27 February 2023

Interview with Eugenio Sorrentino

The spokesman for Milan Bergamo Airport and the one-time managing director of Avion Tourism Magazine
Mr. Sorrentino, you have been the head of the press office for the number 3 airport in Italy, specialised in the scientific and aerospace sector. Can you give us an overview of the significant changes that have influenced the way we fly and the way the airport is managed?
I have had the opportunity to experience a long period of changes and transformation, which have affected above all airport infrastructure and networks. The original airport terminal and the small structure housing the executive offices have evolved, progressively adapting to the growing demands posed by increasing passenger traffic. The main factor driving this change, as everyone knows, was the arrival of the low-cost model, represented by what has, over time, become the main European airline. Ryanair has contributed to transforming the world of air transportation, giving access to flights to millions of people, who are undoubtedly attracted by low fares. At the same time, the philosophy of no-frills travel has expanded to include business passengers. The phenomenon has also involved other airlines that now operate from the airport that is now known as Milan Bergamo. Passenger traffic has seen a constant increase, effecting the social and economic fabric of the area, which has seen an increase in the number of tourists, as well as favouring cultural relations, contributing, for example, in increasing the number of foreign students attending Bergamo University, and allowing a large number of people to live and work in European countries and commuting by air. In the meantime, the shareholders of SACBO have always set their sights on the future, setting goals to consolidate traffic and improve the wide range of services offered to airport users. 
Eugenio Sorrentino e Michael O’Leary
Eugenio Sorrentino and Michael O’Leary during the celebrations of 20 years of Ryanair flights from Milan Bergamo. Photo Copyright © Sacbo.
As well as press releases, you have also been responsible for monographs dedicated to Milan Bergamo Airport, making you an expert on the significant evolution of the airport over the last 20 years. Can you tell us some of the fundamental milestones and the changes that have taken place?
There is one date that everyone recalls; 14 February 2002, the day of arrival of the first flight operated by Ryanair, from Frankfurt, complete with a wedding on board celebrated by a Burgomaster. It was a colourful episode. This was, in reality, the beginning of a new season, not only for Bergamo airport, which took the opportunity to begin a partnership that was to render it the most important Southern-European base for the Irish airline. The growth of Ryanair led to the emergence of the potential of the airport in terms of accessibility, rendering it user friendly and progressively extending its catchment area.
The development in infrastructure paved the way for an increase in the annual number of passengers, the result of a clear view of goals, and I feel that this was a winning strategy. It was the only way to render an evolution of this type manageable. It should be remembered that before the development of passenger traffic, the main business component was represented by freight couriers, who have always represented a significant volume of traffic and played an enormously important role in local logistics. This activity is now located in the area to the north of the airport, separated from passenger flows. The same northern area has also seen the development of the most important Ryanair maintenance centre, with five hangers. The airport as a whole has managed and overcome the complex period of the pandemic, finding itself ready for the return to air travel. This was neither easy nor certain. Among the milestones I recall in particular is the opening of the first new section of the terminal on Christmas Eve 2008, with the plaza of culinary excellences, that was to be named after the ex-president Ilario Testa, who led SACBO from 1993 to 2008; then there is the extension of the Schengen flight area with the inauguration of the first, significant expansion of the commercial area in 2014; the following year saw the refurbishment of the runway, with planning that allowed flights in the spring to be suspended for just three weeks; lastly, the opening of the new non-Schengen flight area in July 2020 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of SACBO, and celebrations for the first scheduled flight in March 2022.
Eugenio Sorrentino, Giovanni Sanga, Giacomo Cattaneo
Eugenio Sorrentino, Giovanni Sanga, Giacomo Cattaneo and the thirteen millionth passenger of Milan Bergamo. Photo Copyright © Sacbo.
You created and promoted the “Avion” project. What drove you, 20 years ago, to inherit an airport tourist information channel as a form of passenger service?
At the beginning of the 2000s, the on-board magazine presented on flights together with the daily newspapers was still popular. The largest airports, such as Rome Fiumicino, had their own bound publication. At the end of summer 2002, I made a proposal to the then-president Ilario Testa for an innovative magazine that focused on Bergamo airport and the surrounding area, complete with its attractions and traditions, published in two languages, Italian and English.
I worked on a name that expressed the idea of flight, and of the idea of travelling by plane. I chose AVION, and the idea was immediately popular. A hybrid formula was chosen for the publishing aspects. SACBO partially financed the initiative, rendering it the official airport magazine without acting as the publisher. This role went to Ferrari Grafiche in Clusone. I handled the content, working with a skilled network of collaborators, some of whom have since developed careers in journalism. Since the first issues, the magazine has undergone progressive evolution, gaining a footing in the panorama of specialised publishing and receiving appreciation from the local tourist sector as well as that of the destinations reached by the network of scheduled flights from Bergamo.
Avion Tourism Magazine
Selection of historical covers of Avion Tourism Magazine. Photo Copyright © Sisterscom.com
You directed the magazine Avion Tourism from 2003 to 2013. What were the initial editorial policies, and how did they evolve over the 10-year period of your directorship?
Our idea was to create a magazine that accompanied the passenger from their arrival at our airport to their final destination. Something they could also keep, and that provided information. The articles were studied to be pleasant to read, serving as a travel companion that proved interesting for its examination of subjects related to the local area served by Bergamo airport, invited readers to learn more about the destinations that could be reached, and also offered cultural insights. Initially, issues were published every two months, but the decision was later taken to transform Avion into a quarterly magazine in order to allow richer content that was showcased for a longer period of time. For the first ten years, the fundamental format remained the same, with an increasing concentration on promoting inbound and outbound tourism. This was a natural evolution that responded to the communication demands of the airport, which was growing year after year in terms of passenger traffic and network.
Eugenio Sorrentino
Eugenio Sorrentino on the Milan Bergamo runway. Photo Copyright © Sacbo.
Are there any publishing projects in the pipeline or that you would like to see?
I published two books between 2019 and 2021. The first, entitled “Ilario Testa - Un manager con le ali” was for the series “I Protagonisti” by the Bergamo Economic and Social History Foundation, while the second, “Bergamo e il suo aeroporto”, published by Marcelliana, which looks back over the fifty years since the founding of SACBO as well as to the future of the airport. It has been suggested that before the end of my term at the SACBO press office, I create a digital archive of the events that I have examined through press releases, as well as photographic and film material. I am working on a publication inspired by the relationship between humankind and the moon, from a scientific and cultural point of view. Visitors to my office can’t help but notice a blend of aviation and space.
Interview by Angela Trivigno
Avion Tourism Magazine
Photo: Copyright © Sacbo
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