Compulsive Narrative Syndrome – SciFi or Reality?

Shepherd, Joel - 23 Years on Fire

Reading another, new SciFi (my way to relax my brain) triggered with an idea (not scientifically proven) of the Compulsive Narrative Syndrome. Intriguing. And yes, quite in line with my own “experience”. So is it really “Science Fiction”?

Ain’t that how it works? An assumption, then the scientific proof (or disqualification)? And how much that started in SciFi do we see in action today?

If you like SciFi, maybe you find Joel Shepherd an interesting addition to your books collection. If you read German, the first part of the series is currently on sale (i.e. buecher.de). And no, no profit from such recommendation.

The Concept

Here’s the way the concept is described in the novel:

Shepherd, Joel - 23 Years on Fire introducing the Compulsive Narrative Syndrome.The human brain is trained to look for and identify patterns, but in abstract concepts, fixed and unarguable facts are hard to find. So the brain looks for narratives instead, stories that can tie together various ideas and facts in a way that seems to make sense, to make a pattern. And the human brain, always seeking a pattern as a basic cognitive function, will latch onto a narrative pattern compulsively, and use that pattern as a framework within which to store new information, like a tradesman honing his skill, or someone learning a new language.

That’s why religions tell such great stories, the story makes a pattern within which everything makes sense. A synchronicity of apparent facts. Political ideologies, too. Humans are suckers for a great story because we can’t resist the logical pattern it contains.

When you’re learning a new skill, discarding irrelevant information and organizing the relevant stuff within that framework is good. But in ideologies, it means any information that doesn’t fit the ideological narrative is literally discarded, and won’t be remembered . . . which is why you can argue facts with ideologues and they’ll just ignore you. They’re not just being stubborn, their brains are literally structurally incapable of processing what they perceive as pattern-anomalous data.

That’s why some ideologues get so upset when you offer facts that don’t match their pattern, it’s like you’re assaulting them.

From SciFi to Reality

Most my “novel” ideas ain’t mine. I just try to find practical applications.

The concept of the Hyperlook has long ago been visualized by Roger Leloup.1971 (yes, 40 years ago and as a kid) I became a fan of Roger Leloup, spending my pocket money on comics. And when Hyperloop became a buzz, I couldn’t help it to remember Leloup’s Vinean transport system.

We all know the Star Trek communicator. Ain’t that surprising similar to our today’s smart phones? With Google Translate, we can even talk to it, translating on the fly – and as far as I can tell, even German or English to Albanian works rather well. Not (yet) on previously unknown languages, but I believe we will get there.

ASRA 2008 brainnodes vs. internet equals AIAnd the buzz-topic A.I.? Aside the fact that all A.I. I learn of still is just I.A. – more or mostly less sophisticated Intelligent Algorithms. Back in 2008 I used that image of global nodes next to human brain synapses to question if we’re sure there’s no real A.I. yet. And if we’d recognize if there would be? By now, we talk about highly complex processors behind all of those nodes, the sheer computing power making it more likely by the day that our mighty Internet “wakes up”. Then we talk about i.e. Heinlein and Malcolm Croft or Athena?

And now comes a new, quite intriguing concept of the Compulsive Narrative Syndrome. Just SciFi? Or quite realistic in fact?

And Kolibri?

Go Carbon-Neutral This DecadeI just recently discussed our ideas for sustainable aviation. They are not new either. And more like a logical development from my first ideas about a hydrogen-powered WIG in 2008 as a n example to senior airline managers to think about sustainability. Then making use of current developments and understanding the merits of SynFuel. And thanks to discussions with Sustainable Aero Lab (thanks Mario!) leading to my understanding of the Sustainability-Energy Dilemma. But it’s in line with Ndrec and my believe in “social responsibility” and “sustainability” … beyond climate!

But while yes, our ideas could be “copied”, it took us more than a year and a joined effort incorporating the help of global subject matter experts, to make this a viable business plan. Yes, it can be copied, but with a steep and expensive learning curve. And we found “classic aviation managers” to be mostly blind on real “sustainability”. Having no idea about their Road to Environment-Friendly Flying, not even bothering about Social Responsibility or Sustainability. It’s a reason we plan with a team of open minded subject matter experts and not some famous names, except as advisors. And why we don’t plan taken over an existing airline with their expensive and inflexible and traditional process and thinking heritage.

Industry Scale Impact Investing

Kolibri - disrupt aviationTo make a real change, you need a team of entrepreneurs thinking outside the box. Way outside the box. But with an experience on pioneering work, overcoming the Bumps on the Road to Sustainability, making things happen. Because to change an industry, to change aviation, we also need investors with the might and the interest to support us doing the change.

It’s a sorry fact that mostly we hear lip-services and excuses, those investors sticking to their modus operandi, just adding ESGs for their own little greenwashing projects and playing things “safe” (known), else still focusing on quick financial returns. Invest in a bit *tech, add to the energy-dilemma, but ignore any industrial-scale change? Ain’t that what the Compulsive Narrative Syndrome addresses?

While Impact Investment is about making an impact first, while also making money, we talk about turning industries climate-friendly and socially responsible. While our plans sure secure the (risk-adjusted) ROI, the plans are long-term, bold and the startup investment is to start the journey (launch the airline) but we plan on a realistic decade for our goal of carbon-neutral (climate-friendly) flying. With sustainable and social responsible milestones and investments from the outset.

Cognitive Dissonance and the Compulsive Narrative Syndrome

So is the Compulsive Narrative Syndrome a source for Cognitive Dissonance? In my opinion it’s tightly linked. The Compulsive Narrative Syndrome the source for Cognitive Dissonance?

Food for Thought!
comments welcome…—

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So What Is YOUR Impact?

Discussing about the individual impact we make, the topic gains interest. What is your own, personal net-impact to our planet? So I decided to summarize some of the posts and comments I had on the topic on LinkedIn.

In line with previous posts about #lipservices, #cognitivedissonance and #wishfulthinking. And a #realitycheck for others, claiming “sustainability” that they do not deliver upon.

Self-Esteem over Sustainability

Bezos Musk Gates (c) CNBCA clear article on it was today’s post by SEDO-founder Tim Schumacher Search: “People should only be classed as billionaires when they remove a billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.” referring to the CNBC article questioning the sustainability investments of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) and Bill Gates (Microsoft founder).

In my comment, I emphasized that we need no ESG, but #sustainabilityaccounting. And much of what I see from these and other investors is showing their response to their conscience, focusing their activities on things they understand, but also things that have an impact to their self-esteem. And there was also this Open Letter to Bill Gates, reflecting on his #cognitivedissonance or #lipservices. I believe it’s simply cognitive dissonance. Keep in mind, these people also live in their social (media) bubble.

Role Models

Image Daily MailYesterday, there was a report about industry leader/face James Hogan, former CEO of Etihad, caught in the act, trying to circumvent the Corona rules in place. It underlined my post two weeks ago, that we have airlines skipping pre-flight corona-testing regime. A disservice to an industry trying very hard to make flying safe! I’m sure he regrets that idea now, not having considered the repercussions of being caught.

#cognitivedissonance: While flying itself may be safe, passengers aren’t! Anyone claiming flying to be “safe” shall better keep in mind that the virus spreads and new variants keep spreading by travelers. Also and a lot pre-tested passengers are infected but not yet positive, they then spread the virus in their destination.

#weareallinthistogether and the only safety I see in the vaccinations. And this ain’t the new measles I compared to early in the pandemic (May ’20), but more like the flu. A vaccination not available to everyone (yet). About which U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warns of #vaccinationalism. Also claiming the climate emergency. A caller in the dark?

The European Sustainability Bank

Then, let me talk about the decision makers at European Investment Bank (EIB). Claiming to be the European Sustainability Bank. In a conference by Geneva Macro Labs, I asked their head of climate office Elina Kamenitzer on her claim that they do green investments: Are there any success stories that proof the impact, the “impact” targets achieved ever since? Well, no. They “have to look into that now.” It’s about time.

Others are faster, but we have a PLANI also reached out to my now ex-point of contact in EIB, about a co-investment into our impact plans. With (a cheap) reference to their Roadmap and the decision there to not finance conventionally fueled aircraft (page 102), he disqualified any investments into aviation. In utter ignorance of what I believe he understood (I did remind him), that we have plans that are not aircraft-funding related. But i.e. development into a synfuel-ecosphere. Our plans cover all of the 17 SDGs, mostly with quantifiable targets that we sure plan to exceed on. If you’re convinced to do the right thing, that comes as a natural.

But that ain’t what the bureaucrats at EIB look at, is it?

So back to the article topic:

What is Your Impact?

Impact InvestingThere is a petition against greenwashing on Change.org I urge you to sign! Discussing on that one, we had several discussions on how to define greenwashing. Whereas family office principals told me ESG would be the role model for greenwashing. A good idea, meanwhile abused. There may be some investors who understand the meaning of it. But not many.

It is the same about claims to be “sustainable”. Another family office principal told me, that out of the 2020 impact investments, only 4% were having clear impact to improve on SDGs. 96% were disqualified as they just claimed without goals and targets but simple claims misreading the causes. Nice if you plan SDG5 Gender Equality on your hiring process, but without clear targets on how to improve. Or if you abuse SDG9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure for your “innovative IT project”.

Only Net Impact is Real Impact

We came to the conclusion that real impact is about net impact. And that “impact” is about reduction of the strain we put on the planet. To reduce power consumption by 10% but planning to increase the total power needs by 30% is intentional abuse of the sustainability claim.

There are many good examples out there, beyond what we plan at Kolibri. But we speak a lot with investors that want to cash-in on us before we launched. And investors, investing little money into small projects, more like a philanthropy, but an impact investment. Paying for a clean conscience, paying for their other daily sins. I just told one of the family office principals. We are looking not for those classic investors. We are targeting the family office space, as there are more investors than elsewhere wo take sustainability to heart. Who focus on it. Who are understanding that an impact investment might not be as profitable as i.e. Bitcoin. But it’s the right thing to do. And

Impact Investment ain’t philanthropy. Do good and make money!

So this time, not just Food for Thought, but a clear question:

What is Your Impact?

Feedback welcome…

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Doing the Right Thing

Go Carbon-Neutral This Decade

Go Carbon-Neutral This Decade

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” [John F. Kennedy, 1962]
“We choose to fly Carbon-Neutral in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too. For there is no Plan[et] B.” [Jürgen Barthel, 2020]
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The Force of Inertia and Wagging The Dog

Change Resistance (shutterstock_210479080 licensed)

Change Resistance (shutterstock_210479080 licensed)Today I had a conference call and a major topic was Spain and how our (German) governments banned travel again. And publicly justifies under gross neglect of their own rules. Those “development” showing persistence to deny change. And the “Wag the Dog” syndrome, pointing the fingers at others to distract from own mistakes.

The second topic was about the way, aviation “recovers”, the managements’ strategies.

Political Lock-Down on Travel

Spahn Travel Warning not a Ban
“A travel warning is not a travel ban – Health Minister Spahn not discouraging Spain holidays in Tagesthemen.”

This week, our (German) government issued an official “travel warning” for Spain. It is legal requirement that German travel industry must enable free unplanned returns from regions a travel warning is issued for, which in turn also results in tour operators shelving all offers for regions such warnings are issued for. In line with that legal impact, TUI instantly cancelled all flights and packages to Spain.
In clear ignorance of those facts, the German Health Minister Jens Spahn claims that it is still possible to do vacation in Spain, travelers just needing to be careful… Say what?

Wag the Dog (film)
Wag the Dog (1997 film)

Either this is cognitive dissonance, or – and I am afraid it’s that – Spahn and German government tries to distract from own mistakes by “pointing finger” at Spain. It’s the old “wag the dog”. Make up a crisis elsewhere.

Spain is said to be extreme in its adherence to the Corona rules. It is not “Spains” fault if German tourists party and ignore those rules intentionally. And then return with infections. So this is a cloud screen by Minister Spahn and his political cronies.

A German proverb: “Who sits in the glass house shouldn’t throw with stones.” Taken residence for the pandemicfor the pandemic with the family in Germany again, I can assure you, we have our own problems with Corona here and the politicos still fail to follow a clear strategy. Exceptions to their own rules being the rule, not the exception…

The Myth of Aviation Recovery

IATA Load Factors Europe 2020-05The past weeks, I had ongoing disagreements with my friends at OAG, ch-aviation, RDG, Routes, ANNA.aero, etc., etc. Disagreement on the media-focus on recovery of flight services as a sign of recovery of our industry. As I mentioned in my recent blog on Corona Cognitive Dissonance and Whitewashing Statistics, to bring all those aircraft back to the air while the load factors plummeted from ~85% to ~35% (April) in line with evaporating ticket prices, dropping by 20-30%, depending on the statistics source.

Now in May the load factors recovered to ~43%, though from a business travel management company I heard that those loads were “bought”, by lowering the ticket prices even further. And there was a slight decline in available seat kilometers in that month.

For years, I complain about the state of airline statistics availability. Nowhere “real time”, IATA statistics come three months after, the commercial sources report on flights and seats but have no clue about the load factors or ticket revenue. Real time? Really?

In today’s discussion, it was emphasized that airline managers try to survive using the “classic” approaches. First of all: Be cheap. Second: Push flights to the air. By doing that, they have obviously lost all track of their cost of operations. And the conference call group agreed that we will see quite some groundings in Europe ongoing for the next year. As the airlines keep piling up Corona Debt. Even Lufthansa is said to have already started on demanding further bail-out in spring, when they burned up the € 9 billion they recently got.

Time for New Thinking

airline money burnIs it really “new thinking”? Last December, pre-Corona, I outlined Why Airlines Keep Failing. The reasons are still the same, just multiplied by Corona.

Any little startup understands the need for USPs, unique selling propositions. What makes them different? In the eyes of the customers, in the eyes of the investors. They understand the need for profitability. They know their cost. If you have a big war chest (or get it funded by a government bailout), you can temporarily “invest” in competitive routes. Often enough the likes of Lufthansa pre-crisis abused their market power forcing competitors, even so-called “partners” into insolvency. My own experience includes the first German Wings (the remainders then acquired by Lufthansa), Cirrus Airlines, Contact Air (Lufthansa regional partners) or more recently Air Berlin.

And when I wrote about Air Berlin three years ago, I asked “Lessons Learned?” … Hmm. Obviously not. And when I wrote about Why Airlines Keep Failing, it wasn’t any “new rules” either.

And while Jens Spahn emphasized the solidarity inside the company and that Lufthanseaten (what Lufthansa employees call themselves) stand together in crises… What a cognitive dissonance. His “shareholder value” focus is legendary – I don’t believe he ever learned what “loyalty” meant. Given “short work” in Germany, there would not be real need to fire employees. But he and his manager-cronies, the moment they got the € 9 billion warned of 22,000 layoffs being “necessary”. Hypocrite!

Doing Things Right…

If you need some help to map out a strategy to survive this crisis, I could need some paid consulting. The unpaid kind keeps me busy but not the family paid. Which is the same for so many others “made redundant”.

And if you are or know an investor interesting to do things right, we are seeking funding for an Airline 2.0 – focused on USPs and profits. But also on real aviation sustainability (not the typical whitewashing we see in aviation to date). And on real corporate social responsibility. Which starts with your own. Either contact me or come 8-9 December to the Prestel & Partner Family Offices Forum in Zürich at The Dolder Grand.

Kolibri @ Prestel&Partner Zurich December 2020

 

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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Corona Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance ResolutionRecent developments and posts really bug me. Don’t the writers of those posts recognize the cognitive dissonance? Yes, we must think positive. But there is a clear distinction between thinking positive and whitewashing or daydreaming. We have a crisis at hand and the “positive signals” aren’t as “positive” as those posts try to make them look like. They look at the marketing messages on the surface but fail to look the slightest bit deeper.

We need positive thinking, but we must also stay realistic!

Whitewashing Statistics

IATA loadfactor 2020Yes, the latest statistics are not there (yet), but we have enough experience to understand that the classic statistics, that I questioned as incomplete and intentionally misleading before the crisis, now in the crisis not only proof insufficient, but even dangerous for all of us, trying to grasp the repercussions to our industry!

Many of our media friends take up the old focus on unrealistic data packages. Yeah, hurray, the airlines add flights, bring the aircraft back in the air. Are. You. Kidding me???

The reason behind is mostly that the aircraft can only be parked for up to three months without the recovery into operational readiness getting substantially more expensive: >100 manhours, replacement and thorough components checks, etc., etc.
So the “losses” from flying empty might well be a cost-saving long-term. Depending on how long the aircraft must be stowed, when the passengers “come back”. But this adds to the “Corona Debt”, that must be funded and some day payed back.

ForwardKeys Average Return FaresThe current IATA Regional Briefing, Europe, June 2020 reports on the beginning of the crisis. Available seats for April plummeted by 95%, the load factors of the remaining flights to 32%! At the same time Gridpoint Consulting analysed the London-Heathrow figures with similar devastating results, an average load factor (2Q20) of 35.5%! And ForwardKeys published some nice figures on air fares, plummeting 20-30% in average.
Now the airlines are reported to bring flights back to the air aggressively. Whereas the German Airport Association (ADV) published in their latest (June) traffic statistics: “Privater Reiseverkehr findet nicht statt”: Private travel does not take place. So those added flights mostly cannibalize the existing, low passenger numbers. Which we will likely see reflected in the next statistics. But keeping the aircraft grounded comes with it’s own bill. Adding to the “Corona Debt”.

So aviation media, please do not simply publish those statistics on how many seats are added to the market, but also check the demand = load factors and the revenue = average ticket prices. It would be worthwhile to look behind those numbers and check the reasoning for those flights. Looking only at the first statistics (increase of available seats) is negative, if the revenue and loads drops further. We need the full statistical picture I was demanding for many years: ASK (available seat kilometers), load factor (how many seats sold) and the average revenue (ticket price). In combination with the CASK, the cost per available seat kilometer) it would allow to understand the real development. And commercial viability, success … or failure! And I do look forward to real “success stories”, a.k.a. “profitable routes”. Routes not piling up more “Corona Debt”.

The Fairy Tale of the Corona Super Vaccine

Yes, as you can see in the archive of my Corona Papers, I also believed what those lying politicos and virologists told us. Though having brought up in a medical household, I looked early behind that cloud-screen. My (published) assumptions were based on a recovery following the common availability of the vaccine – and the treatment. We’ve learned a lot on the treatment meanwhile. And now, like with the face masks they initially called “unnecessary” for pure hidden motives to cover their unavailability, they slowly let the fact surface that:

We must not expect a “super vaccine”!

Corona will turn out more to be like the flu. Okay, not so much like the Measles I referred to earlier. The first infected people in Germany have ceased to have antibodies in their blood a mere three months after their infection. Now they, along with the WHO start slowly telling us the “new truth” (like with the masks), that we will have a long journey ahead, getting used to Corona. And as I kept emphasizing for months already, the time to stop the virus is long over, all we can do – and must do – is to #flattenthecurve. Keep the infections at rates our medical systems can manage. Until the first vaccines are there – to further limit the spread of the disease. Just like we get (or according to statistics mostly don’t) get our yearly flu-vaccination. By which time we will also hopefully by able to “manage” the severe cases with standardized treatment.

But hold it, ain’t that telling, all that lock-down was for nothing???

No! The lock-downs were a vital necessity and still can be! Because the reasons to flatten the curve are still undeniably valid! As I just wrote in the previous paragraph. But we must return to a life that embraces the Corona-virus (and it’s future variants) as what they are. A new “flu”. Maybe more hostile, sure different. But here to stay. And once we will have learned to manage the recurring “waves”, just like the annual flu, we will live on. Without masks if you ask me. Without “social distancing”. And without lock-down. And with air travel and real-world conferences.

Bailing-Out the Dinosaurs

Burning EurosI know, being a German and having taken residence with the family in Germany for the pandemic, I am somewhat biased on what happens here and especially Lufthansa. And that makes me puke. No, I can’t say that nicely.

Lufthansa, with a pre-crisis value of four billion (Source: Fortune) and burning five billion in the first three months of the crisis receives a bailout from the German government of € 9 billion. For a 25% silent stake, not allowing them to influence Lufthansa, i.e. relating to job securities (prime CSR), sustainable developments or a less hostile behavior towards smaller airlines they kept and keep walking over, their latest “victim” Air Berlin. No, lesson not learned. The next they announce is to make 22,000 (twenty-two thousand!) jobs redundant. Quite recently, they had to admit that 25% of the refunds for unflown tickets due to Corona have still not been paid back, the media claiming a 1-billion backlog!

airline money burnI was kind of shocked this week, when German Tagesthemen, one of the main news channel mentioned already that this may not be the end, but just the beginning of an expensive further bail-out series for the airline and it’s many subsidiaries. But if they burned 5 billion in three months, how long can they sustain the drought before they burned up the added nine billion?

Don’t get me wrong! I belief that aviation will recover, but that will go slow and take time. What I see now is activism and lots of wishful thinking, piling up more debt and risking the airlines’ long-term survival.

But I keep my emphasis, that bailing out the dinosaurs is not good for anyone, except the dinosaurs. At KOLIBRI.aero, we have a concept in the drawer to invest € 1.6 billion into an airline with 200 aircraft. Okay, establishing the airline in Germany would be a bit more expensive. But no more than € 2.5 billion. Give another € 3-4 billion as a reasonable amount to add a global network, we could develop a “Lufthansa 2.0” based on sustainable aviation (not the Lufthansa greenwashing), true corporate social responsibility (way beyond Lufthansa whitewashing), looking after our own, but also after the regions we serve and the overall responsibility of a major player. There are others like us out there. I’m sure, given € 9 billion, given only € 5 billion, they could make a change. No Corona debt, but a clear profitable business, paying back the debt within 10 years with (above-market) interest. € 9 billion without any strings attached? € 11 billion for Air France/KLM? And meanwhile Austrian – a 100% Lufthansa-owned subsidiary also received a bailout by Austrian government, though “only” € 600 million and with environmental demands attached. But with another € 150 million to go into equity in Austrian parent Lufthansa (Source: CAPA). Swiss received a 1.25 billion loan guarantee for its poor mother Lufthansa (Source: Reuters).

"We are Listening. And We're Not Blind. This is Your Life. This is Your Time!" [Snow Patrol - Calling in the Dark]

And at the same time, one airline after the other is being grounded, Level’ed. No bailouts for Air Berlin pre-, flyBE early into the crisis. None for Level (IAG), Germanwings (LH Group), Laudamotion (Ryanair). And expecting no real “recovery” of the passenger numbers this year, I foresee a large number of the small airlines with one, two, maybe even five or ten airplanes to fail this year. And I get a lot of feedback that this is the time for KOLIBRI.aero. But we struggle not for billions, to launch we struggle to get funding of a mere € 30 million.

But given feedback from “experts” out there, to start it small as a virtual airline, or “aviation investors” not seeing beyond aircraft leasing? I now have hopes that our invitation to attend Prestel & Partner later this year at their real-world conference in Zurich will open the doors of more visionary family office owners, understanding the opportunity such a crisis provides to a business concept like KOLIBRI.aero. As those bailouts must be paid back one day. If the airlines don’t go bankrupt, once KOLIBRI.aero is kicking their butts.

Kolibri @ Prestel&Partner Zurich December 2020

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

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The True Meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility

For quite a while, I am stumbling over the issue of the common investor understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and their implication that it is the same as Sustainability. Which it is not.

Wikipedia a.k.a. an Academic Idea

Wikipedia on CSRReading the Wikipedia page about it, they see it as a high-level code of conduct for large, international organisations. And focused on the representation of the company towards its customers. I think we must step back and make a change. A change to how we must understand corporate social responsibility. And not just, but especially in times of Corona, this is not a nice to have, it is a desperately needed definition update!

Shareholder Value vs. CSR

The Rise and Fall of Dennis MuilenburgIf you focus on shareholder value, human resources and only your own, personal profit, you end up in a deep, dark pit. Sometimes, like Boeing’s Muilenburg and others who have been on the Olymp, just for that much deeper a fall. Examples aplenty.

In most cases, it’s like the recent decline in employee morale at Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr shelving Germanwings in a “strategic” and likely necessary move, but without the touch to understand the emotional repercussions on overall staff. Them having very well in mind the fate of Contact Air, Cirrus Airlines, but also Air Berlin with their last CEO a Spohr-lackey sent to liquidate the airline. And sure, there is quite some green- and whitewashing involved by such CEOs, having their own “sustainability” and “CSR” departments.

Basic Principle

So what is “CSR” truly about? Or should be? Like with all such “definitions”, there has been a basic idea. Then it was abused to abstraction to #whitewash investments and make them attractive to investors.

To understand the original idea behind corporate social responsibility you simply need to read it. It is everything about the social responsibilities in corporate (organisational) environments. Is it social to support sustainability? Definitely. But not only. Those definitions applied to CSR crippled the original definition. Then the #whitewashing continued. As Wikipedia refers to, there’s a cost-benefit analysis. Don’t get me wrong, it makes sense. But then let’s name it – it’s a business model, has nothing to do with philanthropy.

Micro Level Social Responsibility

Branson on EmployeesCorporate Social Responsibility starts with your immediate environment: Your own organisation!

When I started my aviation career with American Airlines under Bob Crandall, we were a family. My friends at Delta and Pan Am envied us for that family spirit, called us “brain washed”. To date, we were not brain washed, but professionally motivated. Something I miss since the button counters took over. Something Carolyn McCall at easyJet understood and (as I predicted) what left easyJet with her. The top management understanding that humans are no resource and that motivated staff and service are invaluable assets!

Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes on staff importance CSRAside the example i used on the different approaches between Alex Cruz at British Airways and Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, there was a noteworthy post by Tony Fernandes of Air Asia. Please read it, this is only a key message out of it:

“What always drove us was our people, our AllStars . It’s what’s drives us every time we are in a Crisis. We must do whatever to protect their jobs.”

CSR the KOLIBRI.aero Style

United Nations Sustainable Development GoalsCo-Founder Ndrec coming from a military background, me grown up with American military and starting my career with American, it was clear from the very start, that developing such a better airline, aside profitability ☑ (check), USPs ☑ (check) and sustainability ☑ (check), we must take care of “ours”. What we considered and consider true “CSR”. From the outset, we such looked at staff management and banned to wording of “Human Resources” and its shortened version “HR”. And we looked at the locations we plan bases for, beyond the company, but the impact such development has to the communities “we serve”.

Aviation holistic viewIt might be surprising to the bean counters (accountant-mindset “managers”) that all of our related “cost centers” turned out to be no just driving loyalty, but to be true profit centers and vital in our attempt to melt the cost factors to competitive levels. As a start-up, investing into all the company’s assets, you must be competitive against all those large, established companies like easyJet owning around 70% of their fleet, cost down to maintenance, with roughly 25% being paid off and around 5% being leased to cover ad hoc opportunities (like taking over Air Berlin routes). And while now being a “burden” in Corona times, airlines cannot drop out of leasing either, so the cost still is there. But those airlines can secure credits based on their (aircraft) assets. To develop profit centers that allow to cut down the cost to competitive levels such ain’t a mere strategy, but a vital need.

Summary

 

The Man in the Mirror (Michael Jackson)

As in all my posts addressing moral and ethics, I turn back to my father, who told me that you got to be first and foremost someone you see in the mirror and you like the guy. Secondly, despite all mistakes you do, you must keep your sheet clean. Your sins will backfire on you.

So you got to start with the good old (wo)man in the mirror. Then think about “yours truly”, family, employees. Then look after the extended community, local and work. If you look at all that, sustainability will be a “natural development” for you.

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

 

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There are Investment Alternatives to Shares

This article has originally been published on my LinkedIn page (moved 2020-02-11)

DWS: 2020 wird mit 2019 kaum mithalten können. Doch für Aktien spricht mehr als die Alternativlosigkeit.

There are Investment Alternatives to Shares

Published on January 14, 2020


Jürgen Barthel
Think Outside the Box
8 Articles

“2020 will unlikely be able to keep up with 2019. But more speaks for shares than the lack of alternatives”

I’m kind of p***ed off by that statement by German DWS’ CIO and his conservative, visionless analysis headline. It reflects exceptionally well on German investors and asset managers (yes, I also talk about those banks) believing in risk-free, high-return investments. ECB frequently accused German banks to not understand the reason for their negative interest: To make deposits at ECB unattractive and force the banks to invest into companies, ideas, visions. Instead to such do their own job and a proper due diligence on good ideas, they focus to co-invest after others did the job, on “established models”, investing into aircraft available in surplus (A320/B737). Or in shares, as there would be no alternatives. Yes, if you have blinders on, you might be right.

Bold investments? Investing into sound ideas and business concepts developed by seasoned managers? Not in Germany. Nor much in Europe. Invest in shares, for the lack of alternatives? Or for the lack of vision? Blinders.

Disrupt. Or be Disrupted

Disrupt. Or be Disrupted!

It’s our experience seeking funding for Kolibri.aero. A disruptive aviation business concept. Different. It’s called “USP”. It’s not “me too”. If you know investors that are open to vision, change and “something new”, please refer them to the Kolibris. Or me.


Published by

Jürgen Barthel
Think Outside the Box
8 Articles

German DWS (asset management) says shares are must buy because they lack an alternative. How wrong can you be? European Central Bank gives negative interest to promote investment into entrepreneurship. German banks park the largest amount in ECB instead of reinvesting.
#whatsyourusp #thinkoutsidethebox #cognitivedissonanceresolution #investinchange #investmentstrategy #riskmanagement

 

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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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Goodbye Karl Fisch – Hello Karl Fisch?

It is with serious regret that I just learned (a little delayed) about the retirement of Karl Fisch, author of the first ever YouTube video that went viral having a lasting impact on my life. It became the first ever thing I blogged, when I moved over the first articles I wrote elsewhere to the FoodForThought-blog: Shift Happens Narrated. The post contains a short summary of what led to the story, it is the most-read post on my blog ever and keeps being read 5-10 times every months.

Three years ago, Karl wrote an article on his blog I recommend reading; The Shifty Years.

I hope you understand the respect when I quote another famous author for the farewell. May life treat you and yours kindly!

So long and thanks for all the Fisch (Original wallpaper by redditor RWalsky)
So long Karl – and thanks for all the Fisch!

So Long Karl … Thanks for all the Fisch … And I hope it’s not the last I’ve seen of you! Shift Happens.

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