How to Thrive in the Face of Adversity

How to Thrive in the Face of Adversity

There’s no shortage of quotes to be found on finding strength and resolve in times of crisis, but this one struck a chord. Eight months since COVID-19 gripped the aviation industry and we’re realizing that the infection scenario forecasts weren’t dire enough and our seemingly robust industry has been severely impacted.

Many lives have been lost or upended. But in times of crisis, we need to come together and summon the courage to learn, grow and move forward with a common sense of purpose.

As a prolonged downturn continues to threaten the existence of some of the most highly respected brands in our industry and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands, we must find that commonality and seize every opportunity to become more innovative than ever. Our ability to reliably deliver a safe flight experience is nothing short of miraculous given the environment and Herculean requirements that are part and parcel of aviation, but now we have to achieve that same level of excellence on the efficiency front, overnight.

Leadership requires honest and objective assessments of opportunities, strengths, weaknesses and threats. As I consider possible future industry outcomes from my vantage point, what worries me the most? A stubborn reluctance to evolve.

“Pushing the envelope” implies increasing risk and testing boundaries, something best left to daredevils and domains in which the stakes aren’t as high as in aviation. We don’t need to recklessly innovate, but we do need to rapidly evolve with urgency. I fully acknowledge that the idea of change can be scary when we’ve been historically driven by process and procedure, but risks can be creatively mitigated.

As I look at new ways for the AireXpert team to use our problem-solving skills and technology in this challenging environment, I’m growing increasingly concerned that we’re collectively underemphasizing the need to become more efficient and leaner. In conversation with leadership teams, a common theme seems to be that we’re not being nearly aggressive enough to solve many of our most pressing problems which threaten the viability of aircraft operators and MRO’s large and small.

In the world of airline technical operations, it’s difficult to cut costs in a meaningful way particularly when the reduction target number is large. No one relishes the thought of slashing costs via layoffs, yet as aircraft remain parked for long term storage or eventual retirement, yet it could happen. Where do we look to find answers that result in significant gains without a devastating people’s lives?

Much of the opportunity can be found in purpose-built, technology based solutions focused on extracting more ROI from existing resources. We’ve already seen the enormous improvements and advancements that technology delivers in the areas of passenger experience and above-the-wing product delivery, but we’re way behind below-the-wing.

Technologies which only recently seemed to be sidelined by regulatory resistance suddenly have traction and are not only to accelerating the pace of maintenance, but increasing safety. Regulatory agencies across the world, while still hyper vigilant, have opened their minds to alternative means of maintaining quality control and assurance standards in this restrictive travel environment. The door has been opened.

Innovators recognize that they have to overcome two primary obstacles; a) the perception of risk b) their solution has to truly be a solution, not just a tool. For example, a drone (for aircraft inspections), by itself, is not a solution. It has the potential to become a solution when it seamlessly integrates with other aspects of a maintenance operation.

Since this is truly a collaborative effort, we all have to expand our perspectives to adopt new technologies and solutions. When I started working in aviation, I’d never have dreamed that certain RII tasks (Required Inspection Items) could be witnessed and approved without a physical presence being onsite. Today, it’s become a reality and we’re already seeing the results. That’s just one example that has enabled us to become much more efficient without sacrificing high standards.

To those on the front lines, you have a unique perspective and window into a problem which simply can’t be comprehended by those who don’t intimately understand your role. Speak up, use your voice as an individual. Use your collective voices.

To those at the top of the organizational chart, your view can become obscured. You may miss huge opportunities to grow revenue, reduce costs or simply become much better because of blind spots which limit your visibility. Those of you who spend time on the hangar floor or routinely connect with those on the front lines get it. Trust and listen to those voices.

What else concerns me? We remain too isolated. At this crucial moment in time when we could be an incredibly powerful force, we’re not nearly as cohesive as we should be. We’re millions strong with a unifying commonality, but we haven’t yet scratched the surface of what’s possible when we’re truly connected across city, country and the world.

I’m always surprised at how little we seem to know about the company across the airfield or twenty miles down the road and often shocked at the number of messages across social media platforms which indicate a lack of knowledge about job or business opportunities outside of a very small personal radius.

We need the power of social networking to source and fill whatever openings exist. As technically minded individuals, we tend to underemphase the necessity of connecting with peers and building professional relationships. We also need to adopt an inclusiveness mindset.

I’m seeing glimmers of hope. The velocity of change is another conversation I’m always willing to have with engaged teams. Notwithstanding social distancing guidelines, we’re decidedly better together.

As the founder of AireXpert, Andy Hakes enjoys using his lessons learned during decades in the airline industry to solve real-world problems. He can be reached at