I recently took part in a Teams chat that quickly evolved into a virtual roundtable with a panel of colleagues who are expert in aviation and transport.
It was so enlightening that I want to follow it up with some thoughts on one element of the discussion – the persuading and convincing task in the aviation industry’s hands in the future.
One thing we all agreed on is that the aviation landscape is not dead, and it will recover. But what it returns to and what aviation organisations will be in the future remains anyone’s guess. My team of Capita colleagues inspired me by openly admitting their need to genuinely unlearn and relearn much of what they know about the sector, because the industry we knew before March 2020 is no longer – and a ‘blank canvas’ approach is the only one that now makes sense.
The current state of the industry is unprecedently challenging, with airlines making swathes of redundancies that would have seemed inconceivable only eight months ago. Moreover, it’s not just the airlines that are struggling; airports are feeling more than a pinch of their own pain, too. No flyers means no shoppers, no diners and no ‘one for the runway’ holidaymakers. Therefore, a collective problem across aviation is that, with much less revenue coming in, organisations must maximise efficiencies and reduce their operational costs. The entire sector and its supply chain are in turmoil, and there’s no obvious route back to a pre-Covid-19 state. We may even see things getting worse in the coming months - as I write this today, a significant number of further positive UK cases have been recorded.
This pandemic and its consequences clearly aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
My colleagues collectively agreed that, even once the UK Government and World Health Organisation give a full green light to flying, it’s questionable whether the masses of travellers (particularly business travellers) upon which the sector depends for survival will make a genuine return. Public opinion is key to getting flyers in the air, and it remains heavily set against the industry. Even when a vaccine arrives, how long will it take for people to truly feel safe, from the perspectives of both infection and possible side effects? We don’t know – nobody does!
Moreover, it’s not just public opinion that the airline industry needs to convince if it is to recover – it needs to persuade the corporate world itself. Many companies have taken their duty of care to staff seriously by prohibiting travel unless absolutely necessary. This is sensible, responsible and correct company policy and is replicated across the global corporate world, further affecting airlines and airports in ways they couldn’t have fathomed only eight months ago.
With the 2020 regulations and attitudes on flying being totally unprecedented and with the subsequent loss of staff across the sector, aviation organisations will unquestionably need to rely on agile and sustainable access to skills and people in the future. One of Capita’s immediate ‘cures’ for the industry is our unrivalled experience of supplying the right people and skills into the transport sector agilely and at scale.
Our heritage in delivering immediate access to in-demand skills for transport organisations will be critical to aviation in the short-, medium- and, unfortunately, long-term. As a consultative organisation born from an abundance of operational experience and expertise, Capita is exploring new revenue streams for aviation organisations, then carrying out the necessary operations once they’re established.
The aviation industry has always relied on a shared belief that business needs physical connection between customers, colleagues and partners. I certainly can’t wait to meet with my team members again and spend time with internal and external stakeholders but, without doubt, the regularity of these events will remain minimal in the medium and longer terms.
If the aviation industry is going to convince organisations and individuals that better business requires face-to-face meetings, it must create and sell a genuine narrative that resonates with the corporate world.
In the same way that Covid-19 has exponentially advanced the digitisation of business, it has also rapidly catalysed the attitudes and opinions of even the most traditional corporates and executives. They have now realised that, not only they can still operate brilliantly without a single client handshake in nearly six months, but they have also saved huge amounts in travel, accommodation and time away from families – all while seeing higher rates of return, productivity and job satisfaction from employees.
Corporate statistics are already here, and the aviation industry must, at the very least, match these with facts of their own proving that truly getting back to work involves getting back on a plane. The shift in the corporate world’s mindset has already happened and, only when Covid-19 eventually disappears, will aviation’s long-term problems truly be understood.