Tag: Aviation

Business Development is Not Sales!

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Knowing the difference will make a difference for your business.

I am amazed by how often these two terms are used interchangeably, where the former is often used as a fancier term for the latter. Often, when I talk to those responsible for Business Development and the activities they are involved in, it turns out they are really talking about Sales. Conversely, when I talk to those responsible for Sales and who are good at it, turns out they put a lot more emphasis on Business Development activities.

Business Development and Sales are two distinctly different activities, and in today’s rapidly evolving business environment we would do well by knowing the difference. I would even venture to say that a well-developed understanding of Business Development, and an ability to do it well, is decidedly more important in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace. A focus on Business Development will give you a new perspective on your firm’s purpose and its future growth and direction. Business Development is concerned with the future of your business.

So, what’s the difference between Sales and Business Development?

Sales is generally well-understood. It involves the transfer of title or ownership of a product or service from seller to buyer at an agreed-to price. Simply put, Sales is about generating transactions. On the other hand, there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Business Development.

Most attempts at a definition suggest that Business Development covers a range of activities and that it is somehow related to value creation. It entails tasks and processes to develop and implement growth opportunities within and between organizations. It is also suggested that Business Development has a unique role in the innovation process, and that it is inherently collaborative and integrative in nature. Ultimately, Business Development is about generating qualified leads for a product or service offering.

Which is more important?

Sales is generally well-understood. It involves the transfer of title or ownership of a product or service from seller to buyer at an agreed-to price. Simply put, Sales is about generating transactions. On the other hand, there does not appear to be a universally accepted definition of Business Development.

It is not a question of one being better, more important or more desirable than the other. They are in fact complementary activities. The approach to Business Development and Sales tends to come from very different, yet complementary and reconcilable orientations. However, where you should place emphasis will depend on what is a higher priority within your organization at a given point in time. If you have clear market validation for your offering and are consistently closing a high proportion of prospects, then allocating more attention to Business Development to prospect for leads should be your number one priority. If you have more leads than you can deal with, then your focus should be on closing more Sales.

If your tendency is to be purely sales-driven, then you are not investing in your future, and it is less likely that you will turn prospects into clients. This is because you have not invested effort into understanding their needs and wants – this is fundamental to Business Development. If, on the other hand, your orientation is pure Business Development, then chances are that it will be difficult to acquire new clients. You need a good balance of the two orientations.

Growth starts with the Business Development mindset, and it is no coincidence that rainmakers have this as a dominant trait – they build authentic relationships with clients; they have empathy and listen to understand their clients’ needs; they provide what clients want and need; they are able to show clients the value of what they will receive; they are able to bring clients to the point of transaction; and they remind clients of the value they are receiving.

How does Business Development and Sales work together?

Knowing the difference between Business Development and Sales is helpful since it will spur better understanding, coordination and collaboration between the two functions within your business. Depending on your organization, it may even be beneficial to separate these two functions while ensuring they collaborate effectively. Business Development should focus time, effort and energy on building relationships with qualified leads to the point that they can be handed off to Sales to become happy customers.

It is easy to see that very different skillsets and talents are needed to perform well in either of these two different, yet complementary functions. Those who can imagine future possibilities; are constantly in search of new knowledge and information; can build diverse networks; and know how to attract and maintain partnerships, do well in business development. Those who are highly persuasive; make the Sales process as simple as possible; and know how to engage customers in an authentic way, do well in Sales. Employees should naturally “fall into” the roles that come naturally for them according to their own talents and interests.

It is important to stress that the entire process of researching, prospecting and qualifying to closing is a team effort. It therefore makes no sense to set targets and incentivize Sales when the client acquisition process is a whole-organization endeavour – this may well encourage behavior that is not in the best interest of the company. After all, acquisition of a new client is a team win and should be celebrated as such!

Rise of the Ecosystems

Read Time: 13 minutes

Spin your web to connect, collaborate and co-create

Prof. dr. Annemieke Roobeek is professor of Strategy and Transformation Management at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands. She is Founder & Director of MeetingMoreMinds B.V., an inter-company networking organization that helps accelerate innovation and sustainable implementation in a networked setting (www.meetingmoreminds.com). She recently set up GrwNxt B.V., a company that delivers data-driven infrastructure for producing fresh produce in megacities in fully controlled climate growth rooms (www.grwnxt.com). Through Open Dialogue B.V., another of her companies, she has designed and supervised large-scale transformation processes and strategy projects for companies and (governmental) organizations since 1994. She is co-initiator of XL Labs B.V., which is specialized in designing and developing ecosystems, and has held several non-executive board positions in various industries from finance to air transport and from publishing to pharmaceuticals.

EH You’ve got a very interesting career,… you started out with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, while at the same time having a very keen interest in academia that eventually led to consulting and directorships at some fairly significant companies, including Abbott Healthcare, ABN Amro and KLM. So, what drives and motivates you in terms of your purpose and what’s been the common thread throughout your career so far?
AR: Yeah, well I do have a purpose and I think there is a common thread. What I always want to do is to look further into the future and to see how you can mobilize a positive strength in society – positive forces in society to come forward. To look forward to that what is new and up and coming. And for that, of course, in a globalized economy, an airline is a very interesting company because it brings you everywhere in the world. And banking is very important because it is necessary to finance things and to work in a socially responsible way with the money of the banks. I think we learned that lesson, particularly in the crisis of 2008 to 2010. And Abbot, I liked so much because of the positive contribution to healthcare and a healthy society.
And indeed, I worked as an advisor and board member in many companies in very different industries, which also gave me enormous insights into changing society in a positive way, but also knowing what the hurdles are to change. And, in academia I’m a professor in strategy and transformation management. So, if I would not have had these deep insights in companies and strategy formation, I would not have been able to lecture to my MBA students and executives on insights into the board dynamics that may lead to challenging strategies or to stand-stills.

EH: That’s quite important…. to have a finger on the pulse – so to speak – of business and what’s going on in the marketplace. I’ve often said to people, we’re experiencing a new renaissance in many ways in business, and in society more generally. It’s an age of accelerating change and greater complexity….
AR: Yes, but that’s also been going on already for quite some time. When I did my PhD in the mid ’80s, I was working on the new techno-economic paradigm that would be the foundation for, let’s say, the new age to come. That involved working on what is the implication of the combination of new technologies like microelectronics, IP, telecom, biotechnology, nanotechnology, new materials. We all could see that already, and we did many studies on this.
The strange thing I would say is that, until the mid ’90s, you had a kind of euphoria or excitement over the kind of changes this could bring about. Then later, when the translation to business opportunities comes into play, the connection between all these new technologies and the changes envisaged disappeared for sake of shareholder value and short-termism.
I think what is interesting about the period we’re in today is that there is quite some criticism of the short-termism and shareholder value approach. We really have made a switch, I think, in the mindset. Also, what many new generation CEOs and stakeholders value is having a purposeful contribution to society and to think further than what a company can do, but what a company can contribute, in ecosystems, in networks and to the society in a broader framework.
I think that is so extremely exciting and indeed, it is very complex, as many things come together, but that is exactly the setting in which we can commit further than with all the technology and opportunities, by also giving answers to the challenges in the world than what we could do in the late ’90s.

EH: Yes, I agree. I think it’s the increased connectivity that’s really spurred on a lot of this and we’ve almost come full circle in that a lot of businessmen and businesswomen now realize or are quite assertive with the notion that business is a force for good in society. We still have a way to go for business to prove that, but what do you think are the biggest challenges facing organizations in this regard?
AR: I think it is not having the awareness that we are in times of disruptive change. It’s not that we cannot access technologies and new insights and knowledge. This one part we cover quite well. I think what is much more difficult is to adapt organizations to these disruptive changes. The organizational structures and existing hierarchies and the focus on egos by CEOs is still very dominant. I think this is particularly so in the US. We also see this with the last cohort of baby boomers who still are extremely focused on their egos. And, we also see it back in politics, of course, and developing companies. I think that hampers us from making real changes in the organizational structure, giving people much more freedom in terms of work settings and collaboration, but also in terms of collaboration between companies. It is still very much the old-fashioned organizational structure that is dominant and that hampers us.
In fact, in the past 20 years, from making optimal use of the technologies and the insights and the knowledge that has become available, the most important stumbling block are the institutions and for that we really must find political answers. With that I mean, for instance, that people are quite often anxious to make change during their working life with new habits, but also with, for instance, their pensions, or with the security they have today and that cannot be guaranteed tomorrow. The majority of people, certainly in the country I live in and the rest of Western Europe, do have a rather stable foundation, which is a stable base for salaries, for working conditions, for social security and for pensions when they are no longer working. That is what is at stake.
And as long as we do not have a new social contract – a “New Deal” – if that is not coming, then there is still a lot of instability in society that prevents us from making much bigger leaps forward than is possible nowadays. I think what is interesting is that the younger generation and the people in the startups and scale-ups, they are taking the risks. And when I speak for myself, I’ve set up several companies, like… I’m just in the midst of setting up a new one again. As you know, you take a risk because you want to contribute with your company to that greater purpose. In this case, it is feeding the mega cities. So, we’re taking the big picture and developing a software company to support this, and so on. But this is just a very few people who do that. People think they are entrepreneurial, but there are not that many entrepreneurs.

EH: Yes, that’s true. I think for the most part we have all become “institutionalized”.
AR: Exactly!

EH: Or corporatized, if you will. Institutionalized would be a better way to say it. But I think fundamentally though, that the human being is entrepreneurial, is never satisfied with his or her status quo and is always looking for ways to improve his or her circumstances. But over the years of working life, that is kind of drilled out. That creativity that one has is drilled out of people to some extent.
AR: Yeah, but also another point is that, as different from what you have seen in North America, here in Western Europe we had a very long and deep crisis. Whereas we’ve seen – particularly by the end of the ’90s until, I’d say, 2005 or 2006 – quite some entrepreneurial startups and a vibrant situation – they were more or less the babies that were taken care of – the last economic or financial crisis really left deep scars in people’s psyche, in their awareness.
You know, there was more uncertainty, with people asking, “Can you do it? Will you do it?….” And there were people also looking more and more for safety and this is something you cannot change so quickly. Certainly, when there are no political answers and no new political arrangements. And, I think that hampers, in Europe more than in the US or Canada, let alone Asia. So, I think there are also societal reasons why things do not go as quickly as the “Silicon Valley people” always think it should go.

EH: Would this be due to a promotion of individualism? What you have in North America is more the individual-centric approach to business as opposed to a societal or communal approach?
AR: I think that, particularly in Western Europe, you see the environmental model much more now. Let’s say, an enlightened capitalism based on social arrangements. And this becomes more and more important to have in order to take bigger steps forward. Therefore, you need to find the 21st century safety nets, and they will need to be more flexible than what my parents had, to make utmost use of the diversity and creativity we have here in Europe. But it is certainly not that we would like to go to the American “Me, myself and I” model, which is something we now see as very 1990s and 2000s. And that is also not the position young people would like to take as an example to emulate. I think we are looking forward to what I call the “new us”. And, that “new us” is based on more diversity, but also giving more mutual security to each other.

EH: In your consultancy work at MeetingMoreMinds you talk a lot about ecosystems and use the term webber or super-connector, if you will. How important does that role play in where economic activities need to be driven from, in terms of value creation?
AR: I think this is key. With the webber – or the ultimate connector – I mean the new roles that are so important in connecting people, businesses, institutes of knowledge, capital, governmental institutions to each other, around challenging questions, or challenging new things. And particularly, that connecting – what many people say they do, that they network – is not really the case because very often it is them knowing each other in their own reality, knowing yourself in your own company. What I mean with webbers in ecosystems is that with a much more diverse universe around you, around that [challenging] question, you see different companies and competitors, joining. But they also must collaborate and therefore you need these independent roles, which I call webbers, who know very well the purpose of the ecosystem that has been created around a challenging question, but who also know the different strategies of the parties involved and how to connect those people that can contribute to a productive way of using technologies, knowledge, and developing new services and products around it and making money in a responsible way.
But that connecting is something that is extremely undervalued, but also underestimated for what the importance of that is. And I would say that networks and networks of networks in ecosystems do not take off if there are no webbers who have really that role to play and you cannot say, “Well, someone will take it up.” No, it is such an important role that without all that – let’s say connectivity – between the different parties involved, you get chaos instead of oversight. And what webbers do is they connect, and they give oversight, but they also make it happen without have to play the ego role as we know that of a CEO. So, they are less hierarchical. They are what I call horizontal leaders who do it with respect for the others involved. But since they also [are motivated by] the purpose of the ecosystem, I would say they level up, and bring the different parties to a higher level, because you now play at another dimension, which makes it so exciting.

EH: Well, it’s very interesting because you’ve just described my career!
AR: Yeah, that is funny that you say that, because so many people – when I describe the webber – they say, “Oh! Now I know what I am!”

EH: Right. Well, I see it very much. So, I mean, everything that I’ve achieved has been through this kind of a webber type of role in terms of when it came to privatization of the air navigation system here in Canada… bringing all the parties together and actually moving forward on a common vision. And now also, with drone traffic management is another issue where you have software development companies, you have hardware companies, you have the regulator, you have all of these different parties having to come together. But what do you feel is the most important aspect of getting such an ecosystem going? I mean, for me, it’s all about taking initiative and leadership, but is that all, is there more to it than that?
AR: No, I think it’s also getting the mandate so that the webber is not only the connector, but that there really is, let’s say, a substantial mandate, not only in the ability to take decisions where necessary and also to have a say about the budget. And that means that you [as a company] have to delegate and that is very difficult, particularly for boards or executives in companies, because then very often they think only of their own short-term interests. Whereas, in an ecosystem – exactly as you describe around drones – you must look forward and already think about what will be important for the years to come. So, you must work at a higher level and with a future outlook and you do that for the greater good. And that very often clashes with what boards and the management of individual companies think should be in their short-term interest.

EH: Let’s delve into the whole issue of governance a bit more because it is really what you just mentioned – traditionally, boards have always focused on the competitive position of the company. And whereas, what we’re talking about is this notion of co-opetition, where you’ve got cooperation and competition going on at the same time. I think the ICT world has picked up this notion, within ecosystems, quite early on, but this is not so in many other industries. That just doesn’t exist yet. What will it take?
AR: I think it’s good that you mention that, because you could already see from the late ’70s and early ’80s that particularly IT engineers and software developers had their own communities in Silicon Valley, but also globally. And they freed themselves from the idea that everything must have a copyright, or everything was intellectual property. They were the first to understand that exponential learning only happens in collaborative settings, where you trust each other, because when you add something, you may expect that the others will do that too. I think that is why the IT industry, from the early ’80s onwards, grew so rapidly. Whereas we have seen the opposite in biotechnology. There we saw that sharing was forbidden and that [for example] professors at universities who thought they had a tiny thing that might be worth a lot of money, protected this with so much [legal documentation] for rights to this intellectual property, that even larger companies could not do anything with it. And this has hampered the development of biotechnology. And, you can even see that there has been a time lag of almost 25 years between what we saw coming up as new technology and its realization.
I worked a lot on biotechnology in the ’80s and I also worked on the regulation of biotechnology for the European Parliament. But there was a stalemate in the development of the technology, because of the ultra-protectionism, whereas sharing is the new normal. I think that particularly with technology that has come out of academia and in production already and in its application, we see a much quicker takeoff with all the community sharing it. It is also what companies should share. I think that the open source is a very good example of the new way of working, the new way of sharing. It is in fact creating a new setting where you need to share to better understand the potential. It also denies, at the same time, one company from knowing everything, or doing anything it pleases. So, collaboration is key, but the setting must be developed for that to happen.

EH: So, there’s been a lot of focus on competition for decades…. Are you seeing a shift towards creation [through cooperation] more than before and that this will be the new norm for value creation and of growth?
AR: Yes, I would say so. But the funny thing is that this is much more difficult in the US than in Europe, because we have much more of a sharing mentality. I think this will also be the new success of Europe – generations here are much less tuned in to short-term wealth creation, and working much more in [collaborative] environments, doing challenging things [that are of value to society.] That’s exactly what we see happening.
We have for instance, here in the Netherlands, Prince Constantijn who is the leader of the startup and accelerator network at B. Amsterdam [a startup and innovation ecosystem], next to the IBM buildings in Amsterdam, and he is organizing together with many smaller companies the Capital Tour XXL. So, a lot is being organized to stimulate cooperation. And, I think it also is a lot less risky for investors when companies and startups connect and work together, instead of going it alone, and can go a lot further with innovation. I think investors will also learn from those failures and question why go for one unicorn and not for an ecosystem.

EH: Right. So, it’s a way of de-risking the venture as well….
AR: I would say so.

EH: So finally, what does this all mean for government policymaking and regulation since, as you mentioned earlier, the institutional community has not kept pace. What does this mean for governments in general terms, in this new reality?
AR: I think that in Europe, but also in North America, that you will see a new kind of industry politics coming up. How to create a new force [to compete with] Chine, for instance. But I think this is exactly not what we must do because we know that when government steers industry policy it’s always cherry-picking. Only multinationals are the winners, or a few little darlings that grew up quickly. The new name of the game for governments is to see what the really big global issues are around climate change, health, social contracts, energy transition, etc. These are things that governments can address and can stimulate companies to work on, by having a long-term policy [framework] around it.
I think what Germany did in the late ’80s was really great – to have policies in place for 20 years on renewable energy, and to stimulate an entire new industry without saying what exactly must be done. Governments should refrain from detailed policymaking but address more the international and global issues.
And therefore, I think that the institutions, like for instance the European Union but also the United Nations, will become more and more important. We’ve seen this with the SDG’s – the social development goals – where we can address the big issues and stimulate companies to work purposefully together on solutions. This is very different from what we’ve seen in the ’90s and particularly up until the economic crisis. I think that going it alone, and in it only for yourself, is a dead-end because the business models have changed. The business models are much more geared towards networking and ecosystems. The questions have changed, and the challenges have changed. It’s not about a new machine. It is about new systems and therefore systems thinking is extremely important, particularly for governments, to see how they can collaborate on the big challenges, and not to dictate, but to let go.
And to invest in education, in easy access to knowledge and in easy access to institutes of higher education. So, not that we have the situation where you need immense amounts of money to pay just for a few courses or to get a masters degree. I think one of the important things is to have accessible education at all levels and to have even more international education. And particularly, not to protect too much, but to trust each other more. And I think, include the Chinese, include the Russians, in very important international projects to learn together. Perhaps even a mission to Mars can help with that!

EH: It definitely requires at the institutional level, quite some – well, I would even say revolutionary – change, to make sure some of these institutions that have been built up over the decades are fit for purpose. And, as we’ve seen with the whole Brexit debate of course, quite a lot of concerns about the European institutions and how they function.
AR: I would say it is more about the British, and particularly [the politics] in the parliament there, but not about European institutions, because we go on.

EH: Indeed. Well, it’s certainly an interesting time. Lots of political change happening and I think we’re at a stage where there’s still a lot of debate going on in terms of what is the way forward [on the most important questions of the day.]
AR: But I think that’s also good, because we should not follow dictators or demagogues. I think we should cherish democracy, dialogues and open minds and only then can we surprise ourselves and our fellow citizens….

EH: … in what we can achieve together?
AR: Exactly!

EH: Alright, very good. Well, on that note, thank you very much for the time.
AR: It was a pleasure!

Leading the Charge in Electric Aviation – AiP 007

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In this episode of Vantage Point, I speak with Kevin Noertker, Co-Founder and CEO of Ampaire, Inc. an electric airplane startup based in the Greater Los Angeles area. Located at Hawthorne Municipal Airport, they are in good company along with the Tesla Design Center and SpaceX – an epicenter of innovation in aerospace and electric vehicles.
In June, Ampaire began its flight test program on its first commercial aircraft, the Ampaire Electric EEL, a twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster modified to fly with one conventional combustion engine and one electric motor. It is the largest hybrid-electric aircraft flying today, which is now offered for sale to general aviation pilots. Later this year, the Electric EEL is set to enter flight trials on commercial routes with Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii. As regulators and air transport companies around the world try to reduce carbon emissions, this bold step toward electric aviation can possibly amount to the giant leap the sector has been looking for.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.

On the Ball to Avoid a Stall – AiP 006

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Today’s episode is with John Maris, an aeronautical engineer with two master’s degrees and a Doctorate in Aviation Safety and Human Factors. John has devoted his entire professional career to understanding stall warning systems, and his Ph.D dissertation concerned the interrelationship between aircrew and stall warning systems. He has gone on to invent the Airfoil Performance Monitor (APM), the next generation stall warning system.

John has an Airline Transport Pilot License from the FAA, Transport Canada, and EASA, and is type-rated on the Boeing 747, among other aircraft types. He is an Associate Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) and is a test pilot instructor and active Transport Canada designated experimental test pilot. Further, he is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI). 

In business, John Maris is President and CEO of Marinvent, a Canadian consulting services firm that helps its clients reduce their program risk and cost and bring their products to market. As president of Marinvent’s US-based arm – Advanced Aerospace Solutions – John led the company to attain NASA’s Small Business Subcontractor of the Year award (TASAR) in 2014. John was the first program manager for the Canadarm2 workstations on the International Space Station and is the creator of the MC3 electronic charting technology that is at the core of Jeppesen’s electronic charting business (the “M” in MC3 stands for Marinvent). Further, John was Chair of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) and was named Canadian Defence Executive of the Year in 2017. He has received Canada’s highest aerospace award, the Trans-Canada McKee Trophy, and was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 2018.

From Drones Beware to Flight Aware – AiP 005

Read Time: 2 minutes

As more and more drones take to the sky, and ambitions for drone delivery services and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations get ever-greater, the airspace is set to become increasingly congested. Concerns over hazards to commercial manned aviation are well-founded with calls for regulation. There are also concerns over privacy with drones flying above people and private property, or too close to restricted areas like airports and other critical infrastructure.

At the same time, regulators are cautioned not to introduce rules that will run roughshod over an emerging industry full of potential. A solution is needed to inform drone operators where they can and cannot fly, and allow for the safe integration of drones into the airspace – a solution called unmanned aircraft system (UAS) traffic management, or UTM.

In this episode I speak with Marc Kegelaers, CEO of Unifly, an award-winning software company that has developed such a solution – a platform for the safe integration of drones into the airspace. Of late, Unifly has been getting a lot of press, through its involvement in numerous demonstration in Europe and elsewhere, which has also created a lot of interest from VCs and potential customers – the CAAs and ANSPs.

Of course, there have been lessons learned along the way, from first needing to build a system for mission critical applications that is an open platform, upon which you can then start adding user interfaces. At the same time and most importantly – listen very carefully to the customer. And, as a ground-breaking company, one must be an evangelist and lead with a vision of the future when it comes to management of the airspace.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.

If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

To the City Hopper, Not the Chopper – AiP 004

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Ever been frustrated by heavy traffic when you are in a rush to get to that all-important meeting? We all have! So, instead of being stuck in traffic gridlock, what if you could rise above it all, and quickly and comfortably fly to your urban destination in a 2-person pod the size of a Smart car?  That’s the idea behind Volocopter – an urban air taxi – and the brainchild of Alexander Zosel and Stephan Wolf, two entrepreneurs with a vision for urban air mobility. I guess the Jetsons must’ve influenced them!

In this episode I speak with Jan-Hendrik Boelens, chief technology officer at Volocopter, about the massive potential of urban aircraft systems, and the challenges that still lie ahead of the company as it moves towards commercial certification.

If you’re listening to this episode during your commute… maybe you’re stuck in traffic… take a look above you and imagine what it would be like to hop over it all!




If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Meeting a Medical Need with Speed – AiP 003

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More than two billion people lack adequate access to essential medical products, often due to challenging terrain or gaps in infrastructure. Over 2.9 million children under age five die every year due to a lack of access to vaccines and essential medicines. Up to 150,000 pregnancy-related deaths could be avoided each year if mothers had reliable access to safe blood. These are the sad truths that Zipline set out to address by rapidly delivering lifesaving medical products directly where they are needed.

In this interview I speak with Will Hetzler, Co-Founder and COO of Zipline, who I first met in Rwanda during the AviationAfrica Conference we were both speaking at in 2017. The California-based company has since expanded to Ghana and is actively being courted by VC’s and celebrities alike, like U2’s Bono!

Learn how this company has been pioneering delivery drone services in Africa, which could one day provide an essential service closer to your home.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.




If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Technology – AiP 002

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Ever been stuck in a long line-up at airport security and wondered how it could be sped up? Eric Bergeron did, and so founded Optosecurity in 2003, which provided the world’s first and most deployed remote screening and centralized image processing solution that helps airports reduce costs, increase throughput, and enhance security. Optosecurity has recently been acquired by Vanderlande Industries, the global market leader in logistics process automation for airports, express delivery and warehousing.

Twelve years later, Eric was at it again with FlyScan, which provides automated, airborne leak detection services for the oil and gas pipeline industry. In recent years this sector has been at the forefront of political, environmental and economic debates due to highly publicized pipeline spills, which have made future pipeline project proposals contentious. Monitoring pipelines and detecting leaks quickly (even underground) can prevent these from becoming major environmental disasters.

In this episode I speak with Eric about his motivations, not only as an engineer and businessperson, but about what drives him as an innovator and how he works ahead of technology instead of behind it.

For the full transcript of this episode, please refer to the Vantage Point interview.



If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Welcome to the Aviation Innovation Podcast – AiP 001

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Welcome to the official launch of the Aviation Innovation Podcast, hosted by Eugene Hoeven! The show will interview the movers and shakers in the business today, the pioneers of yesterday, and bring you the stories of the innovators and entrepreneurs in our aviation industry.

Learn of the innovations and emergent technologies affecting aviation and air transport, the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship in our sector, as well as the strategies and tactics for success.

If you like what you hear, help us reach more people by giving us a 5-star rating on your podcasting app, and support innovation in aviation!

Please subscribe to the Aviation Innovation Podcast on your preferred podcasting app.

Let’s get digital, digital, I wanna get digital, let’s get into digital….

Read Time: 14 minutes

Digital air traffic services will help create the smart airport of the future, offering greater flexibility, enhanced security, and more efficient traffic management at reduced costs.

Digitalization is starting to take hold in aviation in a big way, with promises of greater efficiency and productivity improvements, new insights and better decision-making, and further innovation. It is an evolutionary process that will yield revolutionary outcomes, as it is set to change business models and provide new, value-creating opportunities.

For Saab this journey started some 15 years ago when LFV, the air navigation service provider (ANSP) of Sweden, presented Saab with a problem – whether it was possible to provide air traffic control from a remote location in order to keep an airport from permanently closing down due to the high cost of maintaining a staffed control tower. This spearheaded the evolution in the air traffic management (ATM) industry.

The collaboration that resulted between LFV and Saab was a success and put into operation the first Remote Tower Service (RTS) in the world. In June 2016, the partnership evolved to the next level, with LFV and Saab establishing Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions (SDATS), combining LFV’s expertise in delivering digitalized, innovative and certified operational solutions with Saab’s technological leadership and global organization. The company commenced operations on 1 September 2016. In this episode of Vantage Point, I speak with Per Ahl, the newly-appointed CEO of SDATS, about how this came about and his vision for the future.

Digitalization is one of today’s big trends and has been for a while. In many ways, aviation is playing catch-up, with Saab being one of its main proponents. What got this going for Saab?

It all started with LFV – the air navigation service provider of Sweden – approaching us with a problem that it was getting too costly to provide tower control at Örnsköldsvik Airport and that discontinuing air traffic services would effectively close down the airport. Then, another airport that was in another part of Sweden was on the borderline to be closed down, because of cost. But these airports are still very important for the local communities, and industry and so forth.

So, at that time LFV asked Saab whether there would be a possibility to combine towers – a new type of infrastructure – with the operational side to lower the overall cost. That was actually the starting point for making the feasibility study in 2007-08. The results of that capability study were so encouraging that both LFV and Saab realized that – absolutely – we can do this in a completely new way.

And then when we looked at it differently – cost-benefit and business case wise – that if we combine different airports into a center and centralize the whole operation, what would the gain be? That has been a very interesting journey, to see that by centralizing several airports you can reduce the overall direct cost by up to 20 – 30%.

So, centralization has been driven by this kind of solution, for us at least. We now have one operations center – after we got the first-in-the-world-airport to be certified and operated from the center in 2015. Now, we have four airports at that center. We will be building a second center in Stockholm Arlanda, that initally will have up to four airports in operation next year, but will have the capacity for up to 22 airports.

You mentioned certification and of course the regulatory element is quite critical. How has that played a role? How important has it been for Saab to get the regulatory community on side?

That has been a journey by itself, I will say. There are several different, very important stakeholders, and one important stakeholder is the regulatory part as we are running a safety-critical operation. As we were the front runner, nobody had done this before. So, absolutely, this was very important to have the regulator engaged from the earlier days.

The first tender was released in 2011, and we won that. And then, we started to look into how should an approved system look like. As you know, digitalization and technology itself will be an opener for new services and applications. You need to change the whole regulatory framework. This is something that will take time. So, we made a decision – both LFV and Saab – in 2011, to focus on today’s rules and regulations [based on recommendations contained in ICAO Doc 4444 – Procedures for Air Navigation Services: Air Traffic Management.]

So, we really scrutinized all the different paragraphs in ICAO documentation, the Swedish Air Law, even down to the local airport municipal laws and so on, in order to see whether we could implement the technology, and on top of that, the related operations procedures.

That was the starting point – whether the whole system could be driven as an operational, as-today system. But we realized that we could do much, much, much more with digitalization, and with new applications. But in order not to blur the interaction with the regulator, we put that aside and really focused on delivering the technology package to meet the requirements of today’s operation.

We started to install the first system in 2011, and we had hoped that it would take maybe two years to get the approval. But it took much longer. In 2015 we got the “tick in the box”, and by then LFV and Saab committed 30,000 manhours to provide safety cases and arguments, and all the procedures and human factors analyzes and so forth – 30,000 manhours! But then, for the second airport we could reuse quite a lot and we were down to 16,000 manhours. And then with the third airport, we are down to 5 to 6,000 manhours. We started to have a process now – and we could interact with the regulator and so on.

That has been an eye opener for other regulators around the world. I mean, EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] was one of the first to adopt new kinds of directives. Now ICAO has also started to look into this, and I think it was a very fruitful meeting in Bangkok just a months ago – they have started to realize, “This is something we have to take care of.” It has been a journey to change the mindset, even on the regulator side. But as we have proved, we have a system in operation and we now have competition, and they have done a great job as well. So, it’s not if this will come, it’s already here.

So, it has been really a long journey to come where we are today, and I’m very pleased that during the last – I would say – two years the view has been changing dramatically. It’s not about the technology; it’s how to take care of change management, not just from the regulatory side, but also on the operations side. That has been very, very important.

So, it’s really been a learning process for all, I hear. As you gain the experience, and of course mindsets change, and the culture around innovation and technology adoption changes, would it be right to say that it’s really about getting people to think about new approaches to doing things?

I would say so, that’s been our number one experience. Forget about the technology, the technology provider can solve that. We have proved that. Our competitors have proved that. Everything is revolves around change management. That’s the most important element, to have people change mindsets. That’s the most important part.

If you create a center, and have the whole operation run from there, then you have to move people – controllers from airport A to the center – and you must take care of that movement and the changing [work] environment. That has been a very important element to understand, and to offer this new work environment in the most positive way.

So, clarity of vision and having everyone embrace that vision, that requires quite a bit of leadership and clarity of communication to building that trust. Has that been the biggest element to success?

Absolutely. Yes, definitely. You have to stand up, hold meetings and interact especially with the operations people. And it’s important to have a spokesperson from the operations side who can be part of the whole rollout. That has been very, very important.

We were lucky in Sweden in that we had a program manager from the operations side. In the beginning, he was the most negative person in the group. But we picked him as the Program Manager from the operations side and told him, “Okay, now you have to be on our side, so to speak, and really drive the change technology-wise and so forth.” And he is our best advocate now and salesperson, because in his position he has to be able to say, “Okay, I will not sign off on this solution until I know that my fellow colleagues will accept it.”

So, our system really has been operations driven from day one, and that has been with his help, in order not to be engineering-driven or technology-driven. It’s operations driven. And, it was a generational thing as well. That is, if you have been living at a country regional airport and spending 25 years in the tower, to change to a new way of doing things that’s a tough journey, I must say

But, with the younger generation, it’s a completely other ballgame. We have a huge lack of ATCOs (air traffic controllers) in Europe and in Asia. And with the younger generation, they don’t want to sit in a dark regional airport. They want like to be part of the IT or gaming environment.

Now, there’s an attractiveness of this kind of environment. We have a center with a good work office environment, with screens and so forth and the latest technology. We have one young controller – he’s 25 years old – who came directly from the training academy into the center, and it has worked perfectly. I mean, it was no issue at all. It’s his environment. His background is in gaming, what he does as a hobby and in his spare time.

Then, our Swedish regulator realized that, “Hey, you haven’t been in a regular tower. You must go down to the airport – 600 kilometers away – where you will work for two weeks.” So, they sent him off and after one week he called back to the center and said, “Please, can I come home? It’s so boring!”

So, for us it was very important to know that we were on the right track because we have to be attractive for the younger generation that has not yet [decided to] become an ATCO. We needed to understand how the work environment plays a role in order to be successful in the [labour] market.

That’s a very important point, especially with the [labour] shortages, not just for ATCOs, but pilots and mechanics and so forth. I think technology advances and innovation are very much going to be the magnets for attracting the new generation.
Obviously, how this all started was you were dealing with a challenge – Sweden was dealing with a challenge. But, when it comes to the adoption of digital towers and digital ATS in other countries that may not have the same challenge as Sweden did in beginning, how do they embrace this technology? Their case for change may be different.

It’s different drivers in different countries. If you have a competitive [air traffic services] environment like in the UK for instance, then it’s other drivers. For other countries, where you have a government-owned ANSP, they have other drivers. You can see that aviation is quite a young industry itself. With the creation of airports after the second World War, there are now lots of airports that have very old towers that need to be replaced or refurbished. To refurbish or build a new tower, it’s very, very costly.

[Those airports] will have a very easy business case to justify, and to go for [RTS], because it is at a fraction of the cost. Even in Sweden, our fourth airport – it’s a ski resort up in the western part of Sweden – is building a totally new greenfield airport with the latest technology, including our system. So, to save money, instead of building a “brick and mortar” tower, they go for the [RTS] solution. And what we have offered to them – since their season is only during winter – is that we will provide them with air traffic services during six months of the year. So, suddenly you can base a new business model on a digital platform that was not possible for a “brick and mortar” tower.

And, sometimes you need to have “five and a half” controllers…. You can’t have a half controller, so you must have six and that may be a very costly. But what we can offer is ATC on demand now. Maybe you only have two hours in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon and the rest of the day there’s nothing. That is something we can offer.

So, it’s actually a scalable solution to meet the demand. and, of course, you save significant cost in the actual installation of the capability. Do you see, in terms of future airports around the world, that the control tower as we know it will no longer exist, but will have more sensors providing the necessary information?

Absolutely. If you look at Asia, India and so forth with the huge growth in traffic, they have a lack of ATCOs and they see the digital rollout as part of the [future] infrastructure. Definitely.

Our company SDATS, since I became CEO three months ago, has also transformed into an ANSP. So, we have our own operator certificate. We are a true digital ANSP now. From the 1st of September, the whole center that is in operation now with LFV will be transferred into our company. So, we will have from the 1st of September, controllers on the payroll and everything.

Last week, we had the last negotiation with the union for this transition. So that has been an interesting journey and an experience, definitely. But I think the reason we do this; is for the reason that we need to understand the full spectrum of this – the impact – and then you have to understand how the operation will be run in the future. And the only way [to understand] is to become an ANSP ourselves.

So, what we can offer to the market is not only the technology itself, but we can provide support with operational services and for getting it approved, the required training, and so forth. But as well, in the competition, where there are possibilities. We can offer a full-service concept as that of an ANSP.

Very interesting. No doubt there are some real challenges. You just mentioned one – of course, the labor element needs to be brought along. But, what would be your number one challenge at this point in time?

At this point, in general, it is still the change management part. Definitely. To have everybody involved from the beginning. That is something we always emphasize when meeting a client – you have to have a very, very good understanding of the impact on the whole organization. It’s not only the operations side. It’s also the engineering side. It’s everybody. You all have to be a part of this, because it changes the foundation in any ANSP.

What does that mean for the type of skillsets, mindsets, and then the kind of aptitudes that you need to have on your team to be able to manage this in a proper way? I would imagine technical skills – yes, this is good, but it’s perhaps less important than the human EQ (emotional intelligence) skills.

Absolutely. As I said, we started already in 2006 with this. And then, we had the operational system in 2015. We have, I would say, a huge experience bank in this. Not just on our technology side, but as well how to make this journey or the change part. And I’m very, very lucky that we handpicked the people who have been part of this from day one on the operations side and as well as in leading the change within LFV.

They are now working in my company. That is a fantastic situation – that we can have them onboard – to help guide other customers around the world. And that has been very, very positive. The feedback we get is that [customers] need a “hand to hold”, so to say, because nobody has done this before. We have already had our pitfalls, and know what to avoid. Instead, [customers benefit from] our experience, and that has been a very, very positive feedback.

On a more personal note, you’ve been appointed CEO [of SDATS, a joint Saab and LFV company) – congratulations! And, you certainly have a very impressive career – transitioning from flight dispatcher to airline fleet engineer, to consulting, and more recently to marketing and sales. That’s not something you started out in, but given this broad experience that you have, how has that helped you with some of the early wins at Saab, and also in terms of creating a vision for the future?

I must say this has been a huge experience for me, and a very positive one. I was flying with Scandinavian Airlines as a pilot as well on the DC-9 and 737s. To have seen the whole spectrum in the industry, that has been very, very positive. I have had the pleasure to work with very good people all over the world.

I have always been intrigued that… generally speaking, the rules and regulations and how the operation is performed is still very much from the time of the Second World War. I have always seen the possibility to do it in a more efficient and less costly way. And, to bring people together, so that you no longer have the stove pipes of the past so that you can integrate information between the different stakeholders.

I hope in the near future, we can integrate aircraft information more in the ground system, because it’s still a guessing game whereby the pilot has all the information in the cockpit with the FMS (flight management system) to fly the optimal routes and the environmentally friendly approaches, etc.

But that is not taking into account the ground system, where {ATCOs] are still guessing what the pilot, or aircraft will do. We need to come to some kind of understanding to share the best information and not start guessing how to fly. I mean, it’s ridiculous now in 2019 that we would still operate in the same way.

So, there may still be hope for VDL Mode 4? (VHF Digital Link (VDL) is a means of sending information between aircraft and ground stations, and in the case of VDL Mode 4, other aircraft)

Ha, ha, ha,…. You said it!

Within the context of the Internet of Things – that is really driven more from the software industry and mobile telephony, if you will – it’s very much in the same vein. I see this already in unmanned traffic management (UTM), that conceptually, is quite different. It’s relying a lot more on automation, relying a lot more on digital information exchange, and so forth. So it’s interesting. It may well be that traditional ATM will migrate more, conceptually at least, towards a UTM-type of setup.

I definitely think so. I have always challenged ANSPs around the world, “How do you foresee your role in 10 years’ time or 15 years’ time?” And the response typically is that it will be the same. But it will not be the same!

You have other pressure now, coming from other industries like Google or Amazon and those kind of guys. I mean, they will just go for this, and I’m surprised that the ANSP [community] has not taken action to be part of [shaping the future.] For me, it’s amazing.

What we are doing now, when we design our centers, is that UTM will be a working position within our center in the future. Definitely. But what we are doing right now is the ATS side, for obvious reasons. But, within Saab we have other divisions looking at new surveillance technology, drone tracking, automatic detection between birds and drones, and so on. And this has been very, very successful.

And as well, security from remote locations. We have Vasteras Airport in Stockholm, after working hours at four o’clock the full security operation is run from Stockholm Arlanda Airport with sensors and so on. That would be an integrated part of the center in the future.

So, this is just the starting point and I often refer to the telecom industry. They have had the copper network early on and suddenly you have an iPhone, a smart phone with apps. I didn’t know what an app was 15 years ago, and [this industry] just exploded and I can’t live without it. This would be the same with digitalization of the ATS service, or airport operation.

To wrap up, and looking to the future, what would be your most important goals and objectives in the coming years to continue to create value and drive change in the industry?

I think a very important milestone for us – now that SDATS has become an ANSP and we’ll be running the operation from the center as of the 1st of September – is that we’re going to bring our knowledge and experience elsewhere, to all parts of the globe.

I think there will be some very interesting opportunities in the near term – one, two, three, four, five years from now. Definitely, we’ll be a global change agent in this and we will be part of it. We have already started to push the whole industry in this direction, and I think that will be a challenging journey for everybody. But, it’s the only way to do it.

I would imagine that it will be a somewhat different rate of change in different regions, but I think every region ultimately will need to embrace this new approach.

Yeah. We can see that already now with the space-based ADS-B and so forth. It’s a big change. And the way we have done the infrastructure side of things in the last 50 years, that will not survive. It’s something from the past. We have a continent like Africa…. why should they invest in copper networks, and so on, when they can go directly into this kind of solution and create a completely new operation to support the build-up of the economy in the country in a completely new way? I mean, it’s ridiculous to go the old way.

And we’ve already seen that in Africa, when it comes to a digital telephony, mobile phones are being used for payment services – it’s more advanced in Africa than in other parts of the world. And the use of drones for delivery. I was in Rwanda and saw the Zipline operation to deliver blood products to remote the clinics. And so that’s beyond visual line of sight operations (BVLOS), and it’s already being done in Africa.
Leapfrogging to the next generation of technology is certainly very, very possible in places like Africa, and it’s a region that will be growing quite significantly over the years to come. Interesting times. Well… Per, thank you very much for this.