent organisation, this idea couldn’t be further from the truth.

Airline delegates will have a 10-minute slot with the respective airport, with it often being likened to speed dating. In these 10 minutes, critical discussions occur, whether obtaining, removing or discussing potential opportunities to acquire slots into the respective airports.

Meetings between airlines and airports are thoroughly planned out months in advance. With little time spent at each airport table during this process, the professionals ensure that they’ve got everything laid out before arrival, even interestingly enough, down to the order in which they’ll move around the room. This enables them to maximise their time.

An example of the tables where meetings take place

Adjacent to the speed dating type tables, there’s another room featuring similar banquet-style tables where airlines and airports can meet to have more lengthy discussions. These can typically exceed 10 minutes and do not have as much pressure put on them.

However, the pressure can be felt across the dividers as large screens hang towards the delegates, each with a timer constantly ticking down, indicating that business needs to be conducted promptly before moving on to another table. After all, in the space of 4-5 days, these aviation professionals are planning for the next 6 to 12 months.

There are also further meetings rooms throughout the conference where head delegates will meet to discuss slots. One of the most significant talking points alongside slots has been the recovery of the pandemic, with a particular focus on the Asian pacific sector, given that Melbourne is the host city for this conference edition. It’s been a tough few years, unpredictable circumstances have presented themselves, and airports/airlines have only increased their communication and relationship to navigate the turbulent times.

However, communication can only go so far in a timed Zoom meeting. The 151st edition, being held in Melbourne, allows delegates from around the world to spend a week in the city, work in the same time zone and discuss, enhance, transfer, cancel and obtain slots without the difficulties presented by being on the opposite side of the world. For airline and airport delegates, the week will be incredibly busy with long days and very little sleep to get as much done while in person, making a long trip worthwhile.

Similar to most conferences and exhibitions you may have attended, there’s also an exhibition crawl where airports will set up, offering the opportunity to ask questions, chat slots and learn about plans. This allows airline and even airport delegates another opportunity to conduct more casual meetings, presentations and such. The exhibition crawl also plays host to morning and afternoon tea alongside lunch. In addition, this is where presentations take place.

Exhibition crawl at a previous edition of the IATA Slot Conference – APM Technologies

The conference is meticulously organised, with delegates coming from around the world, and months and months of planning go into the execution of such an event. From Aer Lingus to host airline Qantas to Tui, airlines from every corner with all different business models convene to discuss the best practices moving forward, enhance their network and more in a week-long conference.

The IATA Slot Conference, held bi-annually, sees aviation delegates discuss airport slots. This is a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important conferences in aviation.

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