Aircraft-on-Ground, Disruption Management …

… and the Ongoing Demise of Small and Mid-Sized Airlines

P.S.: While I wrote this article, Germania, an airline that I know from the beginning of my career, who’s team I booked at American Airlines to Seattle to pick up their first 737s, an airline I have had a personal attachment to, went into insolvency grounding all aircraft after many years of financial losses. The demise of Air Berlin 2017 brought easyJet on their home-apron in Berlin in force, no longer some competition, but clear one-on-one. Such the chance to establish lucrative routes in Berlin evaporated. Instead of benefiting from the demise of their largest local competitor, Germania had to sit aside, watching the threat growing.

Germania did, what they had to do, they focused on niches. Niches that were too small, to fragile to give them safety. Routes they developed well always threatened to be taken over by their competitors operating with lower cost. Erbil, under threat of war, Beirut, …? They announced a base in Pristina (Kosovo). They ordered A320neo, in an attempt to stay somewhat competitive to their competitors like easyJet also introducing the modernized aircraft. Else they operated tourism charter flights – which are in great demand in summer, but one after another airline in that market files for bankruptcy at the end of the season. And Germania published financial troubles as early as August 1st, 2018. So they could not do what needed to be done: Generate enough money in summer to succeed across the harsh winter.

You cannot succeed if you play it small, if your cost is not competitive to your competitors. Not the small virtual airline competitors, the other “day flies” lasting one summer season, two at best, but the big ones. The easyJets, Ryanairs, Wizzes, etc. It’s not fuel cost development that kills you. It’s bad management. It’s a strategy without USPs or with very weak ones – there’s reason, the other airlines don’t bother the routes Germania did.
And as I outlined in an article I published on LinkedIn, this was no sudden issue, they lost money for years!

As it is being said, the unexpected increase on EU261-expenses, the “EU passenger rights” also had it’s impact on the financial situation. If you sell a ticket for € 100 and you must compensate € 300, it does impact your revenue. So back to the topic – flight disruptions.

Having worked last year on the business plan for as well as on projects related to Airport and Airline Operations Control Centers, flight disruptions have reappeared as an ongoing topic of increasing concern. And my experience doing a study a few years ago at delair together with Zürich Airport (ZRH) about the impact of the deicing forecasting and management tool on Swiss (airline) operations at Zürich became a strong source for my advise to airport operations managers.

Image ©2010 Flughafen Zürich

When working with ZRH “Ice Man” Urs Haldimann on the study, I also got some feedback from Swiss. While managing the deicing in winter is not that much a problem, neither airports, nor passengers understand the rippling effect to the schedule. And often enough, not the airline’s own managers. That in the evening in warm Mallorca, the flight may be late, because of a deicing delay in the morning. So while higher force is accepted for the flight cancelled in Zürich, very often, the airline is required to pay EU Passenger “compensation” multiple the price for the ticket. So a major delay can be far more costly than just related to the immediate flight.

The harsh winter 2013/14 in North America (as likely this recent one) became known in the deicing industry as the Polar Vortex. The accumulating delays forced JetBlue into a “two day network reset”. Crews and airplanes were anywhere but where according to schedule and crew planning they were suppose to be. It took the better part of two days to relocate aircraft and crews back to the planned position, also to make sure the crews received their legally due rest, to then start the new day with a fresh start. As needed as that decision was, imagine the impact to passengers on flights that are booked usually 80-90%.

Disruptions can also be thanks to airport closures for other reasons, delays can be caused by as trivial as a broken baggage belt, a common thunderstorm or a ground handling crew doing a coffee break in the wrong time window – all things I experienced in my professional life. Flight crew duty times and technical delays are more common. Did you know that the Top 10 of “punctual” airlines have 15-20% of their flights delayed? That means 1 out of 5 flights is lateTo “celebrate” such achievement is beyond me, I honestly feel embarrassed that our industry cannot do better! Don’t come with the typical “explanations” covering for the incompetence to do better. Needless to mention that this is about “departure delay”, whereas passengers truly don’t care about those as long as the flight arrives on time, right? I was recently on a flight that left “on time”. Doors were close, the aircraft was sitting at the gate, waiting for it’s slot in the deicing and departure.

More recently, Primera Air, Azur Air or Small Planet Airlines closed down. Cobalt Air followed shortly after I published the blog post. At least for two of those airlines the cause was said by their respective CEOs to have been “unexpected” cost for delays and disruptions. Though not reconfirmed, rumors have it such were also the cause for the financial troubles Germania faced in Mid-January 2019, filing insolvency early February (see P.S. above). “Refund portals” organizing refunds for delayed passengers result in higher number of refunds. Small fleets with no spare aircraft causes the ripple-effect to sometimes swap over into the next day(s).

Lesson learned from my research about Zürich delays: It very often is cheaper for the airline to cancel the flight to make sure the further aircraft “rotation” (planned flights for the remaining day/week) are not impacted. Especially if i.e. winter operations allow for “higher force” reasoning of the cancellation. While the airline can show goodwill and help the stranded passengers, in such situation they are not legally forced to add the legal, excessive passenger compensation for delays. It also in fact reduces the overall passenger upset. And Zürich can predict the delays!
What I expected quite a while ago is the information of upcoming delay situation to the inbound planned airlines. The example I keep using: Once Zürich (or any other airport) learns about arrival-, turnaround- or departure-delays would inform KLM before their flight leaves, that it would likely develop delays in Zürich and may have an excessive delay departure, maybe KLM would cancel the flight?
The concern: But if those airlines cancel their flights, then the flights will leave early, so KLM could operate on-time…?
Ain’t that shortsighted? Oh holy dear Saint Florian – don’t burn my house, take the neighbor’s one…
So what would be needed would be a bonus/malus system. If an airline “volunteers” for the sake of the overall operation, to cancel a flight in such a situation, maybe it’s relatively empty, could be merged with the following flight – the airline gets a priority the next time, so the full flight gets an on-time departure. An airline deciding not to join that system will never get prioritized and take what they get – including the delays.

Another ongoing discussion is the promotion of the big players for “SaaS”, Software-as-a-Service, more commonly known as “Cloud Computing”. What in my experience lacks of one vital thing, the fallback for a “line down”. There have been three cases that I (just me) know of last year, where line-down caused major flight delays. Because there is no fall-back in place.

Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy
Delta takes weather seriously, with a team of 20+ in-house meteorologists (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy) . Taken from Daniel Stechers LinkedIn article.

That problem is multiplied by data silos. As Daniel, VP at IBS points out, there are too many screens an operations manager in the typical airline Operations Control Center (OCC) or also in the AirPort Operations Center (APOC) have on their desk, using old-style Gantt-charts, weather maps and other “sophisticated tools” that show them what happens out there. Very little tools that analyse the data automatically, giving you decision support on a disruption. Or warning you of potential disruptions giving you decision support how to avoid them.

While we do need to replace those multiple screens with dashboards, highlighting what to look at, I disagree to some extend with Daniel’s implications, as I believe we will need to be able to expand from the problem, onto the relevant Gantt charts, graphs, tables and maps. Worse in my eyes is the underlying reason for those screens, as they are clearly attributed to data silos. And if the left tool does not know what the right does, if the airport, the ground handler, the airline have different “realities”, no wonder we have friction that results in ineffective operation causing “issues” and delays. As I mentioned in my article about APOC, OCC, NMOC five years ago. And if I ask about interfaces and am told “XML” or “ASCII”, we talk about triggered “push” or “pull”, but not about a live interface. Another data silo.

Coming back, to close this FoodForThought-article, let’s come back to Germania and other airlines which we have lost recently. If you have no assets (aircraft leased or sold/leased-back which is the same), if you outsourced everything (to which I include “cloud”), if you don’t have “spares” for covering up disruptions, you make a very good business case on the old joke: “How do I become a millionaire in aviation? I start with a billion.” Or the other one: “Saving, no matter the cost”. It’s called a “virtual airline”. And I predict we see increasingly those virtual airlines to fail, as they lack size, assets and revenue (RASK) to compete with their competitors.

Food for Thought
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Long-Haul Low-Cost? Supersonic? Quo Vadis?

While we work here on a business plan for a new airline, we did discuss and disqualified many of the existing airline models. Is that negative? Or realistic?

These days some news hit me in short succession, that make me rethink the assessment my friend Ndrec and I made when discussing possible, viable business models for a new airline.

I did the picture above a mere year ago. Meanwhile Niki is gone too, as is Virgin America. Mighty Norwegian being said to be likely acquired by IAG shortly. We have “new” players like Blue Air. But the question for any new business case must be:

What is Your (E-)USP?

Now Ray Webster, former CEO of easyJet opened the Routes Europe Conference with a keynote:

“I don’t see long-haul low-cost as a viable model. Operating a small aircraft across the Atlantic is not efficient, and low-cost carriers aren’t going to fill a 787 or an A380”

Ray Webster, former CEO easyJet

Even students traveling on longer flights do want more services the longer the flight gets.

In contradiction to that assessment, Eurowings now opens up New York-services, taken over from the late Air Berlin operating from Düsseldorf. We all looked at Norwegian, though their “success story” also seemingly was bought on the cost of revenue, the airline now is said to be acquired rather shortly by British Airways/Iberia holding IAG (also owning Aer Lingus).

Whereas I simply do not understand the “brand strategy” of either Lufthansa or IAG…

  • IAG: Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, Level, Vueling … Now Norwegian adding to the mix of “it’s not me”?
  • Lufthansa Group: Air Dolomiti, Austrian, Brussels, Eurowings, LGW, CityLine, Swiss, Sun Express. Also “it’s not me”?

The work on a business plan for a new airline was triggered last year initially by some investors, going down the same “me-too”-dead end using old, inefficient Boeing 737-aircraft. Cheap to get, but their fuel consumptions renders them virtually useless.

BlueSwanDaily believes in the future of Supersonic… Are you kidding me? Yes, I believe supersonic will come, but expensive niche for the rich and wealthy. No real change to the Concorde business model.

I myself worked out a “green” concept a few years ago, but we’re neither getting there… The project got grounded in the wake of Lehmann Brother’s and a world financial crisis and the original interested investors gone never took up speed again. [Update: The Korean Wingship seems a ready-to-go WIG, though using conventional fuel, no green hydrogen or battery powered e-engines]

So we looked at models that differ from the existing ones. Where are unservered or underserved markets and why are they not served well? One issue sure is the airline analysis tools misleading their users to “established routes” and airports.

So we started with the original intent of a small scale operation. And recognized why so many such projects are doomed. There is a pilot shortage hovering on the horizon, Ryanair running pilot acquisition as far as South America and Asia. Most airlines do not value their workers but drain them.

And having discussed the very same issue again yesterday with friends who must relocate in the automotive industry as a direct consequence of overpaid managers, back again, using old images:

Maybe. Just maybe. I believe Ndrec and I came up with a sound business idea, which requires far higher investment than we originally envisioned. Coming with a round and sound business plan paying off that major investment in 10 years safe. Because we do have a unique selling proposition (USP). Because we do have an emotional USP. Because we thought it through and instead of failing at the first obstacle, we save cost from day one and make this a company to work for?

And working on that, we learned a big deal about the faults of the airlines we see in the market. And it boils down to the normal questions: What’s your (emotional) USP? What makes you different, why should the intended consumer decide to use your product. We see too much “me too” in the market. Buy your market share in the B737/A320 shark pond?

30+ years ago, my training officer told me that joke:

A man starts a business selling screws.
His friends questions him: “You buy
the screws for 1 €, you sell them for 95c?
How do you want to make money?”
“Oh, the quantity does it!”

My training officer told me to look after yours. Not only in the company, also your supply chain. Make sure you have long-term suppliers selling you the quality you need for a good reputation.

Later I learned the same lesson from space shuttle Challenger, management ignoring their own experts warning them of the temperature being below safety specifications. Shuttle Columbia dying of a piece of foam worth a few cent perforating the heat shield. Of Concorde crashing from a “minor” piece of scrap metal.

I’ve paid very high (in hard Euro) for another lesson. Starting with a sound idea (regional airlines’ franchise concept to share cost and operate a larger scale of operations), it turned out later that the stakeholders did not look for a franchise, but a means to start their own small operation and “share” the cost with the other small players. Clearly understanding the small operations to face obstacles they cannot overcome on their own. Could not. Cannot. Will not. A costly mistake I made. But lesson learned!

Then at delair I learned about airline disruptions and how our industry uses historic processes to “manage” somehow. How airlines use manpower instead of intelligence to cope i.e. with a winter storm.

With Ndrec, I found a seasoned manager understanding the need to either do it right – or don’t do it. And we got surprised how much money we save if we do it right! Not short term, there we need more to invest. But then very shortly, within less than 10 years. Now we reached the point of the reality check: Will we find solvent institutional investors helping us to pull this off? Cross your fingers.

For all those other airlines out there… Do your homework. First and foremost: What’s your USP? What’s the business case?

Food for Thought
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Quo Vadis Airline & Travel Distribution

Michael Strauss of Pass Consulting, developer of an “aggregator” system for travel distribution systems addressed his thoughts on why the NDC (IATA for “New” Distribution Capability) is already “old” (it’s XML, not contemporary JSON for one) and why we still need the GDS.

I find all those developments Michael addresses to be “baby steps”. And is it 18 months already again since I questioned the very same thing? Quo Vadis OBE?

Carefully tiptoeing around, while I still wait for the first airlines to make the bold step, leave the tangle box, cut the spider webs, dust off the past and make bold moves embracing the possibilities “digital” offers us. The likes of a C.R. and R.B. Smith back when they gave birth to what eventually became CRS,, GDS, PSS. Or Louis Arnitz (and myself) making Internet-Amadeus-booking reality, when all the GDSs told us, this is impossible and tried to protect the holistic, old way. Good, GetThere launched about the same time, but when we started, all it’s infancy could was to take a Sabre-entry and return the GDS-output. But yes, that gave us the idea.

1.44 MB = 0.00144 Gigabyte or 0.00000144 Terrabyte. Those thoughts tell me how old I became…

Now we are “surprised” that Cytric bypasses the GDS-side of Amadeus, linking directly to Altea (Lufthansa direct link). I just happen to wonder if Louis Arnitz also fondly remembers that “white paper” he wrote about “Mozart” (what later became Cytric). Few people remember the evolution from “Woodside Travel Trust” (today Radius) “Hotel Disk” (3.5″ ‘floppy’) to eHotel or that eHotel has been a spin-off of what became Cytric… It just tells me, how the GDSs keep the thumb on the thinking of our self-proclaimed experts. A battle they can’t win if they don’t embrace (carefully) those changes you so nicely summarize. Working on an airline’s business plan, I just emphasized that I see the future of travel distribution with Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Amazon. Individual like a book. Common as a book.

20 years ago (!) my friend Richard Eastman emphasized disintermediation at ITB Travel Technology congress. And that it is about packaging what the traveler wants.

Voice recognition like “Alexa, book our vacation”. GDSs? Aggregators? Airline seat? Car Rental? Hotel transfer? Restaurant? Or …

  • “Jürgen, this is Alexa, I believe you wanted to go to that “new movie”, they show it tonight at the cinema here in your vacation area, shall I book you two or four tickets?”
  • “Jürgen, this is Siri, there is a Pink Floyd revival concert in xyz, I could book you and Yulia two flight and concert tickets in four hours as well as the babysitter for the girls?”

Things I would have overseen…

Richard emphasized, the consumer does not want to bother about all those detail. They want an offer. And consume. GDS? Aggreggators? NDC? …?
Hey Richard, that was 20 years ago we discussed and envisioned those things. Ain’t it faszinating, how our industry keeps stalling…?

Food for Thought!
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Shattering the American Dream

These weeks I am most disturbed, how U.S. President Trump keeps pushing commerce above life. I can only hope that the world stands united up to him.

Just a few headlines that hit a nerve with me:

“Donald Trump slashes size of national parks in Utah to allow drilling” [Telegraph UK]
“Native Americans to Sue Trump Over National Monument Downsizing” [Voice of America]
“How Trump’s Declaration Inflames a Middle East Already Ablaze” [Mintpress]
“A Brief History Of Donald Trump Stoking Islamophobia” [Huffington Post]
“US: Devastating Impact of Trump’s Immigration Policy” [Human Rights Watch]
“President Trump Calls for Ending Diversity Visa Lottery Program” [Time Magazine]
“Trump’s eldest son questioned in Congress about Russia” [Reuters]
“I’m a Multi-Millionaire So Trump’s Tax Plan Is Great for Me.” [Time Magazine]
“Trump Tax Plan Will Skyrocket National Debt” [Financial Tribune]
“What Will the End of Net Neutrality Do to America?” [Huffington Post]
“What Trump’s Latest Attack on Planned Parenthood” [Vogue]
“Commentary: The Hidden Victim of Trump’s Tax Plan: Your Health …” [Fortune]

All those developments show the excessive greed of Trump, not looking after “the small people”, but about his mighty, his rich friends and his own interests. The U.S. changing to support capitalism at all cost. Who cares? He doesn’t. And this is the head of the most powerful country in the world? While Obama enabled a social security for the poorest, Trump slaughters it. North Korea, Venezuela, Jerusalem, … in my opinion it’s only a question until Trump “wags the dog“. And that man holds that famous suitcase.

I also keep wondering about the U.S. Dollar as a “standard value”. We work on a European business plan, no link to the U.S., but I get quotes in US$, instead of local or Euro-currency, that we use in our calculations. One of the reasons, if not the reason for the U.S. to sustain such high national debt is the “Petro-Dollar” dominance. But that is more and more threatened. And U.S. aggressively enforcing their dominance. How much longer? With Trump isolating the U.S., adding more debt beyond (my) imagination, I predict more and more commerce to move from “US$” to bilateral currency exchange. Quo Vadis U.S. of America?

When I recently won the U.S. Visa in their annual lottery (another Trump target), I said I was not sorry, it couldn’t work out. Having grown up virtually on the premises of the famous U.S. 1st ID Fwd, “America” was a childhood dream. It never worked out. With Sonia having the pacemaker and me at that time recovering from a major surgery ,I likely couldn’t have afforded living in the U.S. under threat to life. And my American Dream is shattered into more pieces day by day. So today I keep it with Pink Floyd’s High Hopes:

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun
Along the Long Road and on down the Causeway
Do they still meet there by the Cut
There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before times took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
When friends surrounded
The nights of wonder
Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some in a tide
At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world
Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
Forever and ever

Food for Thought
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Narrow-Minded Management


Airport Passenger Statistics
Catchment Area Case Study
Passenger Terminal Expo
Face to the Customer
“New Airline” Business Concept
Narrow Minded Management

Airport Passenger Statistics

The last weeks were rather challenging. Speaking at Passenger Terminal Expo on Data Silos, Silo Thinking and the need to Tear Down the Walls, Yulia and I also worked on the update of the airport passenger statistics, adding movements to the database to expand our information. And we fell right back into The Numbers Game trap.

The main Key Performance Indicator (KPI), the value that reflects the “importance” of the airport, is the passenger numbers. All other KPIs, like movements, on-time-performance, revenue are scondary. Where I can understand that airports publish preliminary numbers for the press, those numbers are then updated and finalized. By that time, they reach Eurostat, national statistics, Wikipedia,, Airports Council International (ACI), IATA and other official bodies. How do you define “Total Passengers”?

But then we go back to the airport’s monthly and annual passenger numbers. And to give examples that really bugged me the past weeks.

  • A worse case: No codes, different sortation, wrong numbers.

    Spanish AENA had what I understood an error in their May-data. The numbers are three to four times above the average. And their own annual numbers confirm it, being about that difference too high. If I’d be lazy, I would simply correct the May numbers so the annual total matches the total given by AENA. But is that the error? Working professionally, I informed AENA (airline marketing). Matter of fact, as the airline, I’d be embarrassed and would make sure those numbers to be updated immediately. After one month of no reply, I inquired. Both verbal (phone) and e-Mail. The response was a “blame game”, I shall contact the statistics group at AENA. Excuse me? That’s your understanding of customer support? Are they unable to clear that internally, bothering the customer with the internal (bureaucratic) hierarchy? The following week, the numbers were still not updated. Now, that is embarrassing. So the fact is, I do “unprofessionally” and assume the mistake, as the data owner neglects the issue. Again. Main KPI.
    And their tables? Monthly data split to 12 tables, available as Excel without the airport code. Why again do they provide “Excel”-format? Not for quick data-exchange, that’s for sure.
    The day after I wrote this blog, AENA finally identified the “error” on the data. While all other files showed the current month’s data, the may file was set to show the accumulated data Jan to May. Nevertheless this though being just a “forced error” and not a real data issue, it proves my point that it’s enforcing errors if you split the data into tables. And it does not change that the different subtables in those same Excel sheets are sorted by “totals” instead of airports, such you got to re-sort. And spend time associating the IATA codes to the airports.

  • maintains what they call the European Airport Traffic Trends “Database”. Now in order to make sure we have all airports’ data that publish monthly numbers, I imported the data into our database and compared. And instantly ran into trouble. Because for i.e. France, more than half the airports’ monthly data does not sum up to’s annual total. As such, the data must be disqualified for professional use! Interesting, three French airports responded to Yulia’s inquiry for official numbers to use’s numbers. All three airports being ones where the total does not compute.
  • ZRH-BUD route level data. We wonder, why we have four different values for the route Zurich-Budapest for out- and inbound passengers. Two of them by the respective airports. Two courtesy by “official data providers”. Different numbers on a single given route?? So we find ourselves at a loss, we likely won’t use them. Not just for Zürich oder Budapest, but that is just an example! We happen to wonder, how Eurostat can compile passengers, flights and seats and, when the airports say they don’t report such numbers.

We find several sources for public accessible data. Sometimes you find it on the airport’s own website, somewhere in “Statistics”, sometimes in a press release, usually not in one, but in 12 press releases (see image). And even when publishing the annual numbers in one file, the file comes as a PDF, formatted that they cannot be extracted into a table but copy into one value a line. On a complex table, that renders that useless. So the airport forces users of their data to write the data off the PDF? You can’t be serious, can you?? Sometimes national airport associations publish the data, usually monthly. After we found them to occasionally change the formatting and order even within a given year, we double-check that on the import, burning valuable time. Then we learned to now download monthly data before the annual one was available, as we also happened to fall the trap of intermittent changes (see Many such files do not contain the airport codes. But the airport name in the national language. Upper case. No, that does not compute easily and is prone to cause data errors.

Even where Excel is being provided (like by AENA), the files are not ready for instant import, very often missing the unique IATA airport code that would allow to properly associate – but usually airport names in national and uncommon naming, requiring additional work to add the three letter codes to allow for proper import. And then you have those cases, where the monthly numbers do not sum up to the annual totals.

All in all, that shows the neglect airport managers handle “numbers”. Given that we all talk about e-Commerce for 20 years now and for 20+ years I keep addressing the data quality as an issue. Before the internet, airports published their data in the format they now provide by PDF. For journalists or other data providers to type them off. They simply moved the paper to the PDF, being a print format, not a data exchange format. They obviously did and do not understand that times have changed. Keeping with the times, they should maintain and publish the data in ways that they can be pulled using an HTML-call (returning a given-format CSV), if that is not possible, they should at least use an Excel file. If they change data, they should inform the data users about that. But nothing at all shows the modified file (rev.1, v.1), so in case of a discrepancy they enforce a check of all monthly files. Again, we talk about their main KPIs, something they should be interested to make sure that everyone uses the “right” number.

Catchment Area Case Study

Based on our (constantly expanding) catchment area case study about the numbers given by the airports, we understand the concerns, disbelief and rejection of such airport numbers by airlines. As any quick check from other sources (like our free isochrone analyses) unmasks them as useless, guesstimates or even intentionally beautified. I confronted Fraport Bulgaria with their given numbers in a brochure I picked up at ITB Berlin, being 2.3 to 2.5 times, or in percent 230 to 250% above our sound, European-wide calculations. Initially, they backed off, not knowing of the brochure, so I forwarded them photos of it. Then they referred to “drive time offsets”, neglecting the fact that we have comparisons on a European scale and even giving extremely ambitious drive speeds, that calculates to 10, 20% offset at the maximum on the population reach, but not to 230 or 250 percent! So instead of taking this up professionally, their managers decided to stick their head in the sand.

shutterstock 135630023 (licensed)Passenger Terminal Expo 2017

Speaking at Passenger Terminal Expo in the Management & Operations track (speaker notes here), I challenged my audience about Data Silos, Silo Thinking and the need to Tear Down the Walls. It addressed A-CDM and why A-CDM rather usually gets stuck in the early stage of the process. Silo Thinking and not invented here being the most common cause as all my friends in the A-CDM arena tell me. The same being true for airport managers. And an airport general manger told me: “If we don’t embrace that we got to exchange our data, we miss to do our job”. I was sorry I had to tell him his airport being one I don’t have the passenger data for yet.

Brand Management

Another Post Scriptum: These weeks, another several faces left our industry, another “trusted face” leaving UBM. Some few remaining in aviation at least, others move on to other industries, others again (like myself) struggle to keep in our industry.

Ever since I started addressing “Airline Sales & e-Commerce” in 1994″ at the Airline Sales Representatives Association (ASRA), I emphasized the importance of the “face to the customer”. A Logo, a face are things, users attach themselves to emotionally! It’s your emotional USP. Customers (“contemporary” B2B, B2C) knowing someone in the company attach themselves to it. That is not all, sure. Prices for example must still be competitive But not ultra-low. Reputation of the company can (and does) outweigh the price. But also the person you know there usually has an impact to who you make business with.

This is an example from 2007, explaining it to the ASRA members. Unfortunately, they proved they did not understand it. Neither the need as usually well paid Sales Managers to embrace the “new sales channels”; in most airlines the “traditional Sales” and “Social Media” are different divisions. Some airlines more recently trying to bring together what’s meant to be together, usually at the expense of the “old faces”. Nor did my ASRA fellows understand the importance of networking, the group fell apart two years ago and is meanwhile unregistered.

And let’s not go into brand management here, I addressed the idiocy to rename and kill brand identification often enough.

“New Airline” Business Concept

In the last weeks, I got approached about investors being interested to invest into aircraft, seeking which business model to use. The initial idea was Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, leasing that to the low-cost airlines. As if we wouldn’t have a record on the order books, long delivery times and the low cost airlines recently leasing their aircraft to other airlines as they find it increasingly difficult to find new routes. So I came up with a completely new model, quickly qualified numbers and viability and offered it to them. The intended aircraft maker learning about the idea took it up.

Friends I introduced the business concept to, in order to qualify it and get questions about the viability answered wondered why no-one has established such a model yet. I think that takes a little hammer. Or some out-of-the-box thinking.

Working on that concept and following up on Passenger Terminal Expo, also about my rather negative experience with HR and head hunters a discussion arose about a shortcoming of our business culture:

Narrow-Minded Management

We mostly agreed, that most managers today encourage a narrow-minded thinking. This is your job, don’t you bother about the jobs that are managed in other departments. If you do in fact think outside the box, you challenge such managers.

Food for Thought
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The End of the Airport Passenger Fees?

Inflight Shopping

As I outlined in my summary on the Hamburg Aviation Conference, my friend Daniel expressed his believe that within 20 years, there will be no more passengers fees.
At the same time, Michael O’Leary was recently quoted that he expects in very short time they will offer the flights for free.
But flying costs money, no matter how good the aircraft engines become, terminal construction and maintenance, ground handling, air traffic control, gasoline, pilots, cabin crews, aircraft, insurance, it all needs to be paid. And no matter how effective you calculate …

… someone has to pay the bill.

Airlines lower their ticket prices, covering the “loss” with “ancillary revenues”. While those “ancillaries” have been understood as services previously bundled (inflight meal, baggage, flight insurance), they meanwhile extend quite into “inflight shopping”.

At the same time, traditionally airport landing fees, split into the landing and passengers, covered for the airports’ cost of operations and development. This basic, sensible model is now threatened. It will change. But how. When the airline and airports fight for the revenue of the passenger – I believe both will loose.

Airport Duty Free

So currently it is a fight between airport and airline for the money of the traveler. I hear airlines expressing their anger about the airports increasingly draining the pockets of the passengers pre- and post-flight. And the airports upset about architectural changes enforced by the evaporating aviation income, forcing them to add shopping in arrivals halls and rebuilding terminals for improved shopping, i.e. forcing the passenger through the duty free store. Or how to speed up the check-in process to increase the dwell time of the traveler to spend more money shopping. And the shop owners about the increasing pressure to cash in on the passenger in order to pay the expensive rental deals with the airports. And, and, and…

And no, it does not help to imply that the politicos should provide airports similar to train stations. Yes, it is true, airlines bring business to the regions. Airports are important infrastructure. But in the end … someone has to pay the bill.

Source firewalkeraussies.comWhat we will need is a serious, joint discussion about the future business model in aviation. At the moment there is no discussion. There’s the airlines, the airports and business models that cannot work. And we need to have the politicos and the usually government-controlled ATC (and border control, security, etc.), we have to have the ground handlers, the shops and all other players on the table. You can’t reconstruct all the small airports. We don’t need a fight. We got to work together for a sustainable business model. ERA, AAAE, IATA, ICAO, this is your call.

Food for Thought
Comments welcome

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Hamburg Aviation Conference 2017

As I attended to be interviewed about the stuff we do at, you can click the image to view the video on Facebook.

Reviewing the recent Hamburg Aviation Conference, the aviation conference addressing new developments and ideas, it boils down to a “known issue” for the future of the aviation industry:

To tear down the walls.

Data Silos … and it’s not new.

As outlined here in Food for Thought and have been asked to address at Passenger Terminal Expo, there were a lot of very fancy ideas and outlooks where we want to go. About any session addressed the “data silos”. There are a lot and I mean a lot of good ideas and developments taking place as we speak. But all of them are isolated ideas and developments. Look at what airline X does. See here airport Y.

Just one of the many statements at Hamburg Aviation Conference on the topic:

“The check-in process is a totally disjointed process” [Peter Parkes]

Remember my posts about Checkin 2015 and the follow up Check-in 2020?

The underlying line I hear, though not really addressed, just mentioned, is the data silos. Even when being mentioned, it was mentioned as something that “naturally” has to happen. But without it, all or most of those wonderful developments remain what they are. Silos. Be it an(other) airport-silo, an(other) airline-silo, silos being disconnected from the other silos within the same company.

But. This. Is. Not. New! Together with Richard Eastman, from 1996 I emphasized the conversion from a whole sale model to a consumer driven model and the disintermediation in aviation distribution: Everyone deals with everyone. The example Yesterday / Today to the left is from my presentation at ITB in 2000.

On the floor, there were many discussions that there is a need in “change managers”, as there are all those fancy solutions and understanding of the need. That again reminded me of my question, why after 20 years only 20 airports implemented A-CDM – in my opinion for the very same reason. Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it…

There were quite some discussions about the data silo issue and airports and tech companies telling about those very new and fancy solutions they develop. But when I look across to other airports, airlines or tech companies, I find they just build new Data Silos.

It’s not about Data Silos …
… but about Silo Thinking

Data Silos are simply the result of the real problem.

It’s about “who’s data is it?”. It is about the decision makers and stakeholders unwillingness, inability and misconception about a collaborative approach: “Give me your data but don’t date touch mine”… The very same as on the A-CDM side of our business.

The point when the aviation industry reinvented itself and evolved into e-Commerce was back in the 60s t0 80s, when the rise of the CRSs required standardized messages to exchange through the aviations teletype (telex) network. The birth of what today is AIRIMP. Nowadays, IATA works on “New Distribution Capabilities“, though there are fundamental issues when you compare airline sales to Amazon. Where Amazon works with warehouses and even opens own shops, the airline seat is one of the most perishable goods – something Amazon for good reason touches very differently.

The second large move was again forced, when in the mid 90s to 2000 the Internet forced the players to “get online”. Since 1994, I preached the need for airline sales to embrace that change.

I mentioned A-CDM and TAM as a starting point to tear down those walls, but I see a lot of not invented here responses.

Else … The Passenger Journey

Some of the really good ideas in the dead lock of silo thinking, where about one of the new hypes: The Passenger Journey.

When talking about the customer, how do we identify that very customer? By e-Mail? I just happen to change my employer at times. And I get a new address. I currently run three “main addresses” and use different ones for the various social networks. If you identify me by e-Mail, I use a different one when I travel for business than what I do personally. I’m two customers. Data Silos.

There was quite some talk about the need of the “passenger journey”, but also how fragmented that journey is. No wonder, the passenger being split to “airport customer”, “border control/security”, “airline” and the exchange of the traveler from one to the other complicated by Data Silos.

Around 2000, I mentioned in my annual presentation about Airline Sales & e-Commerce for the Airline Sales Representatives Association, that Google was said to identify a unique person within 20 searches, based on IP geographic area, typical questions, etc. That was what … 17 years ago? And we don’t even have a single source of truth for a passenger in aviation. Very often we have separate profiles even within an airline – for GDS/CRS (old legacy tools), check-in and operational processes, but separate for social network contacts. A customer contacting via Twitter or Facebook is (in my experience) usually not associated to the passenger profile! Some examples to the contrary, usually on the large and newer players (i.e. Norwegian, easyJet). Is this a premium customer on the social network or is it a first traveler? Is it someone enroute or at home? Data Silos.

At lunch we talked about another example. I may be a prime customer (“frequent flyer platinum”) at airline A, but I have trouble, getting recognition at airline B. Because it is not about being a frequent traveler, it’s solely about revenue. You are not with us, we don’t want youThat a good treatment of the frequent flyer on your competition might entice him/her to your own product is beyond the decision makers in most if not all airlines. Data Silos? Silo Thinking!

Else … Global WiFi access

On the “customer journey”, every stakeholder forces the customer to change Wifi on the way, use an app for the airport, the airline, the other airport, etc., etc. I mentioned that back in my Check-in 2020 blog.

Whooops. And my friend Stephan Uhrenbacher has to tell me he had an app developed that does it all: FLIO. But… Unfortunately the providers don’t want this, they oppose it and fight to not make this happen. And the airport WiFi is hardly in the control of the airport, but of “some provider” the airport just pays. So they want their log-in processes and pages and have no interest in “usability”. That being true especially on the U.S. market, where in addition the “free WiFi” very commonly fails and then the users complain about FLIO and not about the free WiFi provider of the particular airport. Stephan promised me, the idea is not dead, but yes, the task is not as easy as it might sound. Thanks to Data Silos.

Else … Ryanair, Air Berlin & Lufthansa

Kenny Jacobs in his very interesting interview announced they complained legally about the Lufthansa/Air Berlin merger, saying that is what it is, being called a “lease” business or whatever. As such, Germany remains a protected market with Lufthansa dominating 62% of the domestic travel.
Side note: That also goes in line with the trade press reporting the remaining Air Berlin being not sustainable. Questioning if Air Berlin is now simply bled dry, leaving the commercially loss making parts in the remaining company, accepting the bankruptcy as a logical end to it. I happen to agree with that assessment.

He also  announced they will feed to Aer Lingus and Norwegian on an “interline light” model but with baggage thru-check. Another step from Low Cost to classic operations model. As I kept emphasizing in my Airlines Sales & e-Commmerce presentations. Low Cost will only need a business case to provide “classic” services. Also nice to remember that article a year ago (right).

Ryanair develops inhouse, for speed and prioritization of development. Ryanair decided to stop looking at other airlines what they do on their digital strategy, but they look at digital pacemakers, Amazon, Facebook, etc. to learn what they can do to attract the customer.

WiFi onboard? Consumers want to use their own devices on board. But the bandwidth inflight is not sufficient for mass communications. He believes the speed to come up in two years, but then the bandwidth demand will also increase. Yes, for long haul, but on regional flights not a real issue he believes.

User Centric Design

Konsta Hansson of had an interesting look into user centric design, not to decide for the user what he needs, but find out what the user needs and leave out the rest. He questioned if a check-in is a given need – or just a legacy process. Using RFID and e-Passports, I strongly agree with him.

Question I’d have and could not answer is based on the assumption that “check-in” is obsolete, how would you really refresh processes from the existing legacy processes to a completely digital process? And how do you manage the necessary change management with stake-holders like government bodies? Data Silos.

Who’s Customer is it? A Revenue Issue

Shall the passenger be shopping in the airport or in the airplane?

My three friends Stefan, Daniel and Marjan were on stage, discussing the different models the airports have to decide upon about their revenue stream for the passenger, called “ancillary revenues”. Daniel emphasized that within 20 years, the revenue for the airports no longer comes from the airlines. But (declining) from the in airport shops and (increasingly) the aerotropolis.

With Ryanair talking about “free tickets”, keep in mind, there is nothing such as a free meal. Someone will have to pay the air ticket somewhere in the process.

Summary: Start Moving

There was a lot of visionary ideas about where to go, but rather little about how to get there. The above concerns were quickly voiced but not identified as concerns. Steps taken are taken by individual stake holders (technology companies) and less on a development of common standards. So we have fantastic ideas, but we all keep develop our own individual standards = Data Silos. And worse: Silo Thinking!

We talk about “passenger journey” but the solutions are neither user centric nor easy to use. There was recently a story on LinkedIn titled Brand suicide case study: British Airways I strongly recommend… It is a good example about Data Silos, Silo Thinking and not specific to the named airlines. The same story unfortunately is true for most airlines. What we need is a management effort to Tear Down the Walls!

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome

… and if you happen to have a job for me looking after this, please keep in mind I am a job seeker!

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10 Years “Shift Happens” – review

shifthappensnarratedMy first ever blog post in the new WordPress blog was Shift Happens. That was 10 years ago. Now in honor of it’s 10th anniversary, Karl Fish took a look back on his Blog The Fish Bowl.

The best video is still this one on YouTube and I’d love to find a decent update, but to date, it’s unmatched and I urge you to watch it.

10 years have gone by and still our children don’t learn for their lives, about compassion, tolerance and respect. They don’t learn to apply the rule of three to compare 200g of product X with 800g of product Y. They don’t know how to socially interact without a screen. They can chat for days but not structure their ideas. Crowdfunding, couch surfing, big data and hightech, but they are still asked to use “printed” information for their diplomas, WiFi is not available in many schools. And if you’re poor, the school neither enables you access to all that new high tech. Nobody’s left behind?
Yeah. But they know how to calculate mathematics that their parents left to calculators and for the past 10 years our smartphone app does.

So we don’t produce enough children in “the West”, so population shrinks and more people get older and fewer young will have to look after them. But instead of making our kids smarter, we limp behind the average school in Asia. And the U.S. industry recently published that they depend on their Asian employees for new developments…?

verwandert.deI had a student I made my assistant back in Erfurt. When I left, her fellow colleagues degraded her back to “student” (cooking coffee, assisting their work). She left aviation. A loss to our industry!
Her business uses Blog, Facebook, Social Networks.

thenomadoasisSame for Celinne Da Costa, traveling the world “couch surfing”. Exotic. And I’m asked, how that can work. With smart tech, an online world and a device to write and share the written, with paid-for articles and speaking. And I know more people doing that! Are our kids ready for this?

We set-up Us in the middle of nowhere in Braunschweig, Germany. Our mapmagician from Berlin, our server admin in Frankfurt, the algorithmic genie from Texas. Will we ever set up an “office”? I doubt it. But still most (relatively old) managers stick to “workplace”. Even relatively young Marissa Meyer, taking her post at Yahoo ordered an end to ‘remote’ work as all staff are told to be in the office as part of a new era of collaboration. Old thinking. She’s a “role model”? I’ll teach my girls better. I promise!

Karl Fish closes his review pointedly: “In 2006 I was worried that we were preparing students for our past, not their future. In 2016, I still am.”

Food For Thought
Comments and opinions welcome!

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My Routes Sales Pitch

A post on ASM VP Nigel Mayes on RoutesOnline triggered this FoodForThought. His thoughts about a how to give the perfect routes presentation … Focusing on data. Which is a perfect example of what you see at Routes and what will not make the difference.

Successful Selling is Emotional

In any given sales training I attended, in many of the keynotes or presentations I gave on the topic, I focus on three facts I can boil down to one:

  1. The Elevator Pitch
  2. Successful Selling is Emotional
  3. What’s your message?

Or in one: What is your USP? The USP is the Unique Selling Proposition. It’s what makes your product different, why someone should choose to buy from you and not your competition. But more important, the new concept of the ESP: The Emotional Selling Proposition!

In my presentations, I never focus on the numbers. Say what? But with you’re crunching numbers big time!!! So what?

I’ve never sold the numbers. Not selling software, nor selling airline tickets, nor selling airports, nowhere. Simply: Nowhere.

Selling is emotional. 10% of the sale is facts. Some say 15% (1/7th). I believe less.

Facts are facts, they either sell on their own, or they don’t. Not much influence on the facts.

When I sold competitive software, the data crunching was important. But not to come with facts, but how to load them emotionally? Because where I sold was, where I could establish the emotional link. Trust. Faith. Sure you got to have your numbers. You got to issue an RFP, very often under legal rules, making sure the procurement team is unbiased and takes what is best for the company. Often under stupid rules like “cheap = best”. You get what you pay for, right? But then, there’s the “finale”. If you’re in the final round, emotions jumps into the game. Suddenly the soft factors get more important. Three finalists competing. All qualified. Who fit’s my need the best???

HAM: Hamburg Airport Marketing
HAM: Hamburg Airport Marketing

The job of the sales manager. Be the face of the company.

There are three phases:

  • Phase 1: Establish the contact
  • Phase 2: Know your [Numbers / Tools / Services]
  • Phase 3: Close the sale.

Phase 1 and 3 are all about emotions. They are about Sales Management. Phase 2 is where the number crunching work is. That’s for your engineers to support your sales manager!

An attractive sales lady or gentlemen without experience, right from university sells mostly to men. Emotional. Good for the initial contact and the closing. In between, you don’t need sales, you need the engineers, the number crunchers. Phase 2 is not “sales”. But I also learned that you better call the graduate not a sales manager but either a junior sales manager or a customer manager. Face to the client. They can learn the process. They should be the face to the client (at all times). They should not be exchanged, or your client looses a big part of his/her emotional bonding to your company. But they must work in tandem with the company’s experts! And they have to learn enough of your product before you remove the “junior”.

Many companies make the mistake. Engineers trying to sell. They go for numbers, technical gadgets, hardly ever they understand the emotions that make the customer buy into them. Do I need to be able to know deicing management or shall I better understand the principles behind it and leave the fine-print to the engineers? Talking to deicing experts with 20 years experience, I caught them with emotion. With emotionally loaded facts. Want to buy? Here’s the dream, the overall picture that I know we can make a reality. Let’s call in the engineers, they can explain you in all detail how the individual puzzle piece works. Want to make the sales manager an engineer? Bad idea. Want to make an engineer a sales manager? Bad idea. Engineers are usually number crunchers. Only very few understand the emotional concepts in selling. Recently, in marketing groups there’s a hype about the step from USP to ESP from the unique to the emotional selling proposition.

shifthappensnarratedThe first-ever post on this blog was Shift Happens. As valid as it ever was! Today, most jobs and products are new. Experience helps to adapt and understand the USP. But being good in Sales & Marketing is not about expertise in the product. It’s about expert in emotional selling proposition!

A friend recently asked me for help on a new start-up. I had a look at their website. I did not understand what they’re doing. I got what business they were in. But what’s their USP? It’s been done by engineers… You got to be one to understand.

So let’s look back at my first three points. Lots of words on the website. But what’s it all about? I didn’t know. So we come down to my first point: The elevator pitch. Can you catch a potential client’s or investor’s interest in the first 30 seconds to two or three minutes you have with him in the elevator? Or on a conference floor? Three sentences. Why should he talk to you? What’s your product, what makes it different? What’s the value? “Return of Investment” is an issue. Emotion is also one! Apple sells more on emotion than anything else! So we’re back on 2.: The emotional side. And come down to the third issue: What’s your message? In three lines or 30 seconds? If you can’t boil your USP down to the elevator pitch, how do you think your prospected clients will ever understand it? If you can do it in 30 seconds, you have 19 minutes to talk about it and bring the emotion home. Okay, realistically you have two to three minutes at a Routes scheduled meeting to bring home the pitch. Rarely at once, beyond 30 seconds the risk to be disrupted increases expotentially

If you focus your sales pitch on “Know your numbers”, you miss out the 90% emotional side of selling.

My advise for airports intending to sell successfully at Routes: What’s your message? Most important thing we did at Erfurt Airport was the image video

No voice. Just music. Emotion! Renaming Erfurt to Erfurt-Weimar? Emotional. Weimar transporting “history” and emotion. Everyone heard about Weimar in history class. What’s “Erfurt”?

2010: Promoting emotionally

The final point I focused on in my presentations and consulting with airports: Focus on incoming! Everybody knows, you know “your local market”. But in aviation, you have two markets. Show you know what attracts people to you. Incoming. No, I never understand how Thuringia Tourism at ITB 2010 could promote Hungarian historic composer Franz Liszt, when they just had a great number of gold medals from the Olympic winter games. The politicos in Erfurt never understood the need to focus on incoming, nor the need to promote emotionally.

Though I should have been warned: On my second day there in March 2009, Thuringia Tourism GM Bärbel Grönegres was in Abu Dhabi and promoted medical tourism there to fly to Frankfurt and get the train or a bus to Thuringia. Instead of the existing flight service via Munich. The state development agency LEG had delegations fly from and to Berlin, with train connection from and to Erfurt. We made a 99€ special available to LEG, which they never made use of. How do you want to sell the flights, if the politicians paying for them don’t use them? Result: Instead of replacing Erfurt-Munich (three hours drive, very good train connection) with the recommended Erfurt-Amsterdam, they simply decided to not extend my contract and terminate scheduled services.

So make sure you have your own PTBs behind you (the powers-that-be). State development, tourism, industry, politicians. And not just because they have to, but because they believe in your sales pitch. It’s a team effort. And a team is not a group of people who must work together, but it’s a group of people who trust each other. Emotion.

Emotions are key to successful selling. If you hire a sales manager, find someone emotional. Someone creative. And don’t make them an engineer, you likely have enough of those already, right?

This just applies as much to Sales people as to engineers…
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