What’s going to happen in 2020?
At this time of year, it seems customary for companies to put out their predictions for the next 12 months. We asked Miles Bailey, SmartFly’s Director of Sales and Customer Support what his thoughts were.
A revived M&A Market?
The M&A scene in private aviation has been quite quiet over the past 12 months, with none of the “big” operators announcing anything significant (though it should be noted that WFS’ acquisition of UVAir’s fuel division could hardly be classed as “insignificant”). I think there are several reasons for this which are beyond the scope of this article, however I think in 2020 we will see more operators investigating “strategic partnerships”, which allow two operators to share resources. We have worked with several operators going down this route in the last quarter, and with the costs of holding an AOC becoming prohibitively expensive, it’s a viable option. There are synergies available at every level. SmartFly can provide customers considering this, an “emotion-free” procurement review that identifies the best course of action following a partnership to ensure that any savings are delivered quickly and effectively.
Sustainability – a little less conversation, a little more action?
I’ve asked several times this year “Can anyone remember what we talked about before Brexit?” and “What are we going to talk about when we’ve got Brexit done?” Entertainingly, no one could remember what we used to talk about (although, anecdotally, someone did once say “Wasn’t it Part-NCC?” with little by way of conviction), but one common theme for “what’s next” has been sustainability. The challenge lies within the fact that regardless of advances in technology allowing a reduction in emissions, flying around on a private jet could hardly be classed as being kind to the environment. I think we will see more operators making more prominent efforts to publicly offer carbon offsetting as part of their flight and management packages. It’s certainly an area that’s been identified as one of growth for SmartFly and one we are watching with interest.
Flight Operations has always lagged other industries when it comes to the adoption of IT. It’s only in the past 5 years that the adoption of Electronic Flight Bags has become widespread and one of the most prominent flight planning systems was using a DOS-based interface as recently as 3 years ago. Thankfully, whilst we seem to be catching up with the rest of the world in the adoption of mobile computing, the way we interact with IT in Aviation has a long way to go. I was discussing with an operator why SmartFly isn’t going down a tech platform at a show recently. In order to dispatch one aircraft on a charter, they had to use 8 different software packages. This is woefully inefficient, especially as a lot of the time the information must be duplicated, which also allows errors to creep in. I don’t think anyone will win the “platform” arms race that provides an end-to-end solution in one program but having a single platform that is able to consolidate and present information from multiple sources that allow operators to work more efficiently will be a game-changer.
What am I most looking forward to in the next 12 months?
We have some great plans in the works that will put SmartFly at the forefront of procurement for aviation with several partnerships in new territories under consideration. I also think this is going to be a vintage year for private aviation. It is a near guarantee that the UK will leave the EU in January after nearly 3 years of uncertainty, which has been very difficult to plan around and has been somewhat of a damper on a lot of plans made by companies throughout the industry. Make no mistake this will give rise to several challenges, but it at least allows us to move on and understand what challenges we face rather than having to contemplate multiple different scenarios. We are working with several Startup operators who are pressing ahead with plans to launch in 2020 and I think the timing is great for them.
What am I dreading?
Sadly, 2019 saw the demise of several well-established operators in the UK and Europe and there will be others in 2020. Business Aviation faces a talent crisis, at all levels when a “freshly minted” cadet straight from flight school can walk into a mainline carrier first officer role and fly 900 “predictable” hours, it’s difficult to see any attraction to 400 “unpredictable” hours, especially as there is an accompanying salary differential making it even less attractive. And it’s not just aircrew, the whole back office face similar recruitment challenges. It’s vital that we’re able to attract the next generation to private aviation to help drive development in the industry.