by Riccardo Coli – International Client Director | Kilpatrick Aviation
Impacts and Lessons of an Unprecedented Scenario
2020 draws a line between what we took for granted and what is yet to come. During these unprecedented times, aviation industry is at a crossroads.
Commercial aviation is the most affected one. Significant reductions in passenger numbers have resulted in flights being cancelled or planes flying empty between airports, which in turn massively reduced revenues for airlines, airports and all the market players involved.
Business and general aviation is catching opportunities from air-travelers seeking for safer ways of flying – where contact with others is minimized. New unmanned aerial systems are boosting investments and financial opportunities across the globe. Defense and security industries are growing at a much faster rate.
Overall, while looking to maintain high safety standards and continue operations, aviation organizations are – most importantly – working to develop a smarter and more resilient working environment, where hybrid and flexible working methods take into consideration new set of leadership styles, new compensation structures, new skills.
Aviation Leaders RoundTable
To share different perspectives with the industry, we invited industry experts from different parts of the world, covering different executive positions in different companies. We virtually hosted them around the same roundtable and asked them few key questions.
Thanks to the panelists for taking part to this Aviation Leaders Roundtable and for their outstanding contribution:
Sergio A. Barlocchetti, Chief Technology Officer at FuturoAereo Technology, from Italy. He is in the industry since 1989, as Flight Test & Avionic engineer, ground instructor, journalist and analyst, manager. He flew many light aircraft as well as business jets. He has been entrusted with increasing levels of responsibility in General Aviation, Business Aviation and Unmanned Aircrafts.
François Lassale, Chief Operating Officer at HeliOffShore Ltd, from the United Kingdom. He is in the industry since 1986, as First Officer, Captain, safety expert, managing director and board member of international well-known organizations. His role is now focused on operationalizing strategy, providing support with long-term business goals and responsible for implementing daily operations, aligned with the goals and the company’s strategies.
Andreja Kikec Trajković, PhD, Head of ATM/ANS at the Civil Aviation Agency of Slovenia. She is in the industry since 2003, as Attorney, Adviser and Aviation Inspector. She is focused on overseeing and enforcing tasks in respect of the application of the requirements applicable to service providers, monitoring of the safe provision of their services, and verification that the applicable requirements are constantly met.
Ayal Lichtblau, Chief Executive Officer at Sital Technology, from Israel. He is in the industry since 1990 as a sales and business development executive. He has extensive experience – in both startups and large organizations – and successful track record in building up sales infrastructure and operations, including: strategic planning, business and market analysis, setup of local sales teams and negotiations in American, Asian and European business environments.
How do you see the aviation industry returning to the workplace?
Barlocchetti: The return to production activities will inevitably be slow. Still, wanting to look at aviation as a galaxy made up of several worlds, especially the one linked to Defence, it has never stopped and indeed, has shown that it can adapt very quickly to the measures necessary to limit virus spread.
The situation for commercial aviation is different, as it certainly will not be able to return to pre-pandemic traffic volumes for years unless other waves of contagion occur.
While work from home can be useful for planning and management, production and maintenance are still strongly linked to manual and highly specialized human activities.
Lassale: Industry challenges are not experienced equally: while the airline market is suffering with multiple bankruptcies, the business jet / corporate sector is responding well to route reductions and flight cancellations. I work in commercial offshore helicopter transportation. We service oil and gas, windfarms and search and rescue sectors – all essential, critical industries. We continue to fly but there has been a marked decrease in hours flown by global fleets. In many ways, the pandemic masks a second crisis caused by an exceptionally low oil-price and challenging market conditions. While no one can predict the future, oil prices will eventually recover. Having been in the aviation sector for nearly 30 years, I have witnessed multiple pandemics and global crises; I am confident that the aviation industry will also return. But, while we wait for that to happen, helicopter operators will merge and consolidate and reduce fleet sizes. Our return depends on the invention and availability of an effective vaccine and the free movement of people. The pandemic has forced every industry – including aviation – to think differently. Our return is equally dependent on innovating and creating new ways of working, on re-building confidence and remaining doggedly focused on safety.
Kikec Trajković: To achieve the best outcome for the entire community, communication, coordination and collaboration between different organizations, both within the State and between States is needed. The cross-border dimension of aviation on the one hand and the effects of one State’s decisions on the efforts and decisions of other countries must be taken into account. Safety risk management approach to decision-making is required. The challenge before us is adapting to a “new normal”.
Lichtblau: As a provider of Data-bus communication, cyber security and safety solutions we are geared to support both military and civil aviation. During COVID crisis we expected a decrease in demand which took place obviously in civil aviation. On the other hand, we saw an increase in business on the military side. We see that civil aviation invest in improvement of maintenance procedures. Airplanes after such a long storage period require a well-defined process to maintain high dispachability level. From our point of view, this should include capabilities to detect and monitor in-flight wiring faults (including intermittent faults) which might affect flight safety.
What is it done to ensure a safe return to the workplace?
Barlocchetti: Many aviation companies have practically never stopped, albeit slowed down. They have quickly been implementing protocols that were never adopted before – in a short time, to ensure full employees’ safety and operational continuity from the very beginning of the lock-down.
Encouraging working from home through the company’s IT tools and infrastructures is not enough. The strength of a company lies in its people.
To ensure everyone’s safety, companies give a kit of individual protection devices at the entrance, masks, gloves, goggles, scan body temperature, and schedule sanitation activities.
In-company walking paths indicate directions to take stairs, elevators, enter/exit buildings, and better manage people’s transit – with particular attention to public areas and physical distance. I believe the idea of undertaking a health insurance policy that supplements public assistance if affected by the virus would be excellent.
Lassale: In the commercial offshore sector, there has been a huge effort to ensure safe return to work. Over the past six years, HeliOffshore has developed a model for global collaboration. During the pandemic, this model evolved further to include regular coordination meetings for members to discuss best practice in emergency planning, screening, decontamination, regulation, repatriation, risk analysis and business continuity. Through the HeliOffshore COVID-19 hub, members shared information and ideas to ensure safe offshore flight throughout this challenging time. We have witnessed unprecedented trust and cooperation between global stakeholders – so much so we are now creating more permanent safety collaborations to prevent duplication and amplify effort.
Kikec Trajković: At the time when the COVID-19 epidemic was declared in Slovenia, the CAA SI, like many other organizations, was operating in a changed way. Work from home was introduced, examinations were suspended, and various applications and requests could only be submitted at the reception or via e-mail. Only a few people were present at the organization’s headquarters. Eventually, it was possible to work at the CAA in such a way that there was only one individual in each office, others working from home. Meetings continued to take place for the most part via video conferencing, and at the CAA´s premises only in exceptional cases and provided that a sufficient safety distance could be provided, the use of masks was mandatory. Surveillance activities were conducted in limited scope, remotely. Employees have been issued instructions for conduct, which are updated on an ongoing basis, taking into account the instructions of the National Institute of Public Health. The instructions deriving from ICAO Handbook for CAAs on the Management of Aviation Safety Risks related to COVID-19 were duly considered.
Lichtblau: Safe return to the workplace has to be adjusted to the organization and the relevant activities. In Israel, we experience a second wave of COVID19 so we keep our masks on, work in small groups and maintain social distancing. Most of our meetings are based on video conference calls and many companies sent employees to work from home – so far we were successful in keeping our staff safe.
What is it done to restore confidence in air travel?
Barlocchetti: The time spent on the airplane is only part of the journey. In addition to finding a sanitized and healthy environment on-board, we must begin by limiting the crowd during check-in, security screening, and boarding.
It has to be done via online services, early passenger registration, and recognition systems.
The profit margins of the carriers would not stand up to the boarding restrictions, ICAO and IATA have already expressed themselves on this by convincing the aeronautical authorities.
The desire for safer air travel could push the high-end clientele towards corporate and business aviation.
Therefore, we will also see a transformation in the habits associated with air travel for work, in the advantage of computer connections.
Lassale: At a recent HeliOffshore conference, Airbus’ Régis Magnac rightly said that trust in air travel is the new challenge for us all. This is about ‘hearts and minds’ more than anything else. ‘Hearts and minds’ are best captured through collaboration, education, communication and recommitting ourselves and our businesses – time and time again – to bring everybody home safely every day. As a global collaborative body, HeliOffshore has bought the helicopter operators, customers, regulators, and aircraft manufacturers together to do just that. So much more is possible when we work together.
Kikec Trajković: The confidence in aviation is not lost, newly present is the concern for personal health at the level of individuals, organizations, and the governments. Globally and nationally, communication campaigns and aviation authorities measures and recommendations that are based on health authorities’ decisions, will be an effective way to increase the public confidence in air travel.
ICAO and EASA/ECDC have set out consistent guidance to restart air travel that strikes the right balance between safeguarding public health while permitting viable air services.
CAA SI e.g. is collecting and disseminating relevant information as part of their role in supporting the needs of the aviation community, fostering trust and transparency.
For international air travel to get back on its feet, there must be confidence that the pandemic is under control on a global level and that it is safe to travel.
Lichtblau: I believe that pre-flight COVID tests, performed in the airport with fast results should be the best way to restore passengers’ confidence. My guess is that the use of masks will be mandatory in flights for the next year as well.
Do you think the current crisis can be used as a catalyst to accelerate the creation of a “New Normal”?
Barlocchetti: We will probably travel less but better for at least two years. It is currently too early to define a trend, and much will depend on the travel restrictions that Countries will maintain in the coming months.
The way to travel without potentially having uncontrolled contact with unknown people exists. On the one hand, I don’t think we will be able to give up traveling, since the experience of travel goes beyond being able to talk face to face, it includes expressions, habits, and interactions.
If we think about how many business agreements we have made in the past, perhaps tired and not very clear from the long journey, I believe at the same time that online meetings can lead to greater clarity when limiting the harmony between people.
Lassale: I fundamentally believe that this crisis is a catalyst and – while we wouldn’t have picked this route – it will lead to interesting, creative, expansive ways of doing business. It has forced the whole global aviation sector to rethink business models, passenger safety, technologies, how and where we work. It is natural to resist change. We are also braced for a potential second wave of this pandemic. These things hold us back. But you can sense the urgency of reinvention. I am confident in our ability to adapt to the new world waiting for us when we ultimately emerge from this pandemic.
Kikec Trajković: Yes, of course. The extent of impact on aviation posed by COVID-19, will be much greater than any downturns the industry has ever experienced. It is therefore important not just to react, but to formulate a proactive, strategic posture.
Lichtblau: Obviously, this crisis has made an impact on the way we work, Video conference calls took over the traditional physical meetings and even after this crisis will be over – people will be more open to replace some of the traditional physical meetings (and the traveling associated with it) with video conference calls. Work from home became more effective and efficient both for employees and companies – I believe that it will have an effect on the way we will work in the future.
Leadership is to be redefined. What new skills are you looking for in the key people of your company?
Barlocchetti: If we talk about production, we need people who are passionate and specialized at the same time. Aviation standards have changed, and if, on the one hand, they demand quality and safety, on the other, they allow innovative solutions. Concerning the design and construction of aircraft, young people who have flight experience and are qualified are preferable. If we think about it, a traditional airplane today can be considered a relatively simple machine, in which, however, everything has to work together for a long time. Those who fly have learned to take safety into high consideration, so they would also do so at work.
Lassale: Great leadership is imperative to the sustainability and survivability of the aviation sector. Good leadership is the ability to understand the anxieties, pressures and uncertainties we all face in our personal and professional lives. This emotional intelligence will support teams and organisations through trauma and challenge; it feeds our ability to innovate, pivot and adapt. We will be looking for skills matched to these philosophies. Those with an appetite for change and the confidence to adapt will help our industry proactively embrace new ways of doing business and ultimately create a sustainable future for all of us.
Kikec Trajković: We need creative people, people that are able to articulate a bold and flexible vision, cultivate a culture of innovation, and embrace changes with empathy and integrity.
Lichtblau: Working in remote mode requires a combination of self-discipline / self-motivation and communication skills that are more relevant to the way we communicate during this crisis. I would add that the ability to prioritize sales opportunities with regards to achievability and attractiveness should be taken into consideration.
Thanks to our roundtable panelists for joining us and sharing their significant contribution.
Riccardo Coli – International Client Director | Kilpatrick Aviation