Tackling turbulent times: The transformation of the aviation sector

Tackling turbulent times: The transformation of the aviation sector

There's no question of the global impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the aviation sector, being one of the first sectors to bear the brunt of the crisis as the pandemic evolved.

But while crises aren’t new to the aviation industry, having rebounded from major events such as the global financial crisis, volcanic eruptions, the September 11 attacks, as well as the SARS and MERS outbreaks, experts say the impact of the current situation is unprecedented.

As the sector works to bounce back, aviation leaders from RMIT’s global alumni community shared their insights on recovery efforts, new skills needs as well as how current students and recent graduates in aviation can prepare for the sector’s transformation.

The experts shared their views at RMIT’s recent global webinar on the Transformation of the Aerospace and Aviation Sector, which was moderated by Aviation Director and Industry Advisor Linda Spur and hosted by RMIT Europe and RMIT’s School of Engineering.  

Recovering from crises

Andrew Muirhead, Vice President & Head of the Product Division Original Equipment Innovation at Lufthansa Technik AG in Germany, said he has experienced at least 10 major crises over the past 30 years he’s been working in aviation.

“But the COVID-19 crisis is having an impact like we’ve never seen before,” he said.  

“As the sector works through this impact – from survival through to recovery and reinvestment for future growth –  we’re seeing a focus on consolidation, business model transformation and digitalisation.”

Caddy Qiu, Principal Strategic Development Manager at Collins Aerospace in Beijing, said restoring passenger confidence in flying is one of the immediate priorities in the recovery period. 

“We’re seeing innovation to meet the needs of the ‘new normal’ when it comes to flying, particularly in terms of passenger experiences.

“Technology is being introduced such as touch free check-in, biometrics passport control and ultraviolet-C disinfecting in aircraft cabins.

“Recovery efforts are also resting on government policies that are aimed at opening borders and creating ‘travel bubbles’ between countries,” she said.

Both Muirhead and Qiu said the industry expects it will take at least until 2023 to see a return of around 90% of the activity that was seen at the end of 2019. 

Skills needs in the new environment

Muirhead said a broad base of skills, particularly in digital, will be invaluable for graduates looking to enter the sector in the coming years.

“Students coming out of university right now potentially may have a few years before they’ll find their dream job in aviation,” he said. 

“What I would strongly encourage during this time is to look at your skillset and have a think about the ways you can extend your overall education.

“This could include building up additional skills in digital, business models as well as ways of working methodologies such as Agile and Scrum,” he said.

Dr Matthew Marino, Senior Lecturer in aerospace engineering and aviation from RMIT's School of Engineering, said that technical skills should also be complemented by soft skills, such as the ability to adapt and integrate into teams, a willingness to learn and the motivation to develop skills. 

"The rapidly changing environment may also present opportunities for students to build up their entrepreneurial skills,” he said. 

Marino, who is one of the leaders of RMIT’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Research Team, gave the example of students at RMIT who have taken on a final year project to come up with an idea and then taken the IP to develop it into a business solution for industry.  

11 August 2020


Tackling turbulent times: Transformation of the aviation sector Experts in Australia, Germany and China shared their views at RMIT's recent global career webinar on the Transformation of the Aerospace and Aviation Sector.

Resilience and perseverance

Qiu said that anyone looking to enter the sector right now must be resilient and ready for change – because right now change is the only constant. 

“My advice to students and recent graduates is to remain eager to learn, seek out challenges and don’t give up,” she said.

“Despite the incredibly challenging situation we’re facing right now, it will get better.

“When I look back at my career over the past 20 years, I consider every single small experience and every bit of knowledge gained valuable.

“Sometimes we might feel that a job is too boring or too challenging, but I’ve always believed that if we can do the small things well, then the big things will come to us,” she said.

Muirhead said that today’s graduates may not find the perfect job immediately and that a pivot may be needed in terms of the type of work being undertaken when first entering the workforce.

“You should consider it all as building up relevant experience – and you’ll ultimately find your way into aviation,” he said.  

Story: Karen Matthews

11 August 2020


  • Alumni
  • RMIT Europe
  • Aerospace & Aviation
  • Science and technology
  • Industry

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