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!

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

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!

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

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!

 

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

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

 

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

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!

4 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

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.

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

Cognitive Disonance Resolution

Cognitive Dissonance Resolution

Cognitive Dissonance Resolution

Working this week with a group on topics like P.R. and Corporate Strategy, there are some basic rules, again resurfacing on my conscious thinking…

Two topics were in hot, heated discussion these days, especially when we talked bout Cognitive Disonance: Greta Thunberg and Boeing 737MAX.

Greta Thunberg

Not only in the big cities around the globe, also in towns like Brunswick (Braunschweig), the movement Friday for Future is a root movement. Following the example of a little girl from Sweden, kids go demonstrating around the world to promote the need to counter climate change. In Germany, formerly pacemaker of “green development” the government is way behind their own targets, let’s not talk about the Paris world climate targets. In Tirana, the city “stinks” from car gasoline fumes. Scientists believe it’s not five to, but five after twelve already! We can only reduce the impact, no longer avoid it.

So now, surprise surprise, that kid in Sweden went on the street to demonstrate against the political powers that be (PTBs) ignorance. That action triggered a cord and other kids around the world thought it a good idea and joined in the demonstration. Demanding action to secure their future. And all those PTBs can respond with is that they’d be truants? Their only reason to go on the streets is to be skipping school? That’s all you can come up with? Sure there are the one or other camp-followers, but mostly those kids have genuine concern about their planet.

But their activity provides a good example for cognitive dissonance. They put a finger in a wound that most of “us” adults have long found our way to suppress. Because the information does not compute. We know we kill the planet, but let the others start saving it. What can I do?

My personal answer is to support the kids. To not “look away” and “blame the others”. In German history, our people looked away, the blamed others. It caused a holocaust.

Michael Jackson sang about “The Man in the Mirror” to make a change.

In Germany we had a barrel-burst campaign “You are Germany” – what do you do to make things better?

Interesting, what discussions are triggered, discussing cognitive dissonance resolution and how different nationalities and cultural background result in totally different approaches. In Germany, a typical approach is to dissect good ideas and find faults. Can’t tell you, how many “friends” in the past year told me that KOLIBRI.aero cannot work. It did very often remind me of that favorite quote by Lazarus Long (a Robert A. Heinlein character): “Always listen to the experts! They tell you it is impossible and why you can not do it. When you know that: Go Ahead!

Boeing B737MAX

Another very good example and discussion topic this week about cognitive dissonance resolution was the Boeing B737MAX.

Our industry always promotes Safety First. But I have a lot of examples that our industry works on the limits, hoping for the best. Be it my recent post about disruption management or the managing of airport turnaround (A-CDM), we all know that we do not work efficiently. But cognitive dissonances often result in ignorance, suppressing conflicting information. We know the truth, but we suppress it, give ourselves explanations to justify the shortcomings.

Now there was another crash of the Boeing B737MAX after Lion Air Flight 610 crashed in Malaysia half a year ago (29Oct18). While there are also “supporting reasons”, as usual a chain of events that leads to disaster, I personally believe it was mainly the ignorance of Boeing engineers, developing an MCAS, not informing pilots about such an important design change. Combined with a semi-religious faith in their technology. But I believe computers are there to assist us. I remember the Air France flight 447, where the instruments showed wrong data, switched off the computer, in result the flight stalled and crashed into the the Atlantic. We also should be reminded about the “unsinkable” Titanic.

After the recent crash in Ethiopia, there were calls for grounding of the aircraft instantly, given the similarity to Lion Air 610. It is noteworthy and was discussed very controversial, that our own minister responsible for aviation voiced against a grounding, only to be overruled by EASA. But neither America, nor Europe responded “safety first”, but focused on the commercial impacts of a grounding instead. Meanwhile even the U.S. under Donald Trump confirmed the necessity of the grounding and aviation sources expect that grounding to take on for several month. Which does remind again of the pioneer in jetliners, the de Havilland Comet, loosing three aircraft in nine months, which lead to understanding of metal fatigue on the air frame called by the way the metal was connected using bolts – creating micro-fractures.

Oh Gawd... Helpdesk: Final Level. Pray
Boeing MCAS development

Now Boeing implements a new technology to cover up for the new behavior and instead of being transparent, they hide. Then the sh** hits the fan in Malaysia. The event now shows that Boeing did not operate “safety first”, but mismanaged it by delaying the necessary update. A result of cognitive dissonance resolutions? It must not be, so it is not? That backfired now and is a rather pathetic expression of professional disaster management. That the U.S. and Boeing had to be “convinced” to ground the aircraft has proven a big mistake. Today, the media reports that the Ethiopian officials confirm a very similar situation and “many parallelisms” to the Lion Air crash.

We cannot and must not operate on the Principal of Hope! An airliner recently posted that we need a crash to change something. I disagreed, but Boeing did itself and our industry a major disfavor to the reputation of aviation safety. Media today also refers back to the 787-incidents and grounding resulting from batteries catching fire. What I do not understand is that following Lion air Boeing P.R. obviously did not develop a “worse case communication plan”.

From Wikipedia: “On March 11, 2019, in response to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, China was the first country to order all 96 of its 737 MAX aircraft grounded. In the days following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, airlines and authorities around the world suspended the operation of Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft (or in many cases all 737 MAX variants) one after another, contrasting with the usual coordinated approach. Two days later, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration […] became the last in the world to ground the aircraft, reversing its previous stance. Boeing eventually recommended the grounding to the FAA.”

It must not be! It cannot be! So it is not.
Cognitive Dissonance Resolution at work…

Food for Thought
Comments welcome!

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post

Long-Haul Low-Cost? Supersonic? Quo Vadis?

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

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

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

What is Your (E-)USP?

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

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

Ray Webster, former CEO easyJet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for Thought
Comments welcome

0 - click to show Jürgen you liked the post