The Worldfolio speaks with Kjeld Binger about AIG’s operations and the new terminal at Queen Alia International Airport, as well as Jordan’s evolution as an investment destination.
An airport is a welcome and is the introduction to a country's image. What was the reason that you have chosen this area of work, and what drove you towards it?
For me, it was a great challenge. After studying the project twice, in 2006 before the tender was launched and in 2011 when the construction was well underway, I immediately identified the project's potential to positively transform the Jordanian community. Back in 2011, there was a sentiment that this was privatization, which in fact is not the case. It is a build-operate-transfer (BOT) project; a concession granted by the Government of Jordan (GoJ) to Airport International Group as a concessionaire.
The company’s role in this project was to establish for Jordan a 21st century gateway that evokes a sense of pride and presents a befitting welcome and farewell to anyone entering or leaving the Kingdom. I initially perceived this as a major challenge due to the socio-political situation at the time, particularly since we were at the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Nonetheless, I took it as a prime opportunity to contribute to sparking favorable change in the region, and I believe that we have been partly successful in that regard.
With our previous shareholders, we managed to inaugurate the new terminal and elevate the operations of Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA). Commemorating the first full year of operation, QAIA secured first place in the category of ‘Best Airport by Region: Middle East’ of the Airports Council International (ACI) Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards in 2014 and once again in 2018. Ever since, cementing his level of quality has been a top priority.
Today, we are a subsidiary of one of the largest airport operators in the world, Groupe ADP, which is a key asset to us for maintainingour high levels of quality and services, as well as implementing progressive strategies that actively enhance the passenger experience we offer.By leveraging the diverse expertise of such a renowned global airport operator,we are now also able to benefit from a broader network that creates additional routes to Jordan, while continuing to grow and explore new horizons for development, ultimately enabling us to further confirm QAIA’s standing as a solid contender within the aviation sector – both regionally and internationally. I am pleased to see that we share with our main shareholders and owners the vision of building capacity and excellence – with quality, safety and security being at the forefront of our agenda.
These three elements are our top priorities, but we also must ensure a viable business. However, we can never do good business unless we get quality, safety and security right. For this reason, we always place a very strong focus on these components, after which, we can develop profitability and other business aspects. We see our connection with our local community as part of all of this, because an important factor of our quality comes from being close to our community, our country and our society.
What is it that you would like people around the world to know about Jordan?
I want people to know that Jordan is a safe haven for investment and welcomes positive cooperation with foreign direct investors. The Kingdom has witnessed tremendous improvement in this regard, especially over the last eight years. For instance, we now have a Ministry of State for Investment Affairs, which was unheard of eight years ago, reaffirming Jordan’s keenness towards new investment opportunities given the significant impact of foreign direct investment on future development. Multiple global companies have made successful investments in Jordan, a prime example of which is ADP International, which increased its share in Airport International Group to 51% during 2018. For Jordan, aid is a vital element and the country values all the contributions made by the United States. That said, in the long term, aid must be substituted with investment activity, because this is how a sustainable environment and society are shaped, and that is why the Kingdom acknowledges that collaborating with foreign interests is a top priority.
There are 8 million passengers and that number will continue to grow. The next project is the baggage handling system, with the first implementation in 2020, together with the 10 MW solar photovoltaic power plant at the airport.
What is your greatest achievement?
Our biggest achievement has been confirming our ability to join forces with our local community and local people to help them become service-oriented in terms of delivering high-level, quality offerings to our customers. We are approximately 450 employees at Airport International Group, and only four of us are expats. Airport International Group truly is a Jordanian company and we want to be viewed as such. We are predominantly owned by foreign investors, which is great, because this combination demonstrates how Jordan can benefit from foreign investors supporting, developing and providing top-notch quality services.
I believe this is our most notable achievement; not just that we built a state-of-the-art terminal and are advancing together with the organic growth within the aviation market, but also that we have successfully worked with our national carrier and generated more traffic into QAIA. All of this co-exists seamlessly, which is a significant accomplishment. Ten years ago, there was only the national carrier. But since then, other airlines from around the world have stepped in. We do recognize the importanceof having a strong national carrier for Jordan, but that being said, we also value the development of additional traffic and business sources, which are crucial to reaching new heights of success.