Where have all the avi­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als gone?

Steve Zehr, head of Air­ports Di­vi­sion of Cofely Be­six Air­ports and Lo­gis­tics Ser­vices, ex­plores the fac­tors be­hind the lack of skilled avi­a­tion-spe­cific FM man­age­ment in the re­gion

Aviation Business - - DEPARTURE LOUNGE -

Since the for­ma­tion of the UAE and the growth of the re­gion, there have been few avi­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als in fa­cil­i­ties man­age­ment (FM) in the GCC. Out­sourced avi­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties, un­til re­cently, have also been rel­a­tively few in com­par­i­son to other sec­tors in the re­gion, and there­fore as­so­ci­ated pro­fes­sion­als re­quired to man­age these fa­cil­i­ties have been few and far be­tween. The evo­lu­tion of the avi­a­tion in­dus­try is rooted and driven by the ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in the num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties, the im­por­tance of as­set man­age­ment, in­clud­ing main­te­nance and out­sourc­ing. With the in­tro­duc­tion of out­sourc­ing came a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to main­tain­ing fa­cil­i­ties, and a longer-term view was be­ing adopted to take bet­ter care of as­sets/prop­erty which would save an owner money by re­duc­ing the need to re­place ex­pen­sive as­sets, thereby in­creas­ing the as­set life­cy­cle. This in turn al­lowed cap­i­tal ex­pense to be utilised else­where.

The down­ward pres­sure to save money and re­duce costs has also driven a more thought-based fa­cil­i­ties/as­set man­age­ment ap­proach. Some clients, par­tic­u­larly gov­ern­ment-based clients have been slow to take up this ap­proach due to bu­reau­cra­cies and com­pli­cated pro­cure­ment rules and reg­u­la­tions, thereby lim­it­ing ex­po­sure to staff who self-de­liver fa­cil­i­ties man­age­ment. The staffing that is re­quired for the avi­a­tion in­dus­try has there­fore not de­vel­oped and kept pace with this con­ver­sion from pub­lic sec­tor to pri­vate sec­tor out­sourc­ing.

To add fur­ther com­plex­ity, the few avi­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als in these fa­cil­i­ties haven’t kept up with the ac­cel­er­ated jump in avi­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties brought about by glob­al­i­sa­tion and the in­crease in world travel. The nat­u­ral in­cu­ba­tor ef­fect of at­tract­ing, train­ing and turning novice can­di­dates into pro­fes­sion­als through on the job train­ing,

has there­fore not kept pace. For avi­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties, a con­tribut­ing fac­tor is that most of the FM was per­formed in-house and not ex­posed to the afore­men­tioned ex­ter­nal pres­sures. Com­plete FM out­sourc­ing be­ing rel­a­tively new to the avi­a­tion in­dus­try com­pared to other in­dus­tries, has re­sulted in lim­ited num­ber of suit­able pro­fes­sion­als and the avail­able pool has lagged de­mand. Gov­ern­ment-em­ployed avi­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als in the mar­ket place have also been hes­i­tant to move to the pri­vate sec­tor due to per­ceived ben­e­fit dif­fer­ences such as ex­pats re­lo­cat­ing back to home coun­tries, and lo­cal cit­i­zens not in­ter­ested in this aspect of the avi­a­tion in­dus­try have com­pounded the over­all ef­fect.

The fo­cus of proac­tive and man­aged­main­te­nance cou­pled with the man­age­ment of an owner’s as­sets has also been slow in avi­a­tion in the GCC mainly be­cause of evolv­ing new ter­mi­nal build­ing de­sign and devel­op­ment. The con­cepts around the use of a com­puter-main­te­nance man­age­ment sys­tem (CMMS) to build a data­base of his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion about as­sets to en­able the FM op­er­a­tion to be more proac­tive, plan main­te­nance and an­tic­i­pate as­set fail­ures is still in its in­fancy. CMMS’s will al­low data col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis which will be help­ful when fore­cast­ing five to 10-year CAPEX bud­gets, but cur­rently the CMMS’s are not be­ing im­ple­mented to their full po­ten­tial. In sup­port of this, struc­tured sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams are still are not read­ily avail­able to pro­mote, train and de­ploy these types of avi­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. Fa­cil­i­ties/as­set man­age­ment is now a multi-faceted in­dus­try with cer­tain in­dus­try spe­cial­ties, and as with other spe­cialised in­dus­tries, sys­tems spe­cific to avi­a­tion such as bag­gage han­dling sys­tems, pas­sen­ger board­ing bridges, and hold bag­gage screen­ing re­quire unique ex­pe­ri­ence lev­els that is mostly gained on the job and re­quire spe­cialised train­ing. This is in ad­di­tion to train­ing fa­cil­ity man­agers to think like own­ers of as­sets, in­creas­ing the life­cy­cle of in­di­vid­ual and groups of as­sets is still a key com­po­nent re­quired.

This lim­ited avi­a­tion tal­ent pool also makes re­cruit­ment a chal­lenge and drives up costs. Op­er­a­tional risk is also in­creased when too few sec­tor ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als are on a site, where they are in fact learn­ing on the job, and this is a rea­son why more com­pa­nies don’t ven­ture into the avi­a­tion sec­tor. Ba­si­cally, avi­a­tion own­ers need pro­fes­sion­als that are ex­pe­ri­enced and fa­mil­iar with fa­cil­i­ties that are like their own and can speak the avi­a­tion lan­guage. Own­ers not only want tech­ni­cal and man­age­ment knowl­edge, skills and abil­i­ties, but they also re­quire staff that un­der­stand the unique­ness of these fa­cil­i­ties and that they very dif­fer­ent to malls, of­fice build­ings, hospi­tals or schools. They need com­fort that FM pro­fes­sion­als un­der­stand the stakes at hand, where de­lays caused to air­port oper­at­ing part­ners can cost mil­lions.

Own­ers are ex­pect­ing this level of com­mit­ment from their FM provider, and this com­mit­ment can be demon­strated by ded­i­cat­ing a part of the com­pany to the avi­a­tion sec­tor. Staffing that di­vi­sion with ex­pe­ri­enced leadership and avi­a­tion sec­tor pro­fes­sion­als, who are sup­ported by C-level ex­ec­u­tives, are clear in­di­ca­tors to avi­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties own­ers that the ser­vice com­pany is spe­cialised in avi­a­tion ser­vice de­liv­ery, which is also unique to the in­dus­try.

In clos­ing, I believe FM com­pa­nies should of­fer more proac­tive train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, and FM with avi­a­tion spe­cial­i­sa­tion should in­crease the num­ber of ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als in the in­dus­try.

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