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You all know the saying: “There are no indispensable persons, anybody can be replaced.”

My question is: “Whom with?”

What follows is my personal view on the subject, as it relates to the aviation industry, although the context can be applied elsewhere.

In commercial aviation the general rule of operational profitability is: “An aircraft on the ground costs money”. Meaning, the more an aircraft is flying, the more revenue it generates.

This very rule is made obvious by the airlines introducing “daylight flights”... And no, they were not introduced for the benefit of the passenger, as anybody who has taken a long-haul daylight flight will tell you. They were introduced to maximise the use of the aircraft. A quick turnaround, a change of crew and voila, ready for the evening flight.

Two flights in a 24 hours period. Potentially more than twice the revenue, since the fixed-costs remain the same.

Why? You ask yourself, I’m I waffling on about airlines and profits... Is there a point to this story?

Well..., yes there is.

Most aviation businesses were started by a pilot and an engineer team. If the initial idea worked, the business grew. The pilot employed another pilot that he checked out to fly the second aircraft... By the third, the engineer could no longer cope with the workload, and he employed another engineer he trusted.

And so the business kept growing. The pilot ran the flying part of things, employing the best pilots he could get, and the engineer kept the aircraft fleet running smoothly by having the best engineers. Everybody felt part of a team, and were remunerated accordingly.

Years passed.

The original team had retired. The company had shareholders that demanded that their investment be “profitable”. Accountants were called in.

Cost cutting began...

– “Pilots earn what?” – “Who needs engineers?”

Cut. Cut. Cut....

The “teamwork” started to fall apart. The best people left for greener pastures, where they felt that their abilities would be appreciated.

Someone had the brilliant idea to bring in a trade union. The relationship between the pilot/engineers and management was handed over to “negotiators”. The gap became an abyss.

Staff turnover increased.

The company started employing less qualified personnel to fill the void. More aircraft started to remain on the ground because they were abused in the air, and the “mechanics” couldn’t get them back into the air.

Profitability declined.

More cuts were instituted.

The spiral tightened...

... and became a flat spin. The wings came off, and terminal velocity was achieved shortly afterwards.

Remember names like TWA, Pan Am and Swissair? They were at some stage household names of aviation’s best...

There are countless aviation companies, that are now part of history, that made the fatal error of thinking that they could “replace anybody”.

Moral of this story: – “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys”

March 2005

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