With his IATA - UNIGE Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS) in Aviation Management (2019), Ahmed Alwaheedi has been entrusted with key projects and responsibilities.
Responsible for ensuring operations standards and procedures meet regulatory requirements and are up to date. Saudi Ground Services (SGS) is the driving force behind the efficient, safe and courteous ground-handling of passengers and aircraft in Saudi Arabia.
Apart from wanting to be a pilot as a child, I’d never thought about a career in aviation. I graduated from the University of Tampa, Florida, with a bachelor’s in International Business Management, and was aiming for banking. I applied to SGS out of curiosity, and was thrown in at the deep end, into customer service in the foreign airline terminal.
I had to accompany my superior to meetings with the station managers of our 40 customer airlines and take notes. But I didn’t understand what I was writing down. It hit me then that I needed to learn about the industry properly.
In 2017, I took the IATA Airline Management Diploma, where I learned the rules and regulations, the key points of risk management, and how the industry is organized. It was a big improvement in my understanding, and it gave me the confidence to speak with airlines. But I wanted deeper knowledge so I could really make a career in this industry I’d come to love.
Obviously, I had had first-hand experience of IATA Training, so investigated what else they had to offer, but I wanted to do my due diligence and be sure I had looked at all the options. There were several to choose from, some a lot closer to home. As I would be paying for this further education myself, and taking annual leave to do it, I needed to be sure I would be getting the best value .
It was an operations manager from Etihad that told me that if I wanted to understand airlines, I should take the Diploma in Advanced Studies in Aviation Management*, offered jointly by the University of Geneva and IATA. I have a cousin that works for the association who also strongly recommended it. Of course, all the station managers I work with endorsed IATA too.
My research had shown me that the quality of the program was higher than competitive offerings. The Diploma offered a very broad base, going much deeper into the workings of the aviation industry, allowing me to gain knowledge of the key concepts of every aspect. I also realized I could subsequently complete an MBA at the University of Geneva, specializing in Aviation Management and building on the Diploma in Advanced Studies. I knew all of this would impact my career path very positively.
I wasn’t disappointed. The quality of delivery was excellent, and I really don’t think anything better exists. They packed a lot into the four days of classes per month, with the fifth day being our presentation and exam of what we’d learned. The teachers were mainly senior people from large aviation organizations, who not only knew how to deliver material but also how to get participation.
While I was on the last stretch of the program, I was offered a new position in the Operations Standards, Procedures and Assurance section. My main objective was to get approval, from the General Authority of Civil Aviation, for our 650-page operations manual that covers everything we do at SGS. We’d been trying for the last seven years, and I was able to finally obtain the approval on my third attempt! This was a huge achievement, and I know I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t taken the program. I put something of what I learned from all twelve modules of the Diploma into the manual: the gap analysis I started with, the project management, the understanding of different stakeholder perspectives, the safety management system knowledge especially, even the language I used to rewrite the manual. Now, I manage the section completely.
I feel like my career in aviation has really got a boost from everything I’ve learned with the IATA-University of Geneva program. I was Admin Support Coordinator when I started doing it, and now I’m a Section Manager. And it’s not just from what I learned in the classes. My classmates were from many different backgrounds and at all levels, and I learned as much from them. There were CEOs and senior managers, and I tried to understand how they saw themselves compared to each other, to me, to their jobs. They also gave me advice directly: one senior manager from IATA even gave me a plan to advance my career in aviation.
Now, in addition to my direct promotion, I’ve been put in charge of SGS’s Zero-Zero initiative (zero incidents, zero complaints), by a new executive vice-president who knew I had the Diploma in Advanced Studies, and I’ve been assigned Passenger Service Manager for international airlines at Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport, under the Zero-Zero initiative. Also, I’m using the knowledge I gained from the Diploma to help SGS management in its plans to expand operations. To grow internationally, our company will need to show an image of ground handling that fits with the expectations of airlines in different countries and cultures, and the understanding the Diploma has given me is very valuable.
I still need more from IATA Training though, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. In fact, I’ve already recommended the Diploma to a colleague who came from non-aviation background , and I’ve been fighting for SGS to choose IATA for upcoming training needs. In the future, I plan to apply for a second master’s in Air Transport Management, preferably with IATA, and I’d like to work for a big airline one day.
*The UNIGE DAS has been replaced with the IATA-University of St Gallen DAS
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