Career Path: Steve Riano of Bechtel

It’s International Aviation Day and here’s Bechtel aviation technical expert Steve Riano who has recently been awarded the Airport Consultants Council’s Board Chair Award on his career in the sector.

Steve Riano, Bechtel

How did you get into the aviation industry?

I studied architecture and spent the first decade of my career working for a small architecture firm, designing and developing high rise offices and mixed-use developments in California. Then I joined Bechtel, initially working as an architect on the Disney MGM Studios Paris theme park. Soon after, Bechtel’s head architect asked me to join the company’s San Francisco-based aviation planning group. I was new to airports but I understood how to plan and design commercial buildings, which was a good start. I learned about airports’ special systems on the job, as well as how to work on the vast scale to which airports are built.

CV highlights since

Joining Bechtel’s aviation planning group was a pivotal point in my career. I started out as a passenger terminal planner and my first assignment was to work on developing a master plan for King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Since then, I’ve worked on aviation projects all over the world, progressing into various roles with the aviation group, and eventually coming to lead the group. Now I’m responsible for business development in addition to planning and designing airports. At the moment, I’m working with Gatwick Airport in London, UK, which offers the perfect opportunity for me to apply everything I’ve learned throughout my career.

Did you have a career plan? How has reality panned out against that plan?

When I started out as an architect, I knew my career could go in any direction because the competencies and skills you gain can be applied to so many different industries. From the moment I joined Bechtel’s aviation planning group, my life changed – I got to travel all over the world, work on some of the world’s great airports, and help great people solve difficult challenges.

Describe your job

My role is about helping customers get the most possible value from their airports. Some are new airports that I help to design and plan from brownfield sites. Others are mature, existing airports that customers want to expand. My job is to help improve the bottom line of their businesses. It’s important that airport developments don’t just look good – it’s critical for them to be commercially viable too. Success means developing airports in such a way as to increase their capacity. This is about maximising the number of passengers that terminals can cater for, and the speed with which they’re able to pass through check-in, security and immigration. It is also about designing airports to accommodate all sizes of aircraft so that no space is redundant.

What makes an airport great?

I get to travel the world with my job and I’m constantly in and out of airports. So I see the good and bad aspects of them. First and foremost, passenger experience is crucial. The faster passengers can move through check in and security and the less stress they have while doing so, the better their experience, and this leads to them making the most of the airport’s facilities.

What about work gets you interested and keeps you interested?

Having the opportunity to work on projects that so many people use. Not only can I see the results of my work, I can be part of it myself as a passenger. I also enjoy really getting to understand what our customers want to achieve, and then the challenge of how to come up with a commercially viable design or a plan that’s going to deliver the maximum value for the minimum capital investment.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Ask plenty of questions – no one will judge you poorly for it when you are young. In fact, it is the questions of new entrants into the industry that often prompt its veterans and leaders to discover fresh ways of looking at and overcoming challenges.

What kind of career do you believe aviation offers young people?

Aviation has so many different facets – you could be a planner or designer, work in financing or operations, or handle the day-to-day operations of airports. You could start out in one field and go on to have several different roles over the course of your career in aviation.  Plus, you could work anywhere in the world.

What factor do you think will have the most impact in shaping the global aviation industry?

Technology. It’s rapidly changing the passenger journey through airports. Now, it’s possible for passengers to largely be in control of their airport experience, with self-service check in counters, which reduce queues and take up less space. This means airports can dedicate the reclaimed space to shops and facilities that will further improve passenger experience. Plus, technology is making sub-orbital space flight and space ports possible. This is going to be the next wave of commercial travel.

The Airport Consultants Council (ACC) recently gave you the highly coveted Board Chair Award. In what capacity have you been involved with this organisation?

I’ve been involved with ACC for a decade, in particular with its Airport Project Delivery Committee and Globalization Committee. I spent two years on the ACC’s board of directors, where I provided strategic advice. One of the things I’m most proud of is helping to put the ACC on the global aviation industry map by enabling it to have important input into the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Airport Development Reference Manual, which is the go-to guide for the worldwide industry. It’s a huge honour to receive the Board Chair Award.

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