“Post‐COVID” is not just a feel good term! I see the end of this long and dark tunnel, after witnessing 28 out of 30 narrow body jets in long term parking at the Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) return to service; witnessing aircraft production rates ramping up worldwide; and passenger terminals getting busier with each passing month. On the backdrop of significant challenges over the past 24 months, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that the initial impact as of April 2020 was as high as a 96% drop in passenger traffic when compared to April 2019. The rebound, although happening, will not take the airline business to 100% of pre‐COVID levels until at least 2024, as per a recent consulting group study. The business aviation space has realized a faster rebound. Both sides will face the same type of challenges in the Post‐COVID phase.
There is a great opportunity and need to work collaboratively, as one global team, to address 6 specific challenges, and achieve a steady state foundation of what I consider the four fundamentals of the aviation viz: Safety, Reliability, Dependability and Economics. Together, they make up an ideal customer experience which I consider the DNA of my industry. While nobody can prescribe a quick‐fix, I will attempt to explain the big picture, and provide some pointers for likely success:
1. Focus on multi‐directional growth to mitigate part shortages and supply chain delays:
There are parts and raw materials shortages all the way to the origin (mines). The logistics arm is struggling with on time performance. This problem will multiply when the commercial airliners (narrow body and wide body passenger planes) ramp up production bringing much higher demands than business aviation, for parts and raw materials. Rather than placing ruthless competition and pressure tactics on part original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), all players should focus on up‐stream success at each stage of supply chain. Careful ramp up of business may prove to be a wise approach.
2. Create and retain talent:
The effect of “The Great US Resignation” phenomenon is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Each employer is facing an unstable, volatile, and evaporating labor market. Working from home, flexible schedules, higher quality of life, and employee skill growth investments will enhance the work culture and foster workforce stability. Pilots and mechanics are two crucial pillars of the aviation eco‐system. While wage increases are being accepted as an unavoidable compromise, growth in global and aggregate training school capacity will bring supply with sustainability. The last two generations of students have stayed away from joining these professions due to low starting wages for the first few years of an aviation career.
3. Foster government‐industry collaboration to soften the shock of cost inflation:
Labor, materials, and fuel prices are expected to grow and asking for down‐stream payout from a flying passenger is not a realistic expectation. Government and bank supported bailouts may need to continue to ensure liquidity.
4. Upgrade OEM support to 24 x 7 anywhere on the planet, while avoiding the urge for “Skimpflation:”
Deterioration of customer service is a very tempting strategy to mitigate cost and resource availability pressures. Businesses should avoid that temptation and instead consolidate centers of excellence by forming specialized service providers to bring quality and productivity with affordability. “Buy” might be a better option than “make” in many cases. The mantra is to be there for your customers, locally, globally, without Skimpflation.
5. Innovate economically to satisfy the customer’s technology expectations:
Customers want the latest technology. Aviation is typically slower to introduce them due to heavy costs and time needed for testing and certification cycles. Out of production or small fleet size aircraft make this investment even more difficult to justify. Figure out how your business can mine through multiple terabytes of data that is available and increasing. What can be done with that data? Innovate ways for data processing and customer participation. We need to avoid another pandemic spread by leveraging science and technology.
6. Accept the post‐COVID business paradox and steer the “human side” of your business:
An economic downturn is almost inevitable with rising inflation and businesses expectations to make up for losses. Overcapacity will be evident resulting in rounds of layoffs. While “green energy” needs to continue as a sincere effort, remind yourself that only 2% of global CO2 emission is caused by the aviation industry – passenger and cargo aircraft combined. Let’s not lose focus on work in progress on zero emission aircraft, eVTOL technology.
They say that intuition is mostly based on past experiences. In the post‐COVID business world, we will need to adopt the right mix of experience and intuition as we steer our business world through a somewhat unchartered territory. If humans can beat COVID, they can most certainly work together to help business prosper post‐COVID. That is why I say, “post‐COVID is not just a feel good term!”
Amod will be participating in the EXECUTIVE BRAINSTORM – Are Your Employees Truly Happy? Measuring and Acting on Employee NPS (eNPS) panel at the 18th Annual Customer Contact East: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange taking place 4/4 to 4/6 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Amod Kelkar currently works as Vice President, Customer Service at Honda Aircraft Company. He has spent the last 22 years of his career in Commercial and Business aircraft OEM space, gaining experience as an aftermarket P&L leader with a demonstrated growth history in Customer Experience, Global Footprint development, Strategic Relationships, Sales, and Large Scale P&L ownership. Amod brings a wealth of experience serving commercial airlines and private jet customers across the globe, with on‐site first- hand business dealings in more than 40 countries. Prior to joining Honda Aircraft Company, USA, Amod worked in roles of growing responsibilities at Bombardier Inc., Canada and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada.