The e-Mobility Lie

e-mobility Life Cycle Assessment Greenwashing Volkswagen AG

This weekend German ZDF’s planetⓔ released a documentary about the electric car myth subtitled revolution or barrel burst. In addition, there was an emphatic discussion about hydrogen and mobility on LinkedIn, with very noisy advocates for e-Mobility. So I just wanted to summarize from the documentary some findings that are quite in line with my understanding of the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma and the Road to Climate-Friendly Transportation (beyond flying). And why I consider e-Mobility a lie.

Don’t get me wrong. We need e-Mobility. No better solution for a household with  solar panels on the roof, a battery buffer and a range-demand that allows them to rely on the car. But.

Issue 1: The Batteries

Batterie Raw Materials

National Geographic - Lithium MiningAs you may remember, I keep referring to this article by National Geographic on the devastating cost of Lithium Mining. Lithium being to date the most important component for batteries. And the replacements ain’t any better! In addition, they need some rare minerals, the prices of which are exploding. Guess the “impact” if we replace not just some 100 thousands but millions of cars by electric. We talk about 56 million cars having been produced in 2019 world-wide.

Experts already worriedly question the viability of battery-powered cars and the overly optimistic believe that the battery prices will continue to fall. China is reported to secure world-wide Lithium deposits, European car makers demanding governments to do the same! It just got to public attention recently on the U.S.’s retreat from Afghanistan (source-sample).

Safety

Tesla on FireAnother issue that slowly reaches the public is the issue of batteries catching fire. First major reports were on the Samsung Galaxy 7 catching fire, forcing i.e. an entire airplane evacuation. But searching the Internet, you find also more recent reports aplenty. Also the Boeing 787 experienced a problem with it’s battery catching fire (fortunately on the ground). Attributed by experts to the attempts to miniaturize and push up the battery capacity beyond their “safe margins”. The scientific term used to distract the public attention is Thermal Runaway

Electric Car Fire - CoolingWorse, recently despite their relative low numbers, electric cars are increasingly reported to catch fire. Some at first loading at a standard, approved home loading facility, others while driving. Different from gasoline, a thermal runaway and the resulting battery explosions cause a much higher real danger to the cars passengers. And it does not help to distinguish the fire, but such car must be placed into a water tank for several days to cool down the batteries. And after a fire, such cars usually are beyond any recycling. The picture just one example of the many that can be found on the Internet.

Recycling

eMobility Battery RecyclingIncorrect disposal of Li-ion batteries can have a devastating environmental impact on the environment, sparking the need for recycling (Source). But as the ZDF-report also questions, there is virtually no recycling yet and the recycling comes with a bunch of issues. Like non-standardized components and liability issues, that currently result in a very limited recycling. As mentioned in safety, those liability issues are expected to be quite an issue for anyone attempting recycling. And the missing standards resulting even in different battery packs within the model family of the car makers. Making it even harder to recycle them!

Issue 2: The Energy Consumption

Loading Infrastructure

Full eMobility Loading Stations
Oops. Sorry, all loading stations in use

Again, now today we have the loading stations for electric cars and they are not enough. With the family in “Car City” Braunschweig (Volkswagen), at our owned apartment, there neither are possibilities to load the cars, nor even nearby. Publicly accessible loading stations are usually for 1-2 cars. But what if all cars are electric. You simply got to be kidding, right?

I have personal reports from friends frustrated about their electric car about unavailable loading stations and long waiting times, but there are also many on the web, like this one. Now let’s imagine a parking house that must be equipped with electric vehicle charging stations for all cars? Then imagine, one of those cars catches fire from a thermal runaway…

And here we talk about an industry country like Germany. Now think about less privileged countries…?

Range and Refuel

The three biggest fears of our generationGerman Automotive Club ADAC just recently reported the average range of electric cars being about 350 km (220 miles), up from 250 km (150 miles) five years ago. Thinking about my role as an airline sales manager some years ago, for a road trip, I traveled frequently more than 500 km a day. Then I shall load the car after a half day, sitting around while waiting? Keep in mind, that corporate fleets and rental cars are the main buyers of new cars! And they don’t buy them because they park them most of the time…?

As mentioned before, then we talk about the loading infrastructure i.e. on highway truck stops. Just been stopping at one on one of the busiest German highways. With 8 lanes and 16 loading columns for fossil fuel, and two for electric cars. With two more already waiting in line.

It goes very much in line with the 3 biggest fears of our generation and the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma… Just in case you’re wondering why people still buy (and rent) mostly gasoline-powered cars.

Power Consumption

Power from the Plug GreenwashingThe new Volkswagen ID.4 uses 22.8 kWh per 100 km (Source ADAC). Considering a “typical” average range for a car of 10-15,000 km, we talk about 300 MWh/a. Given 48.2 million cars registered in Germany (German source), we would need about 15 Petawatthours (15,000 TWh/a) one year alone. Any green energy source for that? Germany used 545 TWh/a in 2020… In 2020, about 252 TWh/a were produced from “alternative sources” (aka. green). That would be enough for the power requirement for about 850,000  electric cars…? Reminder, there are 48 million cars roaming German streets.

And sure, all that power comes from the Jack. And sure, it’s all green? Just like German Rail.

The CO2-Saving Lie

Volkswagen ID.3 Life Cycle AssesmentLooking at Volkswagen’s own Life-Cycle Assessment, planetⓔ just compared the CO2 on a single car. And how they used a European basis to lower their CO2 impact, instead of using the German statistics, where the impact is worse than on a normal Diesel. So planetⓔ also understand that in order to reduce CO2 is an energy-challenge, we must reduce the energy consumption, all else is blissful ignorance, cognitive dissonance or simply an outright lie!

The e-Mobility Lie

Change Resistance (shutterstock_210479080 licensed)Like I found on the research for the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma, we must look at the complete picture. Taking a look at some 50 million cars, which is excluding trucks, at 30 tons CO2 on a 15 year life cycle we talk about 2 tons a year per car. Or 100 million tons of CO2 just in Germany. Make your own maths on Europe or the World.

So to make electric cars “sustainable”, green energy is needed. Which takes us back to the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma. And it confirms my opinion that while we must turn aviation climate friendly and start n.o.w.! There are a lot of other areas that all boil back to the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma. Good ideas mentioned by planetⓔ at the end of the report were needs to rethink transportation. The need to reduce the number of cars. Car sharing, better public mass transport systems, etc., etc. And to develop integrated transportation that works for both, the major cities everyone uses as the role model, but also the rural regions.

The Necessity for a Holistic View

outside-inAs I mentioned in my post about Flygskam, we have a very … strange? … view on aviation. As on sustainability. And I hope that journalists like planetⓔ, real impact investors and family office principals interested in real impact start more questioning those views. Stop “airline bashing” as addressed in Flygskam, stop worshipping the golden calf of e-Mobility and understand that we don’t have the luxury to do this or that, but that we need this and that!

Ready Player OneReady Player One? I love SciFi. There’s a lot really good ideas how we could merge individual transportation needs with “public” transportation. But that’s SciFi. We need to take the best ideas and evolve our transportation to sustainable ways in the real world. We must reduce energy. Integrate transport modes. Why does it remind me of the question why the big train stations are not at the airports? The “new” Berlin Airport being a perfectly bad example on this!

Greenwashing Demon (shutterstock_1170455851)
The Greeenwashing-Demon – it’s all about Electricity

But if we don’t solve the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma, if we don’t focus on ways to reduce energy, it’s all lip-services and greenwashing! And if you know investors who are interested to address this on an industrial scale and make real impact while making profit, I have a lot of ideas. Including profitable plans for myself and my industry, turning aviation environmentally friendly. But that’s only my part of the big picture. Though it covers already many complementary ideas we want to realize in other areas.

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome…

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Wind Parks and the Butterfly Effect

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:

butterfly effect
“It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world” – 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?

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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Big Data and AI 2021

Big Data

Big Data

This is a slide from a presentation by Dan Ariely from 2013, which I used first time 2016. Though I wrote also in 2013 my article about Big Data. I used it by chance in a video conference call and it triggered that there is enough new developments again to readdress big data and AI and what’s cooking for 2021 again.

Big Data is Still Like Teenage Sex

Searching for the phrase again, there is a lot of controversy about that slide. Claims that Big Data no longer would be like teenage sex, but serious business. Reading some of the controversies, I can put them all under #wishfulthinking and #cognitivedissonance. Because in most cases Big Data remains a “sales issue”, with little substance.

Aviation + Big Data

Sabre HistorySABRE

Working in aviation, the industry was the leader in “big data management”. SABRE managed inventory and fares from the late 60s, more than half a century now and for the younger ones, that was before the World Wide Web saw the light of the day in 1994.

CheckIn.com

Developing CheckIn.com and compiling the statistical aviation data needed, I wrote about The Numbers Game and other articles, addressing the lack of contemporary data quality in aviation. The current crisis did proof the points. While we have a lot of “flown data”, passenger data triples in with a delay of two months. For CheckIn.com the updates are done on the annual numbers (most on monthly levels). They dribble in slowly until April, very few late-comers in May. Quite a few airports to date have (lame) excuses why they don’t publish monthly figures.

I think this time we got the numbers right ... we just don't know which ones to use.Passenger Statistics

Looking at the different sources, the numbers still differ between airports, ACI, OAG, government statistics (i.e. DESTATIS, EuroStats), you name them. The published monthly numbers often do not sum up to the published total. And we talk about the KPI in the industry, the passenger numbers…? IT’s embarassing that SITA, ACI and others can’t come up with a live availability.

SITA + A-CDM

Eeee...gypt?Looking at A-CDM, SITA keeps talking about the Source of the Most Common Truth. They decide, who knows best. And it often ain’t Mama. My friends at Dubai Technology Partners have a tool to manage the messages that are not standard compliant and also to manage the data discrepancies resulting from those. Excuse me? We have industry players spending time, money and people to manage the airports, airlines and other players not working with consistent data today? Even within the airport, airport operations centers are necessary to make sure the players are working on the same information?

Amazon, Google, Facebook & Co.

Amazon Apple Facebook Google MicrosoftThe only ones I see that manage their big data are actually Amazon, Google, Facebook. Recently learned that for any click on Amazon, they collect some 150 variables on their user. It’s frightening. Then they put you in boxes. Me? In a box? Me, an advocate for #thinkoutsidethebox …

Back in their early days I remember the Google boss said their goal to be not to wait for you to look for a job, but to offer you the right job proactively based on their knowledge of your interests and abilities. Yes, I happen to find that frightening. And by the way, since I cancelled my Prime membership, while I still use it to look for the available selection, but then look on the web for other sources and guess what, so far, there is very little that I needed to buy at Amazon, most I could buy elsewhere, usually with substantial cost savings.

It’s a Trust Thing

Thawte-It's a Trust ThingIn the early 2000s, I was actively supporting e-Mail SSL-encryption, using a service by SSL-provider Thawte. Their motto has settled in me: It’s a Trust Thing. Which is a human thing. And from years of experience I don’t trust “data”. Data does not look you in the eye, it does not understand grayscale, data is Zero or One. Black or White.

Ecosia SearchI use Ecosia as my search engine, doing something good and didn’t regret that yet. I use Tor Browser a lot, not because I have something to hide, but why should I tell companies I don’t know about my preferences? I have an Android phone, but it’s not linked to my PC’s Google and I don’t use the Google Drive – no, I do not trust U.S. companies to keep my data secret. So we use Nextcloud (with OnlyOffice for document sharing). I use LinkedIn still for lack of better option(s), but not just Russia is an example this link is useless. I don’t use Facebook any more, except for linking to friends I might want to inform once we get KOLIBRI.aero running. And you won’t see “Google Analytics” on any of my websites, but Matomo on-premise. Overall, I see the big data giants more hostile than helpful, more for the lazy users, there are better solutions out there having less impact on my privacy.

And then they promote data security, but how comes that we read about the law enforcement officials identifying criminals from WhatsApp feeds? I thought that would be secure? There is very little public discussion how far governments are allowed in their surveillance.

So is Big Data a Good Thing?

Democracy vs. AutocracyIs Big Data really something good? Or is it like the saying from the early 1980s: 1984 was already back in ’77. Just no-one realized it. And yes, that was Pre-Internet.

There are discussions about big data usage in China or in autocratic countries. But didn’t we just learn the past four years how quickly the role-model of Democracy could turn Autocratic, bending all rules? I would really like to replace Putin in the image with Trump. And keep in mind, there were many Americans who voted for Trump for another four years. Yes, we might historically be a bit sensitive on the issue in Germany. At least the ones that don’t deny history.

HackerAs with everything, it’s a question about extremes. In itself, Big Data is not bad, but we need rules, especially ones addressing privacy and limitations. Like what separates the bad from the good? Just because they say so? I keep thinking about the 1998 movie Enemy of the State. As the old proverb says: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or the other saying:

The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions
Food for Thought

Artificial Intelligence?

I keep reminding. I have not seen “Artificial Intelligence” out there yet, just IA: Intelligent Algorithms. It’s why I don’t bother about “AI”-developments much. While IA is good and can improve life. But get me right. IT by itself does not improve sustainability, it’s mostly a profit-driven investing.

And I’m sure, my readers have read my 2016-article addressing Artificial Intelligence.

ASRA 2008 brainnodes vs. internet equals AIThe Sleeping Giant?

The funny back-story, that back in 2004, I’ve used that slide to show that the Internet has more nodes with mostly highly sophisticated processors behind, than the human brain has ganglia. So I keep wondering if there will be a “spontaneous” wake-up of “the Internet” without us realizing. All the while the “experts” work to develop their ideas about it.

And then we come to the question again, if a real AI would become a friend (Heinlein) or a foe (Terminator). Given the parents, a foe would be more likely, though my hopes are that our children always outsmart but respect us. Thinking about the normal human behavior in humans shown in about any of the movies on the net, I strongly advise any waking giant to be very careful about strategically revealing itself.

“Here I am, a brain the size of a planet. And all they ask me is to take you to the bridge”…

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

 

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Post-Corona Aircraft Fleets

Germanwings dotGone

Status Quo

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).

Lufthansa announced their fleet changes, retiring (decommissioning) mostly large aircraft like A380s, A340s and 747s, but also 11 (out of 62) A320s.

Corona Newsticker— 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

Corona Aircraft Groundings
Source: The Air Current via LinkedIn

Having discussed those numbers in a conference call, it seems that there are some interesting factors that impact that graph.

Passenger Cabin Freight Transport in Times of CoronaFreight 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)

Scrapping Boeing 747-400Very 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)

Coronavictim Germanwings

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.

Corona Regional ServicesWhat 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

ATW Webinar PollOptimists 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.

Kristalina Georgierva wans of Great DepressionAs outlines in my Corona Papers, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warns of the worst crisis since the Great Depression 90 years ago!

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.

B737MAX Parking LotNow 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!

Passenger Groups

Operators + Leisure Travel

Family RailIn 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.

Corporate Travel ManagerBusiness Travel

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.

The Immune

Covid-19 SelftestAn 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

A320 A380All 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

Connecting FlightsAs 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

American Airlines Cost of Empty FlightsGiven 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”.

LTN LCCsIn 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.

FlyBE Dash8-Q400 Photo Credit: Ken Fielding via Wikmedia Commons

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.

Beyond Corona

Airlines

airline money burnPending 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.

Get the FactsThe 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.

Investors

Aircraft Investors

KPMG - Talking HeadwindsWith 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

InsourcingSpeaking 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.

Think Airline

Ground Damage

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.

Think Aircraft

Natural Leader LemmingsNow, 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?

Think Different

KOLIBRI.aero - agile everywhereSince 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.

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Why Do Airlines Keep Failing

Cognitive Dissonance Resolution

Recently, I attended the ISHKA conference Investing in Aviation Finance: Germany in Munich where one session addressed Why are airline bankruptcies still happening in a booming environment?

There are some, very few, very common reasons. And auditing airline business plans, start-ups and established, I keep raising the same questions.

What’s Your Business?

Back in the 90’s, I became the honorary member of the Airline Sales Representatives Association in Frankfurt. Aside the narrow-minded thinking of sales managers denying to understand that the emerging Internet was about sales channels, it kept and keeps bugging me, that they focused on their “sales channels”, denying responsibility for the new channels, as they had to be handled “by others”. In the beginning and to date, many if not most airlines have no personal e-Mail-contacts for their customers, be it travelers, travel agencies or online portals. The same applies to their smartphone numbers.

My former boss Louis Arnitz used a historic lesson to explain the change we faced converting FAO Travel, a “classic” business travel agency into i:FAO, the first European business travel portal. In the 19th century, rail companies built the railroads of America. Replacing the Pony Express. Then came those crazy flyers, “aviators”, in their small machines transporting mail. To date rail and air travel are not “connected” (very few exceptions). Because the managers understood the building of steel railroads as their business. Not the transport of people. And they still focus on the wrong priorities. Airline and Rail managers alike.

11 years ago, I wrote about the revival of the sales manager.

Know Your Cost

Speaking about Sales Managers ignorance to the cost of their airline’s operation, I found the fish stinks from the head first being a true proverb. I’ve met too many investors, airline managers, airport managers, not understanding the cost involved. Then they try to compete on the price with the large, established airlines. I have no idea, what those managers learned, I heavily doubt the quality of university education…

The recent failure of Ernest is a “classic”. They take little money, rent Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 family airplanes, in case of Ernest 1 A319 and 3 A320. Then they buy software licenses (COTS, Commercial Off The Shelf). They buy ground handling and maintenance. Something I learned studying Whole Sale & Foreign Economics  35 years ago: If you outsource, it is either more expensive or you they safe from the service levels they provide.

Something I keep telling about consulting. If you need someone with special knowledge for a short time, you “outsource”, you hire a consultant to do the job. If you need something long-term, you hire a consultant to develop the know-how within your company. Again, the job for the consultant is short term.

A ship engine failed, no one could fix it. Then they brought in a man with 40 years on the job. He inspected the engine carefully, top to bottom. After looking things over, the guy reached into his back and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched to life. The engine was fixed! 7 days later the owners got his bill for 10K. ‘What?!’ the owners said. ‘You hardly did anything. Send us an itemized bill.’ The reply simply said: 1. Tapping with a hammer. $2 — 2. Knowing where to tap: $9,998. -Don’t Ever Underestimate Experience.-

In both cases you pay for the experience.

Airline managers that do not understand their real CASK, their Cost per Available Seat Kilometer (or mile as CASM), are not doing their job! Airline managers that fire good people because they are “too expensive”, airline managers that save on “service”, don’t understand reputation and brand as important are being doomed from the outset.

So these airline startups come and believe that with some 10 million Euro, leasing the same (but usually older) aircraft, pay for outsourced maintenance, IT, ground handling, etc., etc. They truly believe they can “succeed” in the shark pond where an easyJet owns 70-80% of their fleet. Only some 20-25% being still paid off (until they own them), less than 3% being leased to cover for ad hoc demand. Where they run their own maintenance operation, their own ground handlers where they can. Then they have established processes and understanding of the cost of disruptions and delays – and cover them with an own fleet of spare aircraft. Do those small airline operators have any spare aircraft on hand when their aircraft fails them?

From Cobalt, Germany, Primera (alphabetical order), feedback said “disruption cost”, attributed i.e. to EU261 “passenger rights” to having been a major reason for their financial troubles. Still, most business plans, I was asked to have a look at last year failed to address that issue at all. Or they used “easyJet figures”, neglecting the fact that easyJet has a spare fleet to cover and minimize the effects of flight disruptions.

Even large airlines’ network managers keep ignoring those cost factors and then get surprised when a route fails. Others go to considerable lengths to understand the typical delays they incur on specific routes. Caused by the ground handler, the departure and/or arrival airport, taxi times, the air traffic control – or simply common weather issues like fog in Stuttgart.

So taking all those common and neglected factors into account: What’s your cost? CASK is one value for the entire company – do you understand the performance on the specific route or airport? Why is it often the same airports “failing”? Maybe they shouldn’t be overly optimistic but be more realistic? And yes, that is the same airports believing if they reduce the landing fee, it would have some decision making impact on the airlines’ cost. It’s that level of non-understanding that causes constant and ongoing failures – not just for newcomers or small airlines.

What’s Your USP

Shortly prior their demise, a board member of Cobalt answered my question about their USP: “We’re Cypriot.”
Say what? Competing against easyJet and other low cost and classic network carriers, that is all there is for a USP?

His second answer about USP was “We’re cheaper.”
Okay. You operate 2 A319 and 4 A320. easyJet operates what, more than 330 A320 family aircraft. You think you’re “cheaper”? Really?

Another airline answered my same standard question with: We fly different routes.
Well… Hard to not be nasty. They just wonder that on their most successful routes, the other, bigger carriers kick their butts and take over those routes.

Carolin McCall understood “service” to be a difference maker. Since her leave, very quickly they dropped from my “role model” and preferred airline to “me too”. Taking over aircraft from Air Berlin with additional and “bulkier” seats, I suddenly experienced less leg space. Their airport manager at one of their hubs found himself quickly “obsolete”, the new paradigm being “cost savings”. In turn they seized my (half-sized) cabin bag due to “full overheads”. Aside the seat next to me being empty, there was more than enough space below the seat. Heard meanwhile from many frequent flyers they no longer wait if they have an aisle seat but make sure they have their seat and the cabin baggage with them. Would be indeed interesting to have some statistics how that impacts boarding time.

So what’s your USP? Price? Okay Mr. O’Leary… But what’s an LCC? Ryanair flies into the big airports recently. That’s another story I plan to address in the new year. So again, what’s your USP? How can you secure that people buy your product, that it’s not simply exchangeable with some cheaper airline? Back 35+ years, my boss in whole sale told me: “There’s always someone cheaper.” And several years later, the boss of “low cost airline” Continental Gordon Bethune said:

A good airline is defined by CUSTOMER SATISFACTION not just cost per available seat mile - Gorden Bethune 1996

Interesting enough, in my recent qualification in Online Marketing, P.R., I learned the same values being valid in the online world. Nothing new. What’s your USP? Know your Strengths, Weaknesses, Oportunities and Threats – internally and externally and build your business case. Then you come to your own USPs. And you will likely not invest into some airlines with a few aircraft. Or into aircraft owners with a few A320 or B737 aircraft they try to place in a sated market. If you’re an investor (or know such), send them over to Kolibri.aero

The Virtual Airline

airline money burnAs mentioned above and before and again. I usually don’t believe in the survival of virtual airlines. A few leased aircraft of the same kind than their competitors, outsourced IT, ground handling, maintenance and other “services”, often even the call and service center (to “GSAs”). Then they believe to be competitive to the large players. If you operate in an un- or under-served market, you may be able to ask for the higher ticket prices required by your increased cost levels. Most airlines I see trying to take off or change their business to survive try to compete to the large network and low cost carriers, but without a secure market (using the same aircraft).

Aviation – and the dying continues … Look at the fleet, at complexity at size and type. Do they have spare(s) in case of disruptions? How much do they fly (make money)? Look at the pricing model and if that reflects the higher CASK. I’ve not seen a single failure in the past years that was not clearly a result of those common causes.

Food for Thought
Comments Welcome!

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Airport Marketing Hide & Seek

Working in aviation marketing on CheckIn.com and recently on research related to airline route development, it makes me mad to see how

airports mismanage their data

Passenger Statistics

I think this time we got the numbers right … we just don’t know which ones to use.

For more than 10 % of the airports, using two main sources for data (airport, Wikipedia) and cross checking with the industry source, the ANNA.aero “databases” (Excel files, not “data sources) the data does not compute! So we spend an awful amount of time not just collecting that data, mostly from complicated pages that we have to manually scan, but the data we get, proves then to be “approximate” on core numbers like “passengers” handled by the airports. As reported before, ANNA.aero disqualified for us for anything but a cross-check, once we learned that even within their Excel files, the sum of the months does not necessarily compute to the given annual total… The same we found true on the “usual suspect” sources.

Asking the airports for their last passenger numbers, many cannot give them on a monthly basis, many give us numbers that are obviously wrong but most don’t even bother to answer. Where we get numbers, often they are a table in a Word document or an e-Mail, often in a PDF where if you try to copy that very table to a spreadsheet, it comes out as unformatted text, causing more work. Not to talk about image-files, where you must extract them, writing them off that image… With more than 600 airports we happen to have on file at CheckIn.com, that is no fun, that is frustrating.

Know your numbers? Not an issue at airports. Digital? Naaw, why bother?

Landing & Handling Fees

Every landing you walk away from is a good one

The last months, we approached airports under route planning constraints, asking them for a given aircraft type and load (giving also MTOW and seats) for the cost for the landing and handling at their airport. As we did not find their Standard Ground Handling Agreement and fees online. Maybe we missed to find it, but excuse me, is that our problem? Where we found them, they are often outdated (more than three years old), headlining the year of validity, so factual outdated.

Out of 63, only a good dozen replied within three weeks. Out of those replies, only five responses where useful. Five. The others responded sending us their files, often only landing or handling, frequently not both. Only some of those warned us, referring us to the ground handling companies.

Excuse me? We ask an average cost. Even your ground handlers have an average handling cost. You don’t know? So what do you sell me?

That route planning friend I referred to in my December post (promoted Jan 1st) just told me this week, he doesn’t have faith in airport marketing. Only very few would do their job right and focus on facts. Most would focus on fiction. And he reminded me of my December post and Erfurt.

Airport Marketing – Fact of Fiction?

“Wow, I had FIVE super discussions today…” “Don’t worry, I’ve not sold anything either…!”

Honestly, I have no idea. I had faith in my fellow marketing colleagues at airports. But most what I get is “dreamlands”. Digging into the numbers, you find black holes the size of a galaxy. You find logical mistakes. What you don’t find is the numbers you need as an airline. Guesswork. Ideas. Biased ideas at that. Brings me back to my friend. He confirmed, even with their established, substantial size, they had the same problem with airport fees, keep having them with about any new airport they consider flying to. That’s why one day they have to send someone there and inquire on-site. Bug them until the numbers are on the table. And usually he says: “Usually, that takes too much time”.

Are we living in a digital world? We may. Airports still mostly does not.

My friend told me: This is why Routes is such a success. Because you still need to talk to the airports to get what you need. No, they do not provide that on their website. No, they do not understand how to provide data (spread sheet, not Word, PDF or a fancy “image”). Not ANNA.aero, Route Shop or Routes Exchange, where he confirmed to me, he does not find any facts but fancy “marketing” without foundation. Our comparison we did for him of our catchment area findings compared to those sources he said proved most valuable to him – internally and externally. If they don’t even use a free service like ours to compare and qualify their guesstimates, if they cannot respond to the offset, how to trust any figures they provide you?

He calls TheRouteShop and Routes Online the “big show-off stages” (on- and offline). He says, his and his team’s main function is to look behind that show-off, to find out where it’s trustworthy facts and where an empty hull. Assess the risk. “Their job should be to provide us the facts to make sound decisions. All they do is adding smoke screens and to boast.”

Strategic Directions?

Food for Thought…
Comments welcome!

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Polar Vortex + Collaboration

Sure, now that North America again suffers from extreme winter, experts arguing if it’s another “Polar Vortex”, there is some background on Business Insider. Fact is, it hit North America hard again, causing major flight disruptions, not only in the North, but also “down South”. Suddenly I experience a surge of interest in “Deicing Management”.

The major issue I am asked is how to keep the airport operational, whereas that is the wrong approach. You can’t fight Mother Nature, not even Mr. President can, no matter how god-like he believes to be. You can manage the repercussions. You can minimize the impact, optimize the handling to recover quickly from an airport closure.

This must be more seen on a collaborative approach and I just thought to come back to the typical questions once again, as they reappear these days. If you’re interested, there are quite some posts on this blog addressing disruption management or A-CDM.

No, there is no “quick panacea” for this. Any deicing manager should be able to tell you that you cannot change a running winter operation, you implement the changes outside the season, train your staff and improve the processes. Listen to them!

A common question is: “Which software tool?”

Clear as can be, there is no “software panacea” either. In North America, the closest thing in my experience is Saab-Sensis Aerobahn. In most cases of who’s asking, it simply is overkill. First step is to start to collaborate. Deicing is not an issue of the ground handler, or the airline, or the airport, but the ground handler, the airline and the airport. All together. If you don’t collaborate, the tools don’t help you. If your processes are “stand alone” and not integrated into a master process “turn around”, using a software does not help you. There are tools that work that can help you improve your processes, but most my inquiries end here. For some reason, airport (and airline) managers seem to believe (almost a religious faith) that they need software to solve their problems. It is hard to explain that they need to “think”, that it might be more reasonable to invest into a consulting, sitting together, looking at the processes, talking to the stakeholders and in a proper process start the transformation to collaborative decision making, starting potentially with deicing.

Another common question: “But this only works on large airports?”

Yes and no. The large airports are usually more bureaucratic, have developed “structures”, or more accurately “silo structures”. Where on small airports there is a natural collaboration as people have multiple functions and small hierarchies, the large airports have departments that tend to separate themselves from the larger good. Exaggerating, each department is the only valuable, the only one understanding, the hub of the(ir limited) universe. The other departments only interfere and make things difficult. That silo thinking is more common the larger the company. But also small airports have the possibility to establish a collaborative approach. They might not even need software to do that…? Software can overcome the workers reluctance to share information by doing it for them. And speeding up data exchange instead of waiting that someone shares an information. As we discussed in the LinkedIn group CDM@airport many times, A-CDM is not about technology, but about collaboration. That is people first. The technology is a tool.

Aircraft Rotations, Winter Operations and Forecasting

In the discussions, I keep emphasizing to look beyond the individual airport and think about the airlines involved. Their flights get delayed or worse, they get stuck. Bad enough at the airport, the aircraft is expected to fly to more than one city. In 2014, JetBlue had to cancel all flights for a day to “reset” the network, bring aircraft and crews where they were supposed to be (and give the crews the legally required rest). Thousands of travelers were stranded during the 2014 Polar Vortex disruptions. The same year, I discussed with Zürich about the possibility to proactively inform the airlines about the delay forecast, enabling them to cancel a flight to Zürich to avoid it getting stuck there. It lead to the hen-egg issue, if then enough airlines cancel their flights, there would be no delay…? An idea was a penalty/bonus-system, giving an airline that helps avoiding a delay situation today a priority on their departure tomorrow. The idea was disqualified implying the airlines’ inability to understand and agree on the concept…

Just some more

Food for Thought
Comments welcome

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Changing Roles

Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.

As many of the readers of this blog know, I am somewhat personally attached to that little airport in Central Germany, Erfurt-Weimar.

Last week I was taken into a discussion by Thuringia’s Minister President Bodo Ramelow, about how to stop the down-spiral of emigrating Thuringians. Which reminded me about the likewise discussion we had in 2009 shortly before I joined Erfurt Airport with the task to stop their downward-spiral on their passengers.

Real Life Example

What I was faced with was an extremely negative image of the airport within the region. And a lot of demands on how to do business from amateurs in the industry, politicians, tourist offices, etc.

First day at work, the GM of Tourism Thuringia, Bärbel Grönegres was quoted in the local newspaper (TA, 02Mar09), having visited the United Arab Emirates to promote medical tourism to Thuringia. Having a Munich-Erfurt flight by Lufthansa-Partner Cirrus Airlines at the time, she recommended the Arabs to take a flight to Frankfurt, to be picked up with a bus for a +3 hour tour to Thuringia. Tourism material did not contain reference to the airport. Questioned about the reason, her reply was “Who knows, how much longer we will have that flight”. Ever since, that became a prime example I use for “negative thinking” or “calling for disaster”.

The next winter, the Thuringian Olympic athletes brought home a record number of medals. But at the following ITB, it was more important to promote Franz Liszt, who lived a dozen years in Weimar. The fact that the Russian-Orthodox chapel, Grand Dutchess Maria Pavlovna who’s invitation brought him to Weimar has built and got buried in is under direct protectorate of the Russion Orthodox “pope”, the Patriarch, such making it a pilgrimage site for the Russian Orthodox church has completely failed to trigger any support by Weimar or Thuringia Tourism. Air Berlin reported it to be a “known reason” for a substantial part of their Russian Berlin-passengers to add Weimar to their travel plans.

In order to promote the government-funded route, after fierce discussions, Cirrus Airlines agreed to offer a low-cost ticket at 99€ return, having only about 6€ after the high taxes on the ticket. That offer was made available especially to the Thuringian government offices and the state development agency (LEG). Nevertheless, LEG planned and executed delegations traveling with the train to Berlin to take flights from Berlin, instead of promoting the route. The same also for the ministries and ministers. Even the responsible minister taking flights from Frankfurt and Munich instead of using the PSO-route he signed responsible for. During the months we’ve actively promoted that 99€-fare also to the industry and the travel agencies and also had it largely available, not one of the flights used up the 99€ tickets allocated to them. Being at the verge of a bankruptcy, Cirrus Airlines finally ceased to operate that route in December 2010.

By the time, working with the local industry associations, political parties I have been able to increase the passenger numbers by about 20 percent. In fact, to date, the airport is far from the 320 thousand passengers I left them with. With Weimar being the neighboring but historically better known city internationally, I pushed forward the renaming to Erfurt-Weimar with the attempt to improve the incoming for the airport. Paid almost completely from the limited marketing budget. A strategic decision executed after our parting-of-ways in December 2010 after my two-year contract was not extended in the wake of the retreat of Cirrus Airlines. A strategic decision though made obsolete by the “political” decision by traffic minister Christian Carius to not replace the route as I recommended with an Amsterdam-service. Sad decision indeed, as with our parting ways, the discussions with KLM were simply discontinued (KLM calling my number reached someone speaking German only, I was gone) and despite their interest in a PSO (public service obligation) financial route support, we had discussed flights based on mere startup incentives and marketing support.

Opposing myself ongoing subsidies, to demand a route but to leave the (substantial) risk completely with the airline is neither the answer. Whereas comparing the CheckIn.com-data about airport catchment areas with the data provided by airports we found that data to be completely off-set in a majority of cases. It caused us to make basic data available for free. But if the data provided by the airport is not hard, but guesstimates or outright lies, when the airline starts a flight based on that data, the airline takes the risk. To not only does the airport sneak out of the responsibility, they increase the airlines’ risk – is that a game? Or serious business?

Fraport Bulgaria’s more than doubled “population within two hours” can not result from the “drive time off-sets implied by Fraport Bulgaria investigating the discrepancy.

Changing Roles

Now since I started in aviation 30 years ago, the market has drastically changed. In the good old days, there were (often highly subsidized) “national airlines”, used to promote the country. Back in my early days, the airlines were the executive for the tourist offices and also worked closely with commercial development agencies. But ever since, those national airlines have either adapted or went out of business. The emerging “low cost” airlines virtually evaporated the income of the airlines, competition becoming fierce.

As I keep emphasizing with my updated image of Purchasing Power and Airports, there is a relation between a strong airport and the regional purchasing power. It is indeed a hen/egg issue, but if you are a small airport in a weak region, maybe it makes sense to consider how to attract travel (tourism, commerce) to your region. Not how to drain your region of the money by sending the population to the Mediterranean for vacation, but by having incoming, scheduled services, by adding point-to-point routes and to attract low cost airlines.

If we do not talk about PSO (Public Service Obligation) where the government pays for basic flight services, if you build an airport and wait for airlines to find you, keep on sleeping (and burning money). So if you are a small airport and you have little to no money, what can you do?

Having an airport is not enough any more.

The airport is part of the region’s infrastructure. As such, it needs to be integrated into a political and commercial strategy. Whereas in the example of Erfurt-Weimar, the airport is being kept as a scapegoat, being challenged in one sentence for the aviation noise (a good joke with so few flights) and for not having flights. A political punch-ball.

Other, successful airports like Memmingen in Southern Germany are integrated into and understood as a strategic value for the regional development. In fact, Memmingen is not politico-owned but owned by more than 60 co-owners from the region’s industry. Such, instead of being a scapegoat for political power games, everyone in the region understands the need to actively support the airport. Anyone harassing the airport confronts everyone in the region. A political suicide!

At Erfurt, I was asked to establish flights to Moscow. One company. 10 employees. Even with a small (expensive) 50-seat aircraft and weekly flights only (which are usually not sufficient for commercial demand), we talk about 40 seats by 52 weeks in two directions or 4.160 tickets to sell every year. But for a decent offer that is useful to the industry, you need at least twice weekly flights.

Leaving that task to attract airlines to the airport alone, at the same time running blame games and scapegoating, the airport cannot justify such flight. But what if the state development agency and the chambers of commerce, on demand by the political PTBs (powers-that-be) qualify the demand from all those small and midsized companies? Not on a low-cost, but with reasonable ticket prices. Not at prime time at the maximum risk for the airline. Maybe instead of a weekly, can the region sustain a double or even triple-weekly flight making it interesting for the companies in the region? Are those companies willing to support the launch period by committing to use the flight, even if slightly more expensive than a flight from Frankfurt or Berlin? Keep in mind, the people have to get there, you also pay for gasoline/parking or rail. Transport to those hubs is not free either. And the longer check-in times make them even less attractive, right?

Interesting approach. I’ve talked to several smaller airports where they agreed that their chamber of commerce and regional development agencies “pre-purchased” tickets at the cost of the average ticket price needed to cover the operational cost. Then they to sell it to their members. Not covering the full cost of operations, but simply taking their share of the risk! Why should they not, if they believe in the numbers and data they provide to the airline to promote their business case?

Then talk about Tourism. Given such flight, are the local tourism PTBs ready to promote such flight in the outlying region? What about other promotion? Don’t leave it to the airport! Is there a joint concept by the political PTBs, the state development and commerce PTBs, the tourism PTBs on what flight they want, how they will promote the flights?

“We have an airport”. That’s nice. But not enough.

And for a Minister President even only on a state level? You better think about a strategy. Or close down the airport. Having flight to summer vacation is not enough. It drains money from your region into those destinations. What’s in it for you? Why do you fund an airport? No scheduled services? No incoming? Do your homework.

Changing Roles

It’s no longer the job of the airline to promote your region! They simply don’t have the funds to do that. It’s not their business case.

It is the job of the political, commercial and tourism PTBs to qualify what they finance an airport for and come up with ideas and business cases for airlines to take the risk to fly there. And no, a “business case” is not necessarily paying subsidies. If you have a good business case that the airline will make money on the route by flying paying passengers, I can rest assure you that the airline will prefer that over subsidies that are usually associated to political nightmares.

Compiling sound numbers is a good start… And yeah, I might be willing to help you with that.

Food for Thought!
Feedback welcome…

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Narrow-Minded Management

Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.

Content

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, ANNA.aero, 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.

  • ANNA.aero 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 ANNA.aero’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 ANNA.aero’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 ANNA.aero). 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
Comments welcome!

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Juergen is one of the very few people, I really mean, VERY FEW, people that understand both airlines and airports.
Which Network???

At the recent Hamburg Aviation Conference one of the speakers questioned all those airport different apps. And it reminded me of my issue about a common login process for the airport wifis. But then he questioned, that all those apps simply don’t make it to the users first screen. Initially 16, meanwhile on the larger phones more like 24 apps fighting for the attention of the user.

Then my friend Erica forwarded me that Wired-article, addressing the increasing problems the news-industry has with their advertising-driven business model. Which reminds me of those magazines I happen to read. And I simply thought, what they do wrong from my very personal point of view.

What is the advantage of Google, Facebook and those new players? If is their ability to intelligently and dynamically associate my interests and provide me with the information I am interested in. To show me that on the first page. Without omitting other possibly interesting information. Even the advertising is targeted (which requires mass). And we happen to believe that intelligence.

Until we switch to the time-line view. In Facebook with /?sk=h_chr – in LinkedIn no such URL-tweak since Microsoft took over, but if you use the browser you can hover your mouse on the … on the right above the first news, selecting “Recent Updates”. Yes, I use Google, but I understand they also mix advertising in. But…

Ow-my-gawd, but I’m German, what about my personal data and stuff?

That was another topic we discussed in Hamburg. Travelers and readers are willing to give personal information … If. It. Makes. Sense.

No, I do not want to drop my pants for a general news headline or another “case study”. And I do not like to use “real data” when someone asks me to download this nice new study they did. Have Feivel Mousekewitz on your mailing list bouncing? Good chance I’ve accessed data without seeing the need why I should add myself to a mailing list of yours. Oh yes, and I assign “custom e-Mail” to many of those and it’s wondrous who sends me advertising and how quickly on many of those “trusted business partners”!

And I do not want to get another app. Ages ago, I decided to limit myself to 10 newsletters and two or three social networks. Facebook I use mostly privately. LinkedIn for business. And LinkedIn being “difficult” both in Russia and China is an issue of concern. Google+ I dropped. I use airline apps on my travels, in fact only to get the boarding pass into my phone’s “wallet”. I used some apps for airport information, just recently learned about FLIO and try that now. But pay? Or apply profile? What’s in it for me? I like TripIt to take track of my travels, though since it was acquired by Concur and Concur by SAP it’s anything but perfect. Same as with Skype and LinkedIn since they got part of Microsoft.

But yes, it is a constant fight for space on my first smart phone screen. Or for my PC’s Windows start menu (which I customize for the sake of finding what I “need”). Yes, I’d like a single (trusted!) app to do it all.

I use phone (1), messages (2, SMS, iMessage), Facetime (3) and Viber (4, video calls), mail (5), calendar (6) and address book (7). Camera (8) and camera library (9), eBook-Reader (10), Musicplayer (11), Videoplayer (12). Maps/Navigation (13) and weather (14). Facebook (15), LinkedIn (16), browser (17). Twitter, Skype, WeChat, etc. are on the secondary page. I use Shazam (18) to identify songs I hear somewhere. Threema (19, secure messenger), Trello (20) and PayBack (21, shopping loyalty card). Amazon and IP-TV were moved to secondary pages too. A single (trusted) general news source (22). And AirVideo (23) for at home access to our video archive. My phone only has 24 spots, so the last one is used “ad hoc” as needed. For Hamburg Aviation Conference they asked to use Slack (which did not make it to my permanent apps). Routes has its own App. Where would I put “airports”? Even as a frequent traveler, I have either Wallet on the first page for travels. Or maybe FLIO. There was a time I had four or five screens. I have two left. A third if you consider the “travel” folder with all those travel apps I only need on occasion.

Want to make it to my phone? What shall I remove for the sake of your app?

So I think, the airports must ask themselves, it it truly makes sense to bet all their money on their app. Or if they should look for an aggregator, providing their information from a single app. If I travel i.e. from Berlin via London to Belfast, that I do not need three apps, but a single one. If I use the commercial lounge in London, same app. If I want to use WiFi inflight and enroute, same app. But that requires common standards. Which brings me back to Data Silos and the need of common interface standards I addressed in my last post and will address at PTE.

We need common interface standards.
We need to tear down the silos.
We need to communicate.

Food for Thought!
Comments welcome

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