Last year brought forth many lessons learned and even the most seasoned experts were challenged to innovate and navigate one of the most tumultuous years in recent history, especially across the aviation industry. In a year when there was much to be learned, Connected Aviation Today shares the insights captured throughout our Executive Spotlight series, bringing wisdom and knowledge to the aviation community in a time when the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel seems far away.
To kick off the new year, our editorial team compiled a collection of some of our favorite Executive Spotlight takeaways from 2020. Here’s what we learned over the course of last year and will surely apply in 2021:
Many aviation industry experts we spoke with in 2020 offered hopeful and optimistic views for the path forward. Airports Consultants Council (ACC) President T.J. Schulz referred to the aviation industry’s consistent ability to bounce back following various hardships. In our conversation with him, Schulz noted, “Anyone that has been around aviation and airports for a long time understands that it is cyclical by nature. The industry has experienced challenges before, such as 9/11 and the 2008 global recession, but they have been followed by sustained growth.”
Charles Keegan, CEO of Aviation Management Associates, recently spoke with us prior to ATCA Annual. After nearly 40 years in the industry, he told us, “We’ve been here before, but it probably feels different to a newer generation.” Keegan was referring to the lack of passenger confidence that came with the global pandemic. He pointed to other times in history where passengers lost confidence including the crash over the Grand Canyon in the 50’s, the air controller strike of 1981, and of course, 9/11. “Here we are again, with another outside force that has shut down the system,” Keegan reflected. Yet, he is bullish about recovery, noting the coming vaccine and the industry’s response. “The entire community is coming together to make things work. Airline response has been incredible in how quickly they adopted safety and health procedures and social distancing.”
Other experts commented on how the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed decision-makers to prioritize future-proofing and even think more existentially about how their slice of the aviation ecosystem operates and consider where the room for growth exists. Srinivas Rao, CEO of flybig, drew on an adage from Napoleon in our virtual sit-down with him.
“Napoleon once said, ‘In every adversity lies the seed of an equal or greater opportunity.’ In order to look for opportunities actively, we must erase from our minds what is normal and what is not. I say this because when we could not with all our collective wisdom predict this pandemic, how could we describe the current situation being a new normal?”
Even before COVID-19 changed how everyone thought about the safety of their surroundings, more technology was being woven into airports to make the passenger journey more efficient. Now there is the added layer of boosting passenger confidence throughout that journey. Even at the start of the pandemic, aviation experts understood that technology was going to be pivotal in bringing passengers safely back to the airport.
“The interests of passengers are going to be the ‘mother of invention’ in the travel industry,” stated Michael Taylor, Practice Lead, Travel at J.D. Power in our interview with him in March, shortly after shelter-in-place orders went into effect in many locations. “I often say that travel will shortly look like a movie with Tom Cruise (e.g. Minority Report) or Arnold Schwarzenegger (e.g. Total Recall), where people never stop moving toward their objective (e.g. a gate, a car, an exit) and security, health, and safety processes are continuously happening and don’t impede the flow of people.”
Peter F. Dumont, President and CEO of ATCA, had a unique opportunity throughout 2020 to host many fireside chats with industry leaders regarding aviation recovery in 2020. In a recent interview, he noted that, “2020 has been a challenging year all around— for aviation and for each of us as individuals,” yet there have also been silver linings in terms of connecting with the community, offering more programming to an extended audience.
“The most important thing we can do as an industry and as a community now is to make sure that we recover forward,” he told us. “There’s no going back to the way it used to be, nor should that be our goal.”
Support and collaboration remain the focus for many aviation leaders. In our final Executive Spotlight of 2020, Rick Belliotti, Director of Customer Experience Design and Innovation at San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, concluded his conversation with us emphasizing the importance of a support system in the aviation ecosystem. “This road is not a freeway; it’s not one that you can take by yourself,” he stated. “It’s really one that we have to navigate together as an industry. Because my airport doesn’t succeed without at least one other airport out there. Our success and recovery is dependent on each other.”
As we move into 2021, we are encouraged by the optimism of the various aviation industry experts we’ve connected with over the course of last year year. By prioritizing innovation and the expectations and concerns of passengers, we as an industry can move into a new phase of travel, with state-of-the-art technology leading the charge.