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No Train, No Gain

Skilled personnel are integral to the aviation industry's sustainable future. And accomplished managers will be every bit as important as competent pilots and engineers.

Airlines are no different from any other business. In times of economic difficulty, effective management is crucial. Good decision making can mean the difference between profit and loss.

Globally, there is no shortage of general management courses on offer. But many airline CEOs have pointed to the unique demands of aviation, with its constraining regulatory framework and idiosyncratic operating environment. Courses specifically aimed at aviation managers have, until recently, mainly been offered by three institutions: Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, United States, and l’Ecole Nationale de l’Aviation Civile (ENAC) in Toulouse, France.

While all three have excellent reputations, there are limitations. Most notably, the courses are rooted in Western culture. The rapid growth of aviation in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East—each with its distinctive culture—means these regions clearly need dedicated management training programs for their aviation professionals, not least to bridge a potential skills gap.

The need for leadership

“In 2009, I realized we were supporting training in many specialist areas, but human resources development had been almost completely absent,” says Guido Gianasso, Vice President Human Capital at IATA and Director of the IATA Training and Development Institute (ITDI). “Leadership was not part of our external offering, and there had been nothing relating to best practice in this area.”

This has now changed. In the past three years, the ITDI has developed three separate aviation management training programs in partnership with three separate universities—each aimed at a different level of management (see table overleaf).

“Through these three programs we are ensuring that we cover all levels of management training,” says Gianasso. “The response to the Stanford University distance learning course has been beyond our expectation and we are very happy with the middle management course at the University of Geneva. The top level course has a slightly lower response but that is only to be expected because it’s a smaller market.”

PMDA initiative

The focus on aviation management is a welcome step forward. But in such a dynamic sector, training also needs to address the constant change forced upon airlines by economic circumstances and regulation.

The People Management and Development for Airlines (PMDA) training program focuses on enhancing the performance of an airline’s workforce, particularly during change management and restructuring. PMDA is designed to help airlines to redevelop and align their human resources procedures and structures.

This allows airline management to use their Human Resources Department as a change agent in the organization, ensuring that they have the right people with the right skills in the right places at the right time.

Three pilot programs were developed and run recently – two in French for Air Madagascar and Air Algerie, and one in English for Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

“We firmly believe that airlines that aim to put HR at the heart of their strategies will benefit,” says Oscar Haro, Head of the IATA Airline Training Fund (IATF), which provides training assistance to airlines in developing nations. “Wise management realizes that HR is the key to future success.”

Again, the programs have been very popular with airlines. Haro describes the courses as “timely” because the airlines concerned were in the process of reviewing their HR resources, strategies, and practices. “We had been in touch with the training managers of these airlines, and realized that there was no clear strategy in the way in which they were approaching their HR,” he says.

The prime objectives of the PMDA pilot programs were to:

  • Enhance overall airline people performance
  • Instil a positive learning and development organizational culture
  • Promote best practices in talent management
  • Serve as a catalyst for business growth

The PMDA pilot projects took an innovative approach, without standard classroom training. Rather, they comprised dynamic, hands-on workshops that helped the airlines to identify gaps in relation to the PMDA Best Practice Guide, and set up an action plan project to close these gaps. About a month was then spent in developing new processes for HR deployment, which was followed by another five-day workshop to measure the progress and results.

“The three pilot programs were completed during May and June 2012 with very successful results,” says Haro. “We found that the airlines tended to underestimate the number of gaps that they actually had. We worked with them to strengthen the resources that they already have and give them tools to improve their strategies.”

“IATA’s PMDA two-phased workshops are logically spaced, which helped us to understand the concepts of PMDA and implement this organization-wide,” says Muhammed Abdul Wadud, Deputy General Manager, Corporate Quality & Risk Management, Biman Bangladesh Airlines. “By implementing the whole package Biman will have excellent HR management, better performance management, very good professional development planning, and outstanding succession planning.”

Naima Benabbas, Vice President Training at Air Algerie agrees that the PMDA workshops are an “enriching experience”.  Meanwhile, Air Madagascar Director General Bodo Andriamialison says PDMA will push the airline to new heights.

Following the success of these PMDA pilot studies, the program has been transferred to the ITDA and will be made commercially available to all airlines. Haro stresses that airlines in developing nations will still be able to access funding for PMDA and other training programs from the IATF.

“We initially developed this program within the IATF, and we are looking to recruit airlines from developing nations that would benefit from a program like this,” says Haro. “Our remit at IATF is to sponsor training programs for airlines in developing nations.”

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Human capital council

Human Resources (HR) best practice also needs to extend its reach to optimize the aviation value chain. IATA has set up the Global Aviation Human Capital Summit to allow the Heads of Human Resources from the various parties, including airports and civil aviation authorities, to share experiences of driving change and cost cutting. The first summit was held in Singapore in November 2011 with some 150 participants.

The next step in this initiative is a permanent council or committee to discuss human resources issues among member airlines—an Aviation Human Capital Council, spearheaded by IATA and consisting of the Heads of HR of member airlines. Shannon Brown, the Head of HR at FedEx, is leading a small steering group, and the official launch of the council is due during the next Global Aviation Human Capital Summit, which will be held on 13-15 November in Sri Lanka.

“In terms of airlines joining the new council, we are looking for those Heads of HR that are committed to participating,” says Guido Gianasso, Vice President Human Capital at IATA and Director of the IATA Training and Development Institute (ITDI). “We’d rather have an active group of, say, 30-40 airline Heads of HR rather than a larger group of 100, many of whom do not actively participate.”

It is intended that the council will meet each year during the summit meetings, and the main objective is to help the industry in general—especially those airlines where HR is less well developed. It is likely that working taskforces will be set up to deal with specific projects in areas such as sharing best practice, leading change, innovation, and talent development.

Diploma of advanced studies in aviation management

  • In partnership with the University of Geneva
  • Catering to mid-level managers with between three and eight years of experience in the industry
  • A one-year course can be extended to an Executive MBA in Aviation Management
  • 24 students in 2011

Advanced management program in air transport  

  • In partnership with Nanyang Technological National University
  • Aimed at senior managers with 8-10 years’ experience 
  • A 16-month course for managers can lead to an Executive MBA in Aviation Management
  • 12 students in 2011/12

Distance learning for junior management 

  • In partnership with Stanford University 
  • For junior managers and cabin crew who want to progress to higher levels
  • Six modules—three in general management and three in aviation—must be completed in one year
  • 450 students enrolled


Additional information

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