Discussing about the individual impact we make, the topic gains interest. What is your own, personal net-impact to our planet? So I decided to summarize some of the posts and comments I had on the topic on LinkedIn.
In line with previous posts about #lipservices, #cognitivedissonance and #wishfulthinking. And a #realitycheck for others, claiming “sustainability” that they do not deliver upon.
Self-Esteem over Sustainability
A clear article on it was today’s post by SEDO-founder Tim Schumacher Search: “People should only be classed as billionaires when they remove a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.” referring to the CNBC article questioning the sustainability investments of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) and Bill Gates (Microsoft founder).
In my comment, I emphasized that we need no ESG, but #sustainabilityaccounting. And much of what I see from these and other investors is showing their response to their conscience, focusing their activities on things they understand, but also things that have an impact to their self-esteem. And there was also this Open Letter to Bill Gates, reflecting on his #cognitivedissonance or #lipservices. I believe it’s simply cognitive dissonance. Keep in mind, these people also live in their social (media) bubble.
Yesterday, there was a report about industry leader/face James Hogan, former CEO of Etihad, caught in the act, trying to circumvent the Corona rules in place. It underlined my post two weeks ago, that we have airlines skipping pre-flight corona-testing regime. A disservice to an industry trying very hard to make flying safe! I’m sure he regrets that idea now, not having considered the repercussions of being caught.
#cognitivedissonance: While flying itself may be safe, passengers aren’t! Anyone claiming flying to be “safe” shall better keep in mind that the virus spreads and new variants keep spreading by travelers. Also and a lot pre-tested passengers are infected but not yet positive, they then spread the virus in their destination.
Then, let me talk about the decision makers at European Investment Bank (EIB). Claiming to be the European Sustainability Bank. In a conference by Geneva Macro Labs, I asked their head of climate office Elina Kamenitzer on her claim that they do green investments: Are there any success stories that proof the impact, the “impact” targets achieved ever since? Well, no. They “have to look into that now.” It’s about time.
I also reached out to my now ex-point of contact in EIB, about a co-investment into our impact plans. With (a cheap) reference to their Roadmap and the decision there to not finance conventionally fueled aircraft (page 102), he disqualified any investments into aviation. In utter ignorance of what I believe he understood (I did remind him), that we have plans that are not aircraft-funding related. But i.e. development into a synfuel-ecosphere. Our plans cover all of the 17 SDGs, mostly with quantifiable targets that we sure plan to exceed on. If you’re convinced to do the right thing, that comes as a natural.
But that ain’t what the bureaucrats at EIB look at, is it?
So back to the article topic:
What is Your Impact?
There is a petition against greenwashing on Change.org I urge you to sign! Discussing on that one, we had several discussions on how to define greenwashing. Whereas family office principals told me ESG would be the role model for greenwashing. A good idea, meanwhile abused. There may be some investors who understand the meaning of it. But not many.
It is the same about claims to be “sustainable”. Another family office principal told me, that out of the 2020 impact investments, only 4% were having clear impact to improve on SDGs. 96% were disqualified as they just claimed without goals and targets but simple claims misreading the causes. Nice if you plan SDG5 Gender Equality on your hiring process, but without clear targets on how to improve. Or if you abuse SDG9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure for your “innovative IT project”.
Only Net Impact is Real Impact
We came to the conclusion that real impact is about net impact. And that “impact” is about reduction of the strain we put on the planet. To reduce power consumption by 10% but planning to increase the total power needs by 30% is intentional abuse of the sustainability claim.
There are many good examples out there, beyond what we plan at Kolibri. But we speak a lot with investors that want to cash-in on us before we launched. And investors, investing little money into small projects, more like a philanthropy, but an impact investment. Paying for a clean conscience, paying for their other daily sins. I just told one of the family office principals. We are looking not for those classic investors. We are targeting the family office space, as there are more investors than elsewhere wo take sustainability to heart. Who focus on it. Who are understanding that an impact investment might not be as profitable as i.e. Bitcoin. But it’s the right thing to do. And
Impact Investment ain’t philanthropy. Do good and make money!
So this time, not just Food for Thought, but a clear question:
Following impact investing, I am recently flooded with information about wind parks. Examples from today reporting on South Korea, Ukraine, the United States. With examples aplenty from Germany and other regions flooding in. Now what triggers my concern on this is that early on, I learned the butterfly example in Chaos Theory:
If we build all those super-scale windfarms, how will that impact. We didn’t mind about the little impact our local tinkering with nature would have, starting use of crude oil, plastics, herbicides, etc., etc. – someone has a great idea how to improve our lives… Are we ever having “the bill” in mind?
Thinking about Kolibri, I already think about the contrail of synfuel. While improving the situation compared to crude-oil-kerosene, to shift towards synkerosene is just a first step. Must be a first step only. And as my network emphasized that blockchain is good and only bitcoin uses tons of CO2-resources to be mined, those supporters fail to have read about the increasing impact of “data centers” and discussion on how much CO2 a mere e-Mail we keep stored produces.
The other issue I see on “classic” impact investment is the focus on quick solutions. Is it better to “delist” entire industries or is it better to invest into disruptors and changemakers?
Electric? Hydrogen? All the aviation associations promote going “green” 2040. Or beyond. Whereas the technology for the first step is here.
Being asked on my baby KOLIBRI.aero on why we don’t wait for electric planes or hydrogen planes, my answer is simple. They are fog-screens, intentional distractions allowing the airline to hold on to them to avoid really addressing the issue! To avoid Change. This can be brought down to very easy to understand examples.
The Fairy Tale of Electric Passenger Flights
Boeing dropped out of funding Zunum, having the plans to develop an electric air plane. Because there is a simple, physical challenge that they cannot overcome. The battery size. Reducing the battery size, Boeing learned the lesson with the 787 Dreamliner. Where internal batteries caught fire. Would that have happened inflight, you can imagine the catastrophic impact. They had reduced the size vs. capacity to the point where batteries happen overheat. Especially rechargeable ones that we talk about it here. It is rumored and I heard it from Boeing, that their engineers disqualified electric passenger planes beyond 35, maximum 50 seats. The max size Zunum targeted, but with a range of one flight hour, maximum 90 minutes.
There may be developments that may one day increase battery capacity while reducing the size, but they are wishful thinking as of today.
The Fairy Tale of Hydrogen Powered Passenger Flights
The very same issue is it about hydrogen powered passenger flights, Airbus recently promoted as their “Zero-Emission Aircraft”. Again, the physical challenge.
To put into those aircraft cooled hydrogen tanks with the related cooling makes those tanks very bulky. In fact, sources inside Airbus have been cited assuming 50% or more of the fuselage (cabin and freight compartment) to be needed to build in the hydrogen needed to operate the aircraft 60 to maximum of 90 minutes. Unpressured (uncooled) Hydrogen does not have the needed energy.
That is, why those airplanes Airbus showed in the picture are also small aircraft, with about 50% less seating of a comparable aircraft those sizes today. Another wishful thinking and fog screen if you ask me.
Electric + Hydrogen Electric – a Summary
There is a very interesting summary on electric (and hydrogen-electric) flight in a 45-minute YouTube video:
Generally it confirms my opinion, that we won’t have any substantial development in time for any meaningful impact on the climate goals. With first liquid-hydrogen prototypes expected by the research experts by 2035 to 2040 and first commercial operations likely 10 years faster. See my summary from an expert panel in the comments. A bit late for a 2050 impact?
And electric will start with small air taxi-type services of 15-20 passengers. And while that is a good development, it will only replace (and enable) very small regional routes. Can you imagine 5-10 slots an hour at any of the larger airports to be burned by such small planes?
It will very likely take beyond 2050 until we will see any of the 100 or 200 seat aircraft flying commercially on either technology. Bullocks. Just more #greenwashing …?!
The Road to Carbon Neutral
Developing Kolibri, from the outset we thought about using contemporary aircraft allowing us to use bio-fuel. Though bio-kerosene must be “blended”. Must be mixed at least one to one with the classic, dirty kerosene. Often, it is mixed like “E10” gasoline, only 10% “bio”. It’s not uncommon to have a 10-20% blend only, using 80-90% classic Jet-A1. Whereas the “bio” comes mostly from rape seed monocultures (picture), having already it’s own negative impact on bioversity. That ain’t “clean”, nor “sustainable”.
Hydrogen – a volatile gas
From my work on a solar powered WIG 2008, replacing it’s diesel-engine with an hydrogen-engine, I understood hydrogen as the future. Clean electrolysis using solar power (and wind, bio mass and other sustainable energy sources) and salted water, whereas desalination facilities produce the surplus salt to augment seawater to the level needed for the electrolysis. So sunny regions with access to seawater have a “natural advantage” to develop the infrastructure to create hydrogen.
Now hydrogen is exceptionally volatile, even in special tanks, the losses are substantial, so it’s not easy to transport. Now…
Two years ago Sunfire’s Synfuel triggered my attention, from a National Geographic report – not reported in Germany, but in the U.S. … I instantly understood synfuel a perfect solution to replace our plans to invest in expensive electric and hydrogen powered ground fleet, still with the need to have Diesel-powered trucks and emergency generators in an airline, with syndiesel. And to develop into synkerosene to replace biokerosene.
Developed since, Sunfire with partners started a construction of a synkerosene facility in Oslo, Norway. No, not in their home-country Germany, but in Norway. Norway is not full member of the EU, “only” an associated country. Make your guess, why not inside the EU… Maybe Ursula von der Leyen’s implied quote below gives you a hint.
Aside, synfuel can be used quite easily as a buffer technology, using excess power to create synfuel during peak times and using it in common and tried power generators to recreate energy in low times. Until we have something better, Syngas is a clean energy source that can make us independent of crude-oil for power generation. a technology that can create a future for many “poor countries” in the “tropical belt”, the tropic (red) and subtropical zones (yellow), as their surplus of solar energy is way higher than what the northern hemisphere has in the temperate to polar zones.
The Fairy Tale of the End of the Combustion Engine
And while German transport minister Andreas Scheuer demands the end of the combustion engine by 2035, I can only interpret this as another short-sighted publicity stunt. A distraction and a fog screen! By a minister who’s not known for his realism. Combustion technology will still be around a while, cars having a lifetime of minimum 10 years. Other technologies like aviation, simply lack an alternative for now. And while privileged nations can likely afford the switch, less privileged regions will rely on combustion engines for a great number of reasons and even more years.
Making the Change
So while we make again big plans in Northwestern Europe, developing synfuel facilities in the “poor South” makes a lot of sense. Developing synfuel facilities at airports will be an incubator for the regional conversion from classic gasoline to synfuel. Developing a new “regional” airline with the large demand of synfuel, will make the development a profitable venture. A classic win-win.
So anyone believing in electric passenger planes is daydreaming, or whitewashing why they don’t invest to become clean. A distraction, a fog screen. The same is true for purely hydrogen-powered planes.
But anyone who wants to make a change, can do so today. Modern aircraft engines are ready to apply 100% synfuel. Or so Sunfire, Norsk-e-Fuel and an engine maker assure me. Synfuel created from hydrogen and carbon-dioxide. Not carbon-positive, but yes, carbon-neutral. Proven tech. Today.
And we have a business plan, and we have the interest to make this happen. Starting today and being carbon-neutral within this decade. If not faster.
I’ve started to write this as a part of my post on Impact Investing vs. Whitewashing, but I decided to take this into it’s own article and only summarize and refer to it. This article addresses the known ideas about clean flying and why I believe there is a lot of whitewashing and intentional delaying. But if you want to go carbon-neutral for a start, the technology is there. Even with the bureaucratic hurdles, we can start flying carbon-neutral within a matter of three to five years. The challenge is the speed we can secure the funding to build the necessary facilities.
Investors interested to turn aviation carbon-neutral, here is our reasoning which technology you should look at. And why helping us making this happen will be disruptive. Not because noone else could do it, but because to succeed you need the right people who want to do it, not the ones considering it disrupting their plans…
“But how about electric flying?” you might ask? Yes, how about it? In December 2013, a battery on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire. It was later attributed to a “design flaw”. Yes, Boeing had quite some trouble even before the MAX-disaster.
In 2016, the Samsung Galaxy S7 batteries happened to explode. It was found that a manufacturing defect in the phones’ batteries had caused some of them to generate excessive heat, resulting in fires and explosions. And as much as they research possibilities, there are no ideas yet how you can “minimize” batteries (size and weight) further without risking them overheating. But given existing battery size and weight, the battery will only allow for very short flights with relatively few passengers. Commercial flying over two, three hours? You got to be kidding…
I find Zunum’s story (their jet pictured here) quite interesting. From Wikipedia: “In November 2020, Zunum Aero filed a lawsuit against Boeing alleging that Boeing tried “to gain access to proprietary information, intellectual property” and then used its dominance “to delay and then foreclose” Zunum’s operation, “in order to maintain its dominant position in commercial aviation by stifling competition”, using this proprietary information “to provide a hybrid-electric propulsion system for a different aircraft design” with Safran. Zunum said that Boeing tried to poach Zunum’s engineers.”
Electric Flight is a nice idea, but without a breakthrough in batteries, in my opinion it’ll be too inflexible a niche market and in best case need 10-20 years of active development to come up with a sizeable aircraft for mass transportation. And then there is the devastating ecological footprint of the mining of the needed Lithium, Nickel, “rare earths”, that experts expect to become a likely killer issue for Tesla – now thinking about battery-powered flying?
Many of you remember that back in 2008 I worked with investors and potential climate-sensitive customer we worked on a hydrogen-powered WIG (wing in ground). Combining the then existing research platform SeaFalcon with a common hydrogen-engine and refining hydrogen from solar power. Back in the days, we got a viability study funded to work out the business case based on Maldivian Air Taxi. Very successful business case in fact. Then came Lehman and we never further followed up on it, something I regret to date. Back 2009/10, we could have proved the business case for carbon-free flying.
But I also learned the downsides of Hydrogen, disabling it for large aircraft. Say what? Didn’t Airbus not just promote their vision of hydrogen-powered planes? Just the required cooling and/or pressure tanks for any sizeable aircraft sure is a challenge.
On the picture I found it interesting to see the focus on small aircraft and how much of that they already assume to be used for the hydrogen-tanks… Given Corona, I doubt they will give this the focus to keep the development timeline at 2030 (ten years). And I believe this is just another case like Boeing on e-flight, a means to proof failure to justify continuation of “dirty flying”. I doubt their managements real interest in clean flying!
Synkerosene – Hydrogen reloaded
Since I learned about Synfuel in early 2019, I understood that quickly as true impact, a disruptive technology. Given it’s “circular” nature, it will not provide “clean flying as quickly. But carbon-neutral flying and substantially less side products in the exhaust. Then I was surprised recently that Sunfire had secured a joint venture as Norsk e-Fuel, building an “industrial-sized facility” in Oslo. Okay, their annual output I learned is rather small, only 25% of what we assume as need for an all-synkerosene fleet at our bases, enough for seven regional aircraft.
But yes, we believe that given Synkerosene can transform all existing fleets in a matter of years. Starting with Synfuel for company cars, energy generators beyond emergency, but also as a buffer for the solar power needed for a 24/7 operation will require a large sized facility at our headquarters. Developing the plans and securing the funding for the large-sized facilities needed at the bases, we expect first bases to be 100% carbon neutral realistically within three to five years. But only, if we get it started. If we overcome lip-services, white- and greenwashing but join forces with investors interested doing the real deal.
Now back to the investor who told us this week that we’d not be innovative enough. I don’t care to be innovative. I want to use innovation available to make a change. A real one.
Challenge: Three years to the first carbon-free base. Ten years for all bases to be carbon-free. And looking at 10 years, this will be profitable development! Real IMPACT INVESTING.
The Truth About ZERO-Emission
Synkerosene is not emission-free. But even Airbus “Zero-Emission” is a lie! Sure there will be emissions, though using hydrogen, it will mostly by H2O, simple water.
Synkerosene is refined from hydrogen and carbondioxide (CO2 + H2). The chemical components of the engine exhaust must be researched and we expect a journey to further optimize the exhaust. Amateurish ideas are a catalyzer. I was also introduced to a team working on a contrail-free engine. If I understood that right, they use ammonia (NH3), but how that then impacts the high altitude atmosphere?
Yes, there are questions that will demand answering. But Synfuel is an answer available now. And it is definitely much better than the crude-oil product. Not only for aviation, but also for all those used cars with combustion engines around the world! And be real, the number of e-powered cars is rather limited, both e- and hydrogen-powered cars are quite a bit more expensive if you don’t build your own infrastructure.
There is a very strong force of inertia in aviation about turning “green”. Like other problems in aviation management, such as their disbelieve in branding, the resulting focus on “cheap” as the sole difference and a missing loyalty for partners and employees alike. that, plus missing USPs made airlines a running gag about ROI. But as in all other industries, you cannot expect change and disruptions with blind managers. You need vision.
A real impact investment, with managers that breath “impact” and commit themselves “naturally” to the U.N. SDGs will be countering the greed-driven likes of Ryanair or others, saving on the backs of their employees, their customers, the airports and regions they serve to maximize their evil impact. And their profits. Especially their senior managers’ profits. Everyone complains about Ryanair, then why do people fly them? Why do airports and regions fund their “semi-legal” (illegal) subsidy schemes? Why does no-one divest to stand up to them? Why don’t they name and shame them? Why still investing in them?
Or look at Lufthansa, securing for the group more than 10 billion bailout, grounding Germanwings as they’re too expensive, firing their staff aplenty, grounding airplanes. The bailouts multiple their worth before the crisis, what is left of the formerly proud crane? And guess, one day they have to repay all those debts. At least they use those with professional care. Will they invest into anything “sustainable”? Their government did not bother to require something like that. And accusing the pandemic, I was told they oppose the development of the Synkerosene-pilot in Hamburg. That being likely the reason the German-lead Joint-Venture to develop a first industrial-sized facility chose Oslo instead…?
But yes, at KOLIBRI.aero we have the understanding of the necessity to make an impact. To disrupt aviation to force them to become “green” and sustainable. And keep in mind that for decades, aviation was a growth market. And will be. The demand is there.
Impact Investment or Whitewashing – What is it?
I do believe that we will find family offices and may even trigger the interest of some of the institutional investors. Maybe even EU monetary bodies might understand the impact we can make. And different from existing players, we neither have Corona debts, nor do we have “hidden agendas” or different plans. We want to do this. Do you?
And if you’re no (real) impact investor reading this, but one of my many friends and followers, please share this.
I am very, very happy that I started speaking to Family Offices and regret that the Pandemic forced a reschedule of one event and kept me from attending another this week. But I am grateful to be allowed attending the first Family Office virtual conferences. It’s a rather steep learning curve. I am grateful for any event reference or invitation that I got and hopefully will still get.
Given today’s jabbering by the EU Commission (Mme. von der Leyen) that they – wow – will reduce the CO2 to 55% of the 1990-level … Oh wow? Shall I be impressed? Or cry? EU parliament would have been okay with 60% the news say. But even as is, this “deal” is full of small-print and not really worth the paper it’s written on.
We must be better to make an impact. And we better stop lip-services, white- and greenwashing but address the issues we can address today. Or this expert saying we’re way too late is right.
Though this is totally in line with my initial experience about “impact investing”. Lots of talk and lip services, with little substance too. Hard to find the ones that believe that this is something real.
And what industry is more in desperate need for a sustainability makeover. And having the chance for it?
Aviation Impact Investment
… a Barrel Burst?
While we have clear plans to become Carbon-Neutral in realistically in three to five years, you got to start. And an “impact investor” told me this week that we are too little innovative. Really?
The EU plans give airlines 15 more years to fly dirty. Yes, that is a barrel burst! You got to be kidding me. But sure, it’s completely in line with German and European aviation lobbying, managed well by Lufthansa, Ryanair and the likes. Lufthansa, the airline with the single-largest bailout package in Europe but with virtually no ties attached, especially none about job saving or evolution into turning “green” and flying clean(er). And in Hamburg I heard the synkerosene pilot suffered from disinterest by Lufthansa, aside of a single carbon-neutral flight by Lufthansa Cargo. A nice example of greenwashing!
I’ve summarized the possibilities to turn aviation carbon-neutral for a start (and what comes then) into another article Clean Aviation Whitewashing and the Real Deal, which I publish simultaneously with this article. But the Future of Clean Aviation is Now. It just needs someone with a real interest to start the process. No talking, no lip-services, no whitewashing, but the real deal! With a real ROI.
Impact Investment in IT & AI … What Impact?
There is a lot of buzz ongoing about Impact Investment in IT and AI. Whereas I just wrote about Big Data & AI, feedback from family offices principals recently confirm my assumption. Of one emphasizing that ESG “tools” are usually a means to white- and greenwash family offices’ IT investments. And as I posted that on LinkedIn, got a lot of feedback from other family office principals that IT hardly makes a real impact by itself. It’s simply a profit-focused investment, mostly just improving existing processes or digitalizing them.
There also was a discussion this week about “decision making AI” or “decision support IT”. From my aviation background, I see IT as an important support tool. One that improves productivity, but more important safety. I do not see an IA-tool taking more than a supportive role at the time being. But I see a lot of claims that direction, which I can only consider white- and greenwashing.
It’s a Trust Thing
In my opinion, there is no “impact investing” if you don’t find the right managers with a mindset to leave the beaten path and find profitable developments in the industry. For KOLIBRI.aero we don’t just think about carbon-neutral aviation. Or some solar parks. We think beyond! We understand it’s our duty to make an impact. Investing into our people and the regions we serve. To foster gender equality, diversity and to develop a future beyond our own. In turn, KOLIBRI.aero addresses not two or three, but all 17 of the U.N. Sustainability Development Goals.
In the overall plans, there is one issue being in the U.N. SDGs and EU’s TEN-T, regional connectivity at affordable price. Going carbon-neutral is more important on that in our opinion, but there are obstacles that must be overcome, that is a journey. Decently paid, qualified jobs and ongoing, structured training to fight against poverty. Ideas aplenty on how to establish a disruptive airline, that shows how sustainable aviation can be. If you look outside the box. If you embrace “sustainability”, even the notoriously loss-making scapegoat aviation can change.
The Quick and Dirty
On the other side – and back to the topic of my previous article, Big Data and AI provide quick success stories. So much easier to use those for white- and greenwashing. But real impact investment may not be so sexy, it may take a longer breath. To turn around our world is a journey, no sprint. It’s why even UBS recently confirmed in a webinar that family offices are more likely the ones truly investing into impact. Because they think long-term. About family impact across generations. Not as politicos or banks or “institutional investors” and venture capitalists in quick, maximized returns, happily overlooking the negative impacts for an improved profitability.
… or The Neverending Story
A German investor this week told me: “There is too little change in what you’re doing.” That investor referred to either air taxi or hyperloop. Whereas I’ve often enough expressed my concerns about air traffic control taking individual mobility into the third dimension and into potential conflict with commercial (and military) aviation. Just thinking about the increasing drone-warnings disrupting airport operations the past year. That is a very long way to go.
The same for hyperloop, which may connect high-density routes, similar to (German) Transrapid in China. Will this be more successful? The concept is around for more than half a century. And I don’t like the pipes over ground, even Roger Leloup planned them underground. I’ve written more than a year ago in the #flygskam Reality Check about it and about the so much smaller footprint an airport has.
… Academic Thinking – Research Forever
Global CO2 emissions dropped by 7%, with 11% in Europe due to Corona. Especially aviation reduced due to the lockdown by 22% global, some regions by 30%. But those are expected to come back quickly (Source).
Now the EU says it turns the European Investment Bank into a Climate Bank. And they will focus on research. Or to give the dinosaurs a facelift. Maybe it makes more sense to look for ideas to apply the research results to the real world? Why is it that German Transrapid only runs in China, European Skype is now U.S. Microsoft, the first industrial Synkerosene-facility is being build in Norway (EU associated)? Examples aplenty. We research but we’re utterly incompetent turning research into practical products.
People should take rail the politicos wrote. Yeah, I can see Merkel spending a day to travel from Berlin to Brussels. An interesting LinkedIn post, and German Tagesschau reports “Strategy falls short of what is possible and necessary”. A carbon-neutral aviation we plan on existing technological solutions for 2025, latest 2027 for Kolibri and by 2030 operating +200 aircraft carbon-neutral.
It’s embarrassing! Why does everyone find reasons not to invest in large-scale change? No, it is not quick, requires industrial site funding, but it’s about real change! Which in turn would apply pressure on the “establishment” to get their butts up and move. Get out of your comfort zone and make a change.
And whoops again. But they work with Black Rock, a company with a very bad reputation, funding most of the dirty stocks in the world. But on the other side, Black Rock may have started their journey to change? Maybe the money divested may be well invested into those change makers?
Corona is a testing time for about everybody. But also an opportunity for new methods and thinking to rise.
Impact Investment for better ROI!
Though also notable, there is a bad misinterpretation that impact investment would mean low ROI. I think our business concept for Kolibri is looking at very competitive ROI at a residual risk below other investments. But it is so much easier to accuse impact investment to justify one owns look the other direction, right?
Impact Investment ain’t Philanthropy. Invest into the future and benefit from it!
And as real impact investment gains support and more and more investors look at their investment portfolio and clear out the dirt, suddenly your “max-ROI”-investment in crude oil, guns or other “bad investments” will turn foul on you. Investment into the main investor in “bad business”, namely Black Rock will backfire on your own reputation. So Black Rock will likely recognize the headwinds and start divesting too? Not to be caught in the fray.
Funds, Indices, Shares or what?
Well, it’s always easy to invest into existing business. Buying in on indices or major shares, you don’t need to understand anything beyond their “performance” and “marketing message”. If they wash well enough, they might appear shining green or white, right?
As if we did not learn the very recent lessons from German Property Group, Wirecard? On a report that week, a Shortseller mentioned that the higher the interests and dividends, the likelier they are on a rush against the wall. So they look at those stocks first. As do greedy investors…
My very personal experience includes working for a company that became one of the “New Market winners” when they entered the stock market. Happened, after a short flash in the pan, they ended up a penny stock.
The “typical” aviation investment is aircraft funds. Whereas KPMG valued them at an average 4% return in 2019, look at all those assets now. Liabilities in most cases, because they had and have no USP. And even back in 2019, the big aircraft lessors being well established with the airlines made good returns, but many funds also underperformed or failed completely.
Shareholder value got a very bad reputation, didn’t it? As if all shareholders would believe in Max-ROI? How about some long-term benefits, how about impact, sustainability and a return that is above the inflation rate and what your bank pays? But that is to my experience and observations the normal “manager type” our world suffers from. Maximizing the own short-term remuneration and bonuses, leaving a wreck behind. Back to IT-investments?
… or what?
Especially thinking about impact investment, we need long-term thinking. Something bank managers, institutional investors and venture capitalists fail to provide. We need people thinking in decades, in generations. We need Family Offices, private investors. And we need company managers, entrepreneurs, founders thinking not in three years at max ROI, but in 10 years and a real ROI, including but beyond monetary. Maybe at a much better ROI than those straw-fire-startups burn up?
What Impact Do You Target?
What’s the “Impact” you want to make? Is Tesla truly the future? Or is it more hydrogen? How about impact on poverty? Why not investing in “developing countries”, poor countries? Giving them the infrastructure and tools to develop themselves. Another German history lesson. While the leading industry nations cannibalized German technology, machines, entire factories, it left a void in it’s wake. A void that was filled with the help of the Marshall Plan leading Germany into the Wirtschaftswunder.
The investments back in those days did nottarget the surviving companies, but enabled startups. The remains of those funds are known as KfW, Germany’s Bank for Reconstruction.
Impact vs. Whitewashing
My final topic today is to take a look at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or U.N. SDGs.
Good Health & Wellbeing = biotech, right? Every biotech something claims to be SDG3, even the pharma-giants o chem-giant BASF.
Or Decent work and economic growth also used a lot for good argument to be “sustainable”. The Real Estate industry talks a lot about their focus on 9 and 11. Those are just the ones I see a lot “abused”. But also tech companies claiming sustainable under 3 ,4, 5 and 10… Be careful if someone tells you they’d be “sustainable” under consideration of the SDGs.
I like the approach of some family offices very much, that they qualify the real impact. Over time, what is the change. Targets, Milestones. And understanding that real change takes real efforts.
This week and last I attended two aviation financing conferences by Airfinance Journal, one in Japan, one in Latin America. Then I read an article by National Geographic, demanding that travel should be considered an essential human activity. But that is something I find so very often. Thinking Outside the Box and understanding psychologically different mindsets is Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea.
Whereas a conference for me is a place we do networking, for which I am immensely grateful for Airfinance Journal (AFJ) to allow me attending the event. I sure couldn’t have afforded travel to Japan and Latin America. And thanks to their added focus on networking, it turned out some very promising new contacts to discuss KOLIBRI.aero with.
Let us have a look at the Latin America event which ended yesterday.
The Great Pretender
Whereas AFJ added a virtual networking lounge, there were the same, I’d say ten, people in there, only once the (too small) window showing the delegates forced me to scroll with more than four delegates in the networking lounge.
Saving the delegate list and not counting the dupes I came up with 720 delegates. An awesome conference. 42 of which “filled out” their profile. Only. The others failed to use a free way to promote who they are and what they, respectively their companies do.
I happen to believe from what I have seen that most of the delegates of the online conference were obviously pretenders, signing up, but not showing up. Not even taking the time to log in and fill out their profile. Do they know there are such?
Then there was a “dedicated networking”, where more than 50 registered for (I think the host said 64). We were seven (plus AFJ moderator, plus one totally unresponsive), so roughly 9 out of 10 having registered for it did not show up. For some reason, being in aviation so long, “no shows” is something I consider exceptionally rude. Not just careless, but outright rude. Because there are people, taking the effort to organize something good and then people simply don’t show? It is extremely frustrating for whoever works this out to provide you a service!
For the few being there, I believe it was better than if it would have been crowded. I just hope I didn’t talk too much!
Overall, it just confirms my assumption that less than 10% of the registered delegates showed up at all. Of which again, how many have been speakers? 21?
Not My Cup of Tea?
Again, these two events showed that there are different mindsets at play and it should be worthwhile to understand the motivation behind it.
I’ve seen that before, 20-odd years ago, when I organized the Airline Industry Stammtisch in Frankfurt. Many sign up for the event, to show their bosses, never intending to go there and spend their “valuable” time off elsewhere. Others, like me at AFJ do see the opportunity and value in networking.
A very good and valuable event, especially in Corona times. But it seems, at least from the outside, that most of the “delegates” were pretenders and never showed up on the website, never “participated”. Those people missed out on supporting a good event and torpedoed a valuable effort. From my side, I can only thank AFJ. The next step to improve the events in my opinion will be to automatically add the delegates to the networking lounge to enable messaging. Let them “opt-out”… There’s no e-Mail or other personal information shared, beyond the attendee list that delegates have access to anyway.
And they might want to promote to the delegates to fill out their profile… That’s free marketing and free networking!
The next event coming up in two weeks as Airfinance Journal China, then followed by Asia Pacific. Hopefully the “delegates” are motivated to not only register to show-off to their bosses, but to really attend? And use the networking opportunities AFJ provides?
Because else, such virtual conferences turn to be a barrel burst. And that would not value AFJ but do them a big disservice! Did I mention? Aside failing on your job (or why would you sign up?), it backfires; no-one really likes “Dateileichen” (file corpses).
Which is another example of people focusing on their own life style, ignorant to others’ needs, motivation, life style. As I commented right away on LinkedIn:
A dozen years ago, I spoke with a friend/student, trying to convince her to join the aviation industry. There’s three types of people.
Nestlings, staying all their life in one place, except for the one or other vacation. A flight of more than two hours takes them to the unknown they fear.
Precocials, leaving home to move elsewhere and get settled. They travel for vacation and VFR.
Birds of Passage. They go, where live takes them, are open to the new and for them travel is a reward and each destination an adventure they embrace.
If you talk to nestlings, they will oppose your notion that travel would be “essential”. At the same time, they tend to be nationalistic and protective about their local environment. And the first to shut-down borders and travel. It’s those, “thinking different” being “in power” we have to catch and convince. To do that, we must understand their different “gut feeling”.
That said, if you talk crisis these days, it showed (most of) us, what privilege it is to be able to travel. And how quickly such privileges can be taken from us by forces beyond our control. And the lousy standing of travel lobbyists and lobbies with the decision makers.
A Lesson for the Crisis
Convincing the People to Fly Again
In all the discussions, it seems to be common opinion that we must regain the travelers’ faith to fly again. Given the (painfully) slowly sinking-in fact that we never might have “the” super vaccine, we better adjust our communications. We must understand that there are us “birds of passage”, looking forward to new experiences and adventures, but also the ones that are afraid of the new, the conservatives, the nestlings. And some of them being politicos, in my humble experience a lot of them narrow-minded, cover-your-ass-types that do not make a move unless they have to. As seen at the beginning of the crisis. Then they overreact out of fear, understanding they made a mistake, trying to cover up hysterically to distract from the mistake. Or like Trump now was caught in the act, lying to the U.S. people to “not spread panic”. Whereas a healthy panic is good! It keeps us alert. And then we must adapt. It’s called evolution. But that’s something many people are mortally afraid of.
Think Outside the Box
There are a lot of posts and speakers emphasizing that we must adapt to the crisis, think outside the box, then in the next minute turning back on why them keeping the status quo and doing as they always did would be the right thing. As they obviously fail to understand the thinking of their customers, shutting down the crisis, falling back to “safe thinking”. Just as most investors do.
As painful as it was, in fact it was truly funny. A speaker at Airfinance Journal Japan, an aircraft lessor, emphasized the time being right for new airlines. When I approached him, he retreated to the fact that they neverlease to start-ups and would never invest in a start-up airline. Oh yes: Cognitive Dissonance at it’s best, right? This is a quite common stance when we talk to “aviation investors”, failing to understand that “aircraft investor” is not “aviation”, but just one piece of the puzzle. We represent an opportunity to place 200 aircraft in 10 years. Which is big business. Once we get the launch funding secured.
Me too … Or doing things different?
While many still focusing “blindly” on “Airbus/Boeing” aircraft investments, they lost and loose money. It’s been a shark pond before the crisis, now that bubble imploded. At Airfinance Journal Latin America event, the best speaker was Walter Valarezo of DAE (Dubai Aerospace Capital), outlining the “abnormal normal” in the market pre-crisis. Now most investors curl up into a ball falling back to “old habits”.
USP is about “unique”. You don’t have a USP if you only copy what the others did. And stick to your modus operandi.
Fortunately there are some – very few but some – who do understand the opportunity, the need to think outside the box. Those are the ones we talk with. Will they help us launch the Kolibris? I guess they will. Let’s see how quickly we can convince them and their PTBs that change is good and our business plans are safe and sound. And benefits a great deal from this crisis.
Today I had a conference call and a major topic was Spain and how our (German) governments banned travel again. And publicly justifies under gross neglect of their own rules. Those “development” showing persistence to deny change. And the “Wag the Dog” syndrome, pointing the fingers at others to distract from own mistakes.
The second topic was about the way, aviation “recovers”, the managements’ strategies.
Political Lock-Down on Travel
This week, our (German) government issued an official “travel warning” for Spain. It is legal requirement that German travel industry must enable free unplanned returns from regions a travel warning is issued for, which in turn also results in tour operators shelving all offers for regions such warnings are issued for. In line with that legal impact, TUI instantly cancelled all flights and packages to Spain.
In clear ignorance of those facts, the German Health Minister Jens Spahn claims that it is still possible to do vacation in Spain, travelers just needing to be careful… Say what?
Either this is cognitive dissonance, or – and I am afraid it’s that – Spahn and German government tries to distract from own mistakes by “pointing finger” at Spain. It’s the old “wag the dog”. Make up a crisis elsewhere.
Spain is said to be extreme in its adherence to the Corona rules. It is not “Spains” fault if German tourists party and ignore those rules intentionally. And then return with infections. So this is a cloud screen by Minister Spahn and his political cronies.
A German proverb: “Who sits in the glass house shouldn’t throw with stones.” Taken residence for the pandemicfor the pandemic with the family in Germany again, I can assure you, we have our own problems with Corona here and the politicos still fail to follow a clear strategy. Exceptions to their own rules being the rule, not the exception…
The Myth of Aviation Recovery
The past weeks, I had ongoing disagreements with my friends at OAG, ch-aviation, RDG, Routes, ANNA.aero, etc., etc. Disagreement on the media-focus on recovery of flight services as a sign of recovery of our industry. As I mentioned in my recent blog on Corona Cognitive Dissonance and Whitewashing Statistics, to bring all those aircraft back to the air while the load factors plummeted from ~85% to ~35% (April) in line with evaporating ticket prices, dropping by 20-30%, depending on the statistics source.
Now in May the load factors recovered to ~43%, though from a business travel management company I heard that those loads were “bought”, by lowering the ticket prices even further. And there was a slight decline in available seat kilometers in that month.
For years, I complain about the state of airline statistics availability. Nowhere “real time”, IATA statistics come three months after, the commercial sources report on flights and seats but have no clue about the load factors or ticket revenue. Real time? Really?
In today’s discussion, it was emphasized that airline managers try to survive using the “classic” approaches. First of all: Be cheap. Second: Push flights to the air. By doing that, they have obviously lost all track of their cost of operations. And the conference call group agreed that we will see quite some groundings in Europe ongoing for the next year. As the airlines keep piling up Corona Debt. Even Lufthansa is said to have already started on demanding further bail-out in spring, when they burned up the € 9 billion they recently got.
Time for New Thinking
Is it really “new thinking”? Last December, pre-Corona, I outlined Why Airlines Keep Failing. The reasons are still the same, just multiplied by Corona.
Any little startup understands the need for USPs, unique selling propositions. What makes them different? In the eyes of the customers, in the eyes of the investors. They understand the need for profitability. They know their cost. If you have a big war chest (or get it funded by a government bailout), you can temporarily “invest” in competitive routes. Often enough the likes of Lufthansa pre-crisis abused their market power forcing competitors, even so-called “partners” into insolvency. My own experience includes the first German Wings (the remainders then acquired by Lufthansa), Cirrus Airlines, Contact Air (Lufthansa regional partners) or more recently Air Berlin.
And when I wrote about Air Berlin three years ago, I asked “Lessons Learned?” … Hmm. Obviously not. And when I wrote about Why Airlines Keep Failing, it wasn’t any “new rules” either.
And while Jens Spahn emphasized the solidarity inside the company and that Lufthanseaten (what Lufthansa employees call themselves) stand together in crises… What a cognitive dissonance. His “shareholder value” focus is legendary – I don’t believe he ever learned what “loyalty” meant. Given “short work” in Germany, there would not be real need to fire employees. But he and his manager-cronies, the moment they got the € 9 billion warned of 22,000 layoffs being “necessary”. Hypocrite!
Doing Things Right…
If you need some help to map out a strategy to survive this crisis, I could need some paid consulting. The unpaid kind keeps me busy but not the family paid. Which is the same for so many others “made redundant”.
And if you are or know an investor interesting to do things right, we are seeking funding for an Airline 2.0 – focused on USPs and profits. But also on real aviation sustainability (not the typical whitewashing we see in aviation to date). And on real corporate social responsibility. Which starts with your own. Either contact me or come 8-9 December to the Prestel & Partner Family Offices Forum in Zürich at The Dolder Grand.
Discussing with a friend and intellectual sparring partner, why we focus to establish a new airline and not simply buy a failing airline, the reasoning was easy.
If you acquire an airline, you acquire it’s heritage.
To which he replied: “I couldn’t agree more. I have seen the same firsthand when it came to [product] engineering. Initially we were going to work with an established manufacturer and have them make modifications for us. That was quite the trip down the rabbit hole, and more trouble than it’s worth. Now we’ll get [products] that were custom engineered for us, from the ground up.”
Most of the times I was asked for support in project management, the project itself was fine. What caused the trouble was the missing change management.
Air Berlin Example
In direct conversation, one of the later board members of Air Berlin told me, the airline would not kick the bucket because the new CEOs wouldn’t have good ideas, but because they failed on the heritage. The existing “networks”, afraid of the change, afraid to loose their job, torpedizing the management.
When Stephan Pichler took the helm, he i.e. identified the “different fleets” as a concern. With little to no interaction on scheduled flights or tour operator charters. Still, when he left, there were still the different departments interacting little to none. There was a lot more to Air Berlin’s unnecessary demise, as there was to FlyBEs. Usually it is attributed to the management, but “internal resistance” can be a first-class back-stabber.
Save the Dinosaur or Fresh Start?
As addressed in To Save or not Save in the Corona Papers, The question in my opinion is mainly, how much funds you are willing to pump into the existing airlines and for how long. And if you now start to shove money down their greedy throat, will that ever end? The U.S. carriers complained instantly when they learned that they get only 30% of the bailout “for free”, but would get the other money as a credit.
To turn this around. We developed a business concept to invest € 1.6 billion into a new airline covering Europe. With a business concept based on USPs, profits, low residual risk, attractive profits, but also socially responsible and sustainable. i.e. A positive overall impact on greenhouse gases.
Triple that amount to invest into three new players instead of just one and you cover what we have today. Now airlines asking +$50 billion in the U.S., € 20 million for Germany, IATA calls for +$ 200 billion. Emirates will take up long haul, maybe challenged by a U.S. carrier and a Chinese one – connecting the long-haul world.
The existing airlines will need to survive. Realistically downscale. At first and until a vaccine becomes available in sufficient quantity, we talk about “leave the middle seat free”. That cuts one third off the seat capacity of 189 seat A320 or B737. 126 seats. Given an inital slow start of traveler confidence to use flights agin, we realistically talk about max. 50% average load. Down from above 90%. That means that the ticket prices will likely be double. But the “administrative overhead” must be split to less aircraft, so we will have a totally different cost level.
Ryanair’s O’Leary clings to keep his “known model” and predicts even more aggressive discounting post-Corona. But in the end, someone must pay the bill. Does anyone really believe O’Leary to not plan for the stupid to pay his bills? Including airports, regions and naive passengers… I wonder how long even a Ryanair could keep that illusion up?
… meet Evolution
Doing a staged setup and focusing to stake our own claims, select strategic bases aggressively outselves, we can establish the company for a mere €30 million. € 15 million per additional base with seven aircraft and hundreds of (secure) jobs. A fraction of the food the dinosaurs demand to survive. Condor now half a billion? What evolutionary wonders we could achieve with that money.
We’re the mammals. We’re effective, profit focused, sustainability and social responsibility driven. Evolution. Don’t pump millions and millions into the dinosaurs until the crisis is over. Invest into the future.
Airbus announced to reduce the monthly output of the A320 fro 60 to 40 aircraft, citing problems handing over ready aircraft to their customers. Aircraft being parked at Rostock Airport (RLG).
Lufthansaannounced their fleet changes, retiring (decommissioning) mostly large aircraft like A380s, A340s and 747s, but also 11 (out of 62) A320s.
— and so on, and so forth.
Aside such news articles it is rather difficult to come by good, hard data about how Corona impacts the industry on a global scale. On LinkedIn, I received a graph by The Air Current.
The Air Current Graph
Having discussed those numbers in a conference call, it seems that there are some interesting factors that impact that graph.
Freight Use + Repatriation Flights
Many if not most of those seat miles are repatriation flights as well as passenger aircraft transporting freight! Those are and can be only temporary remedies. In Germany, Condor recently published their foreign farm help shuttles, now the Polish state-owned PGL owning LOT and most Polish airports cancels their rescue-takeover of Condor. Likely the end of that tradition-airline.
Large Aircraft (Twin-Aisle)
Very visible is the mass grounding of large aircraft. The Airbus A380 is already no longer built, now airlines retire, decommission that aircraft in large numbers. Flightradar showed quite some of those aircraft being flown to the scrap-yards, also called aircraft graveyards. The same applies to many 747s, not being “parked”, but decommissioned. The same fate even seems to hit the Boeing 777. Coronavirus also seems to seal the fate of many Boeing 767. For all those aircraft, more than 80% are grounded – many of which are being decommissioned for good.
Midsized Aircraft (Single Aisle)
Coronavirus also seems to seal the fate of many 767 and 757, though American Trans Air seems to have a sound business model for the 757s; an excellent aircraft that might have been the saver bet for Boeing to upgrade instead of the old 737-frames. With Lufthansa not just grounding, but decommissioning not just 11 A320, but also the entire Germanwings with 23 A319 and 10 A320. Reflecting their managements disbelief in the post-Corona market for that aircraft. Boeing had already shelved the production of the new 737MAX and seems to have also trouble to handover the currently produced ones to the intended customers.
What stroke me odd was the Embraer E195, showing 75% grounded, as well as 65% of the E190s. Both very good aircraft. But very few, large operators grounding their Embraer fleet in favor or their Boeing/Airbus operations seem to have resulted in their large groundings.
Generally, the regional sized aircraft with below 150 seats (below A319 or 737-300/700) by the time that graph was compiled operated still 50% of their pre-Corona regional services.
Outlook into the Crisis
Optimists outlook is a two-year return to “normal” (AF/KL). Flightglobal headlines Global airliner fleet returns to 1990s levels, John Strickland writes on Aviation Week For Airlines, The Shock Has Just Begun. At the same time I see and here seasoned airline and other aviation manager expressing an ongoing cognitive dissonance on a surprising level. It’s beyond my understanding how anyone can vouch for unsecured credit by demanding vouchers when we don’t know, if those airlines, cruise companies, etc. will survive. I expect a large number of claims against governments, where such vouchers are legally made normality. Anyone expecting a quick recovery, think again. And yes, that includes people like IATA chief economist Brian Pearce. I consider it a dangerous, if not criminal belittling of this crisis.
And while optimists still hope for a quick recovery and flights to recover even within this year, realistically we must expect worse. In many webinars and discussions there is agreement by seasoned professionals that this year and likely next, maybe even beyond we will be living in crisis mode.
Now Flightglobal headlines that Cash reserves give Boeing 10 months of breathing room. The MAX-grounding came at the worst possible time for them. Thinking about their intended acquisition of Embraer, there are already news in the media questioning the value of Embraer in the time of this crisis. Does the deal make sense at all? Not in my opinion. Airbus published reduced A320 output and many of the ones rolling out of production being parked at airports like Rostock (RLG). Until they can be delivered to clients who want them. Clients who can afford to pay for them within the crisis.
Overall, which aircraft will be shelved, either by the airframe makers or by airline and especially aircraft investment companies’ demand.
The Beginning Recovery
What they also agree upon is that whenever the recovery starts, the recovery will be slow and need small airplanes!
Operators + Leisure Travel
In a recent conference call, two attending tour operators flight purchasing managers emphasized a recovery on the basis of previously high density high volume routes. They emphasized that while VFR (visiting friends and relatives) will recover a bit faster, the “normal” traveler will be busy recovering their jobs and lives and income – they expect only very little demand for the typical vacation for 2020. And they, as tour operator flight experts raised a question: “Who will want to spend some hours in an airplane having the reputation of being a sardine can?” This will even impact the vacation travel in 2021 and beyond. There will be a revival of ground-based and localized travel at the expense of air travel. It will take time to recover from that blow.
The same conference call had corporate travel managers and representatives of two different business travel management companies (BTM, corporate travel agents). They expected an even more restrictive point of view. Corporate travel managers have for years been made sensitive about their responsibility for the well-being of their travelers. So now they fall-back to what they have been taught, now they will restrict travel to the most needed, qualified as important cases, until the traveler can be vaccinated against Corona.
An exception the BTMs mentioned: Travelers who went through the infection and are such immune and noncontagious may be the first to start traveling again. But it was also consensus that a comparison to flu vaccination would be not comparable, after all the hysterics we went through.
Maybe some people won’t vaccinate. But that will not make much of a difference about their reluctance to travel by air for a while.
Slow Passenger Growth
All this lead to the expectation that even on former high density routes, the use of B757, A321LR and such smaller airplanes may be the first routes to recover on long haul. Some very high density routes may recover using larger aircraft such as the remaining B747s or B777s. Where I see Emirates likely to stake their claims quickly, possibly even basing some of their aircraft out of country to serve remote routes.
Also on regional routes, operations using anything larger than a 150-240 seater (A320-family, Boeing 737s) will be very unlikely. It’s also the signal aircraft retirements within the IAG group (BA, Iberia, etc.),
Long-Haul, Hub- and Connecting Traffic
As for the anticipated return in passenger numbers, except for the very high density routes like New York-London, airlines will start with shorter hub-to-hub-routes, like back in the 80s the availability of two-leg-connections between any two cities will be limited, three-leg connections again becoming quite normal. Expectation was also voiced that most operators will shelve most, if not all twin-aisle aircraft.
Given Emirates fleet of A380 and B777, it is expected that Emirates will expand by “round-the-world” services, connecting most of the long-haul/high-density-routes! That in turn will make it difficult for the other network carriers to cash-in on those routes.
Low Cost + Regional Aviation
Given the expectation of questionable safety regarding load factors and demand for 150-240-seat aircraft, this will be a turning point for the low-cost industry. For a long time, I considered “low-cost” carriers (LCC) as a cost-sensitive regional aviation player. Connecting point-to-point without a focus on connecting traffic. As the fleets grew, the routes got longer, the LCCs started experimenting with classic concepts like GDS-sales, hub-services and connecting flights, etc., etc. As the classic airlines learned to adapt to the new competition. It was long questioned on conferences and other discussions, if you can still group LCCs, that dates back even to fierce discussions about the status of Air Berlin as a LCC.
But at least in Europe, the promising routes allowing sustainable services became scarce. And now the passenger growth evaporated, many routes will no longer be viable for the LCC on a “low cost”. Will they increase the ticket prices? I expect so. In fact, I hope so. The number of tickets sold below the average cost per seat will shrink. Then the LCC will be “just another airline”.
In most of the webinars, calls and discussions of the past weeks, the expectation was expressed that as regional flights were the last to be cancelled, they will be the first ones to recover. 150-240 seats are the domain of the former LCCs. There problem will be the very slow growth of passenger numbers post-crisis. Suddenly their “more seats” turn from benefit at full load into a severe challenge. Similar to tour operators, they will focus their recovery on the former high density routes. In a perfect scenario, they would slowly pick up speed. Realistically, they will rush it, risking a lot, flying below cost. How long they can sustain that must be seen. If aviation truly cuts back to traffic of the 1990s, the demand for flights served by 150-240 seat aircraft will be rather limited. A lot of Airbus-320- and Boeing-737-families’ aircraft will be grounded for time to come. With a devastating impact to aircraft leasing companies focusing on those aircraft.
At the same time, while that would have been a perfect business case for FlyBE, the airline was (among) the first to shut down in the crisis, neither owners nor other stakeholders understanding the impact of the crisis to future passengers’ development, nor FlyBEs value in a post-crisis. I expect other airlines operating the smaller aircraft with 50 to 150 seats to be the first to recover and be the winners in the immediate post-crisis.
Pending question was if there will be enough consolidation to leave enough niches for the survivors. Or if the stabbing and fighting for routes will continue – with the pre-crisis effect on revenues and commercial sustainability of the air carriers. While we all expressed hope for the first, we all fear that airline managers will fall back into their old modus-operandi to focus on marked share and loads instead of revenue and profit.
Especially of concern are the LCCs, suddenly sitting on a fleet of too-large aircraft. Likely to push them in the market with low ticket prices trying to fill them up. Will they understand and be able to adjust their business model to a drained market? Ask for “sustainable” prices, covering the cost of operation of half-empty aircraft? If not, we will see them burning up quickly like a flash in the pan.
The recovery will be slowed down as “low-cost” models at the beginning will such pose high risk – low return, airlines will need to focus initially on low load factors but the need to create profit after the drought.
The recovery will also demand shrunken cost, fleets, etc. – also including a elimination of non-essentials, redundant developments with the teams associated to them. There will be very hard decisions. A lot of developments will be faced with the need to provide hard evidence on USPs, impact on profits.
With KPMG, ISHKA and other professionals saying that the average return on aircraft fund investments to be around 4% pre-crisis, there have already been the large players as the winners, with many losers. There also was a focus on “me too”, many smaller players, like banks or funds, focusing on the “safe bet” on more and more 150-240 seat Airbus or Boeing aircraft. It was always an issue that those aircraft were leased out to small start-ups, which failed, releasing it at lower return to other airlines, just to minimize the losses.
At the end of 2019 aircraft investors said they’ve been only surviving because of the grounding of the 737MAX. Now suddenly that entire market (finally) imploded. And despite a lot of “experts” expecting the market to recover quickly, all signs are on a slow recovery for that aircraft type. And while a factory new Airbus A320ceo was sold pre-crisis at a cost of 1/3rd of the list price or even less, there is now a fight at play that will turn that aircraft a burden for a long time to come!
What about larger aircraft? The A380 was the warning shot. First the production ended last year, now a large number has not only been grounded, but flown to known scrapping sites. The same true in the few weeks since start of the crisis for 747-400, 777-300 and other large aircraft that was expected to be entering the secondary markets – markets that suddenly evaporated and are unlikely to make it back any time soon. And now there are many reports like Blue Swan Daily‘s addressing the conflicting interests in the current crisis between airlines, aircraft lessors and investors. Everyone following the Saint-Florian’s Principle about who shall take the financial repercussions of grounded aircraft.
Speaking to investors about investment in different aircraft with USPs (yes, I talk about KOLIBRI.aero), I was told repeatedly that they prefer those common aircraft models as they know what they are and everyone does it. So now may be a time where investors will recognize that doing what all others do is (and always has been) a paved road to disaster.
Holistic Investment Models
Speaking about KOLIBRI.aero we also talk about holistic investment. Writing this, there is a report on TV about the wake-up-call against “outsourcing” of pharmaceuticals to China. Developing the business plans for KOLIBRI.aero, we intentionally looked at insourcing as a means to reduce the cost. 30+ years ago, my senior manager in the company accompanying my education in whole-sale and foreign trade economics told me what I found true ever since: You always pay for outsourcing. Either by paying more or by loss of quality. A classic outsourcing is consulting. And my rule offering consulting has always been: If you need know how temporarily, you pay a consultant. If you need know how long-term, you may pay a consultant to train someone on your payroll. Temporarily. If you pay a consultant permanently, you do something wrong.
This is the same in aviation. If an airline flies somewhere once a day, it makes sense to order external ground handling. If you have your base or focus city, you better do it yourself. If you have one airplane, you better outsource the maintenance. You acquire flight crews someone else trained. You outsource your IT, your marketing & sales, etc., etc. And pay for it. Better do not expect to be able to be competitive to your local low cost competitor. If you have a fleet of aircraft, you better do it yourself. Lower the cost, secure the quality. Yes I know, I addressed it in my post asking last December, why airlines do keep failing.
Now, surprise surprise, the current crisis proves that this is the very same with aircraft investors. If you just look at aircraft but have no idea how to use it, you’re doomed. It will work a while, it did work a while. But even before Corona, this model was doomed and I addressed it. If an investor invests into the aircraft but outsources (the risk of) the operation. Then those small failing airlines return the aircraft after not paying the bills for several months.
While the large lessors could shift the aircraft rather quickly between different clients, the smaller lessors often swallowed losses, accepted leasing the aircraft out at lower rates, all biting into their revenue. There was a lot of “academic believes”, “cognitive dissonance” and “wishful thinking”. And a lot of banks and investors avoided to look into new ideas. New ideas reflecting usually unique selling propositions. Not necessarily all winners. But following the flock ain’t the answer either, right?
Since starting to turn the idea that turned out to become KOLIBRI.aero we looked at what I learned back in the very early days of my aviation career. To think beyond. To not “think it can’t work because everyone says so” but to do the maths myself, to calculate ideas. And guess what: Those ideas mostly worked.
Different aircraft, different business model, focus on profit, identify USPs. And Corona did not disqualify our business model. Quite to the contrary. So now all we have to do is find an investor, understanding the value of creativity and interested to make a change. Thinking outside the box. If you try to repeat what others did, look at their failures.
Food for Thought Comments Investors welcome!
P.S. Not all of the links are publicly available but require a subscription. Apologies.
Social networks become more and more inactive, “leechers” that consume but not share their own opinion even with a “like”. In “online booking”, we called that a “look to book ratio”. In Germany, we call it the “caller in the forest” (echos, but no replies). In modern times it’s called the “social media bubble”. Which statistics say consist of 100:1 or worse “data corpses”.
But this is about success eating its children. The larger your network, the more information jumps up on the timeline. With little to no “filtering”, much of those “news” showing on the timeline becomes “irrelevant”. The more often you post, the more the social networks show your news on your followers timeline. Whereas I would like to be attracted every time someone posts who does not post that often. But then we come to Post Expiration and Information Flooding:
In my last years qualification on “online marketing”, there were some interesting statistics about post visibility, that I found quite interesting.
What is not covered here are the increasingly used online chat tools like WhatsApp, Skype, etc. – posts there are lasting minutes.
You may remember my articles sharing my experience with LinkedIn articles and also media campaigns. As a result, already four years ago, I discontinued writing “articles” on LinkedIn, but with ongoing visits to my blog archive articles, LinkedIn articles (different from the normal posts) have a life span of about three days – older articles are not having relevant visitor numbers ever after.
Now companies, SEO-experts etc. tell you to post constantly to show constantly on those “channels”. But that turns, no it backfires into
Information Flooding (1)
For which there are two reasons. And both reasons are in reality counterproductive.
In the beginning, Facebook promoted to post “everything”. Other companies built on that and developed i.e. restaurant reviews and posting of food, selfies from the weirdest places on Earth, etc. – now people post all relevant and irrelevant stuff and clog the timelines. Where it was nice in the beginning to get input from friends, now the flood of irrelevant information makes the tools largely unusable. A business friend recently asked me why I did not respond to his latest posts. Well, I was busy with real life and did not even see those posts, they were long gone when I logged in again. Don’t get me wrong, I did the same mistake. Posted irrelevant things, missing out on relevant news.
Now I will intentionally limit my Facebook to less but higher quality posts. So this week I deleted my all the old content (since 2008) of my Facebook profile. I decided to keep my profile but only for an occasional look, the most important “updates” and use of the messenger to reach out to my friends. But it took me three days to remove all that data, even using Chrome Apps that allow bulk cleaning – with some bugs to slow you down anyway. Now I can “restart” with focus on quality, not quantity.
Back in 2016, I removed my “articles” from LinkedIn, after I found them to be seen just a few days with little interaction, whereas this blog, with the same little interaction except from the same people, has several thousand readers meanwhile and a constant flow of readers on the “old” articles as well. Except for a few readers they do not interact, not even with the easy “like” button I’ve added to all posts some years ago. It keeps motivating to hear on conferences that people obviously follow my blog, referring to my articles.
Information Flooding (2)
I also last year discontinued to actively use Skype and drop WeChat. Same reason. In business and with friends I now mostly use Viber, WhatsApp (another Facebook-company). Many years ago, I decided to stick my newsletters to ten. As I can’t keep following the flood of information, it distracts from doing business and make money to sustain my family.
A friend on a conference talked about the “first screen” on the mobile phones. While they become bigger, you also need to decide, which apps make it to your first screen. My new smart phone has space for 30 app icons. I may be unusual by having my apps grouped and using folders, even on first screen, but yes, I have my few important ones.
Social Networking – Lessons Learned
In the expensive Social Media lectures I attended last spring, on which I shared my lessons learned, I mainly learned that if you are a good marketeer, the same rules apply on- and offline. It also confirmed, I can spend all the time someone wants to pay me for, to analyse the online performance with KPIs that are the same useless as the QSI (Quality Service Indicator) as they are set and defined by the analyst with an intentional or (rarely) unintentional outcome in mind: “you are going to get very quickly to ‘factors’ and ‘coefficients’. And that they are variables, subject to interpretation and weighting, they are “relative values” (from The Bias of Route Viability Analysis, Dec. 17).
We all know of headlines that celebrities (and companies) bought and buy “followers”. Implying that all those leechers make an impact to your business. While it may take longer to grow your real “Stammkunden” (patrons, regular customers), only the ones that “buy” or stimulate a purchase by recommendation are valuable to your business. In the end it you got to pay your bills!
Marketing is about reputation management, it’s about indirect sales, but in the end, marketing is a part of sales and sales support. Brand is marketing, but in the end it is to stimulate memory and reputation and bring the brand to mind in the purchasing process. Neither marketing, nor brand, nor sales or public relations are an end to themselves. They are to stimulate business and keep the coin rolling.
So where do “Social Networks” fit in here? Same issue. Commercially, it does not help to have leechers. You need either buyers, or ambassadors. That must be first and foremost on your activities. Privately, you neither want leechers, you want people that share information with you, to discuss, agree or disagree, help you to evolve.
So I split my activities to two layers. Connecting with friends. While I appreciate a lot of Facebook “friends”, interaction is limited to very few. I will keep posting occasionally there, but just personal and limited to friends and only the “important” news, not to “flood” my friend’s timelines! I use LinkedIn for business and have some other responses there, confirming the value of the network. Xing is a German social network, but I keep finding them focused on job opportunities. So don’t expect me to do much there.
Instagram? Twitter? YouTube? Tik Tok? Yes I could do more there. If you convince me to drop LinkedIn for better impact to my information exchange with friends…?
And if you want my opionion, feel free to reach out to me or to share. I’ll keep watching my Facebook timeline for updates and on occasion also look at Instagram. You can reach me directly using Viber or WhatsApp (if you have my number).
And again, it boils down to my early mentor Richard Eastman‘s favorite quote:
“For those who agree or disagree, it is the exchange of ideas that broadens all of our knowledge”
It is all about interaction, about exchange. Without a “feeback loop”, writing blogs or posting on Social Media becomes boring – in turn, more shares turn to leechers – and the slow dying of Social Media continues. And if you like this post, click onto the little like button… If you did not, let me know what I could do better or where I’m far off in your opinion. Preferably not by e-Mail or direct message, but use the comments function this blog has.
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