Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning – Albert Einstein

As an industry, aviation continues to be one of the most severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our inboxes and LinkedIn are flooded with statistics and graphics about the impact of the downturn, the need for government and financial support, and pleas for a coordinated effort to bring the industry back from this crisis. With the promise that vaccines will be available in 2021, the hope is that air traffic will start to return, and that the sector can shift from crisis to operation. But many questions remain.

We quote Einstein, whereas Henrik Hololei (Director-General DG MOVE) quotes Winston Churchill: “never let a good crisis go to waste”. He believes that the recovery must address the weaknesses that the crisis has exposed, but this must also go hand-in-hand with the structural reforms that were already needed pre-COVID. The future isn’t ‘2019’. It is something new, shaped by what the industry has been through, and with the possibility to turn the crisis into an opportunity to make the sector “more resilient, more sustainable (both from an environmental as well as from a social perspective) and more competitive”.1European aviation shares a similar ambition to relaunch the sector and design this ‘new normal’ – a viable, green and socially sustainable aviation of tomorrow – in the Aviation Round Table Report on the Recovery of European Aviation.

What do all these commitments and ambitions mean for the many service providers in the aviation sector? Ultimately it suggests that organisations can expect a lot more change on the horizon. Henrik Hololei talks about a sector which can reap the benefits of digitalisation and automation. The impact of these changes on an organisation will be profound – at all levels, in terms of technology, operational concepts, people – and how you transition in a safe way by ensuring that new and existing risks are managed.

Organisations that have a higher capability to change and that can successfully implement changes more quickly than their competitors, will have the advantage – particularly where the changes open up new markets and opportunities – think ATM Data Service Providers or Urban Air Mobility. How do you increase your chances of success?

It goes without saying that aligning the organisation with a clear vision and understanding of what you want to achieve remains important. Leadership and communication are critical. But in times of massive (and ongoing) uncertainty such as these, we must also be able to put in place an element of experimentation, of test-and-review, and be checking our understanding of “success” constantly to determine the next steps. This means challenging anything which locks us into certain patterns (for example five-year planning periods, or staff agreements). Uncertainty may also mean that we don’t apply a single plan, but use some different techniques (e.g. experimentation, sprints) to test the way forward.

Our teams are engaged in looking at managing the change towards a human machine rebalance; moving towards service-oriented design; and moving towards managed services. Each will have different success factors, but there are constants across all of them: risks identified and managed, operations delivered with improved efficiency and flexibility, people equipped to operate remotely, innovate, adapt… and given permission to question.

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