When the pandemic pulled the emergency brakes on the aviation industry in March last year, the devastating knock-on effect was felt along the entire air transportation chain. Companies, large and small, were jettisoned into a period of uncertainty and change. Yet, what was the impact if you were a fresh, independent, one-person, aviation consulting company? CFG spoke to James Wyatt, General Manager of Germany-based aeroconcept, to find out.
From MAR20 on, the media was full of news of airlines being grounded, airports closing, ground handlers down-sizing, and companies facing bankruptcy in an “unprecedented” situation: one that has now carried on for more than a year. Individuals across the aviation industry faced change: adapted processes, new regulations, short-time work, working from home, even job-loss. Companies reacted with cost-cutting measures, budget cuts, and business plan revisions.
Adjusting to the ‘new aviation normal’
“The days of high-paid consulting contracts were over within the space of a week of the lockdown,” James Wyatt confesses. Given that the extent of the pandemic was unclear at the start, air cargo companies were understandably nervous and reacted by putting everything on hold that was not immediately related to keeping daily operations running under the changed circumstances. With the consulting avenue indefinitely frozen, Wyatt’s approach was to modify the aeroconcept business strategy, based on the question “How to adjust into the ‘new aviation normal’?” How could he use the time wisely, to grow his knowledge while expanding aeroconcept’s portfolio and opportunities? “As an independent one-man-show with a great end to 2019, and great start to 2020, it was a case of adapting the business concept to continue to offer services that were able to add value.” That meant identifying potential partnerships: teaming up with other companies with complementing services, where both sides could benefit both from a knowledge and a product perspective. Most importantly: selecting partnerships that were strategic to growing aeroconcept in the direction Wyatt intended the business to go.
Networking and Visibility
The pandemic aside, “self-employment is not your standard Monday to Friday, nine-to-five job”, he outlines. However, now more than ever, Wyatt focused on the business 7 days a week. Given that his initial business plan had included a ‘survival scenario’ in case of an extended period of no clients, he kept a calm, structured, and focused approach on networking and visibility. “I am a big believer in networking as the key component to any business,” Wyatt explains, using every single day to reach out both to existing and new contacts via email, phone, Zoom sessions (“I quickly became a Premium User”, he laughs), LinkedIn, or through attending virtual industry conferences and asking questions in forums.
Contacts lead to opportunities - whether these are new partnership possibilities, or chances to increase visibility and image. Over the year, Wyatt also concentrated on media work, giving written and spoken interviews, providing content for magazines such as Airliner World, co-producing podcasts, and speaking at events. The recent Ground Handling International Leaders Academy session, together with Desiree Perez, his Human Factor Topic partner, is one such example.
Five new endeavors in 2020
The tenacity paid off. Over the year, aeroconcept entered into five diverse partnerships after the start of the pandemic: All of them the result of existing business relationships, networking, and in one case even arising from reaching out after listening to a podcast (as CFG reported on 17JAN21). “It’s about added value,” Wyatt explains, “both parties have to bring something to the table. We work together as partners and build the strategy together.” From Human Factor Leadership, to trade compliance and sanctions on cargo commodity level with Accuity, to innovative long-term manpower and resource planning with WePlan GmbH, to European Dangerous Goods initiatives with U.S. company Labelmaster, through to a three-pronged business approach which includes On-Board Courier traffic with Albion Aviation Group, aeroconcept has embarked on long-term strategies that are here to stay post-pandemic, too.
Asked how he manages to keep the varied businesses running, he advises “Be structured and strict on what you plan and how you deliver,” outlining regular calls every one to two weeks with the different partners and structuring the calendar around contracted client commitments.
Time to give something back
“It has certainly been about survival, but also about how to optimize what you are currently doing, remaining visible, adapting, and growing the skill set of the portfolio. Going down routes you would not have considered if things had continued as normal,” he concludes. One of those routes grew out of his training interest. In addition to qualifying as an IATA External Instructor last year, Wyatt followed the changes happening on the training front. “Classroom training quickly stopped,” he confirms, illustrating issues that arose with the initially hesitant industry move to virtual classrooms. “The regulatory aspect with regard to Dangerous Goods training, for example.”
Yet, virtual training developed quickly after that, and with it, his desire to share knowledge on a wider scale. He approached universities with logistics programs, offering his in-depth cargo industry experience. “I started online lecturing at the University of Cooperative Education in Glauchau Saxony, Germany, to Logistics and Transport Management students,” following a strict approval process involving tests and having to come up with a course concept. “You don’t lecture to make revenue,” he stresses, “as you are generally paid by the state. That is not the point. The point is that you can give something back and increase your company portfolio at the same time. For me, this is a very positive silver lining to the pandemic. I probably wouldn’t have gone down the University track so early if it wasn’t for Covid-19”.
“From an independent company perspective, based on the new strategy and partnerships, and the slow global recovery that will take place, I expect to have a year that provides the foundation for an extremely successful 2022,” Wyatt predicts, and eyes expansion towards late 2021. The window of opportunity for consultants is re-emerging now that many cargo companies have found their feet, are restructuring, and resuming growth plans. Already, a first 6-month consulting project was recently agreed with a large air cargo organization for 2021, “quicker than I expected,” he admits.
The pandemic has been a catalyst for transformation. “Obviously, the industry has recognized that, based on the pandemic, there is the possibility to accelerate what air cargo is doing from a transformation perspective: to reduce touchpoints on the handling level at the export and import counters, in internal warehouse processes, and to be able to push processes and quality driven on data. Many companies are now looking into optimization.” And when it comes to projects focusing on increasing business, revising processes, or procuring new IT systems to support operations and transformation, then “the independent validation from an external consultant is very important for organizations to justify certain business cases,” he underlines. Consulting is making a comeback and “based on the increase of direct client relationships and partnerships, I anticipate onboarding additional resources by the end of the year.”
A positive outlook, that sees business in the industry literally taking off again in 2022.
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