The Hawke’s Bay Airport has a new chief executive. Stuart Ainslie, a Scot, who brings a wealth of experience within the aviation sector and he’s arrived with fresh eyes and ideas on how to further establish the airport as the gateway to the region.
Where are you from?
I was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, which was the original capital seat of Scotland in the mid 11th century. Its also famous for being the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish- American industrialist, business magnate and philanthropist believed to have been one of the world’s richest men at that point.
My wife Elaine and three children were all born in Scotland but I seem to be the only one left with a thick Scottish accent, something I’m deeply proud of. They say that you can take the boy out of Scotland, but you cannae take Scotland oot the boy’.
Where did you study?
I didn’t follow a conventional path towards university. I left school in 1988 aged 16 and completed an electrical apprenticeship that led into some junior management roles at Rosyth Royal Dockyard, working for Babcock Rosyth Defence Ltd (BRDL). At 21, I was given the opportunity to take on a supervision role with responsibility for around 20 men, all much older and experienced than me. I was then given the
opportunity to study for a Bachelor of Science degree at Glasgow Caledonian University and subsequently went on to complete a Bachelor of Engineering and Masters in Maintenance Management. In 2010 I completed a one-year professional management course with University of Adelaide.
Tell us about your career path?
I spent 12 years with BRDL at Rosyth Dockyard in various project management roles, after which point I knew it was time to move on. I always had a hankering towards change and transformation so I decided to leave for new challenges.
In 2000 I entered into airports for the first time. I was asked by one of the facilities service providers who worked for Babcock if I’d like to do some consulting at Edinburgh Airport to help them develop their asset management system. Within a few months I was part of Edinburgh Airport’s senior management team, employed by British Airports Authority (BAA) as their facilities/engineering manager. In 2005 I relocated to London Gatwick and was employed as head of airside engineering responsible for over 250 people and
the upkeep of the world’s busiest single runway in the world. The plan was to stay at Gatwick for a while but after a family holiday to Australia, my wife and I vowed to return one day to live. In 2006 an opportunity arose to help NT Airports in Darwin with delivering their $45 million capital plan. I led Darwin Airport’s master-planning process, a $60 million terminal development as well as a challenging two-year airline pricing negotiation with the major Australian airlines.
I left the role in 2010 and ended up as the executive general manager for the NT’s leading mechanical services provider for 12 months. Following this period, I decided to establish my own aviation consultancy business, which I ran until late 2017. In late 2014 I relocated the family to Cairns as it was closer to Papau New Guinea, where I was working back and forth.
The start 2014 to end 2016, I was the executive general manager for Port Moresby International in Papau New Guinea. During 2017 I was engaged by APEC Authority in Papau New Guinea to assist with the air movement planning for Leaders’ Week in November 2018.
What have been some of the highlights?
Working across airports from 500,000 pax per annum to 33 million pax per annum has been highly rewarding. Working for a company like BAA exposed me to all aspects of the airport business, from strategic planning one day to crisis management the next.
Although it was a politically tough environment I truly enjoyed being able to lead the transformation of Port Moresby Airport, getting the team fit for the Pacific Games in 2015 and delivering a $90 million international terminal expansion with new check-in, security, border control and retail experience, including a sizable duty-free store. Most recently I was preparing airport infrastructure advice directly for Peter O’Neill, the Prime Minister of Papau New Guinea, as part of the APEC planning requirements. Something I have lots of stories to tell that might be better in a book
What attracted you to the Hawke’s Bay Airport role?
After spending a significant amount of time away from home for work, my wife and I decided that it was time for a new outlook and towards the end of October we decided to target New Zealand. After 12 years in Australia we both knew we were ready for a change.
For a few years I had aspired to an airport CEO role but a few opportunities passed me by. In December 2017 I saw the position advertised and thought it was a fantastic career step in a great place to live and explore.
Although Hawke’s Bay Airport is a much smaller airport than I’ve been used to, there are a lot of opportunities to transform the business and lead the way forward.
Although you’re only just getting your feet under the desk, what do you see as some short-term changes/ improvements?
Firstly, I’ve inherited a terminal expansion project and I want to ensure we deliver absolutely the best capacity and customer experience from the development.
As we are working in a live environment the construction staging through the life of the project will generate some significant challenges. I’m keen to ensure that all of our passengers experience minimal disruption and we deliver an end result that exceeds expectations. Regular travelers should look forward to improvements that will deliver more space, improved baggage collection and a better retail experience.
In addition to this we finalising some key road infrastructure to connect the Watchman Road development to the airport, which is an important development in relation to our aspirations for the business park development and exit/entry statement to the airport.
You’ve adopted a terminal upgrade – will you be keeping it as status quo or will you be recommending any modifications?
That’s a great question and there is a possibility that we will make some minor modifications to the design but these will most likely be around the layout of some of the common use spaces and perhaps the retail, food and beverage offerings.
Do you see any new airlines coming to Hawke’s Bay or any new routes in and out of Hawke’s Bay?
Another great question and early days to give a definitive answer; that said we have already started discussing the potential for increases in capacity from existing airlines and exploring a potential fourth carrier. The development of new routes is a two-way street and my philosophy is we don’t sit and wait on airlines coming to us, we’ll aim to work smarter to understand the opportunities that exist and work in partnership with the airlines to develop new routes where it is economically viable.
There is also the possibility that in the near future we may start to see a few larger aircraft, but that comes with some challenges around supporting infrastructure. We’ve started to understand some of these challenges so that we have the right plans in place to accommodate this in the future.
What did you know about Hawke’s Bay before your arrival?
Believe it or not my wife and I hadn’t even visited New Zealand before I was invited to interview for the position but we had it on our to-do list. The first things we really became aware of was the wine industry, the history of Napier’s reconstruction and the great cycling tracks.
I was here during Art Deco Weekend so I was able to experience that first hand. I loved the buzz, and everyone seemed to be really enjoying it.
How well does the airport connect with the community?
I believe we have great linkage to the community around us, perhaps more than I’ve seen in other airports. We have a number of forums where the locals are engaged in helping us to understand where we can improve. In particular, the wetland surrounds and local environment are a source of pride and we are committed to working with the community to maintain this.
Over the next year we’ll be reviewing our masterplan and also developing an environmental strategy that will give us a better opportunity to work closely with the local community.
What are you looking forward to about residing in Hawke’s Bay?
I love the diversity of the landscapes that I’ve seen in the Hawke’s Bay region. I’m looking forward to enjoying the climate, exploring the area and enjoying some of the great food and wine from the region. We enjoy a well brewed cup of coffee and there is a great café culture so that’s a good start.
What do you do in your spare time?
My wife and I love getting out and exploring the outdoors. We’ll need to dust off the mountain bikes and we’re also keen to get into some sea kayaking. Other than that, I play guitar and another instrument but as I’m from Scotland originally I’ll leave you to guess that one… I don’t think the neighbours will appreciate it too much.