VIEWPOINT: Sex & Aviation

Industry leaders at several recent in-person events wondered aloud how to make aviation"sexy" again in a bid to attract workers who are in short supply

Matt Driski
(PHOTO: Matt Driskill)

Unshakable_BizThe good thing about travel coming back is borders are open — as this issue is being written China has loosened its entry rules, although that could change in a flash — and for the industry, in-person shows are coming back. Although not jam-packed as they were pre-pandemic, they are coming back. Asian Aviation recently attended two events in Singapore where the topics were greatly similar. China, labour (or the lack thereof ), and automation or “going digital” were the topics on everyone’s minds.

Sex, funny enough, also came up, specifically when the topics of labour shortages arose during panel discussions. The sex we’re talking about is not the reproductive or ‘fun’ kind but was posed as more of a question by Subhas Menon at the CAPA Asia Summit, and later echoed by another panellist at the Future Travel Experience show.

Menon posed the question, “how do we make aviation sexy again” for people to want to work in the industry or return to a job they lost to a microscopic virus that killed millions of people and caused billions of dollars of losses.

While everyone else was talking about China and the surge in leisure and business travel, the main topic seemed to keep returning to “how do we get the millions of people we laid off or fired (sacked) during the pandemic to want to come back to work for us?”

Various ideas were bandied about by the so-called expert panellists from airlines, alliances, MRO providers, ground handlers and other sectors. They hemmed and hawed about “upskilling”, “retraining” workers to turn ground handlers into lounge staff thanks to the increasing automation of airport jobs (but lounge jobs are also increasingly being automated).

What these “experts” seemed to miss was the industry is very much not sexy in any sense of the word any longer. Absent a fair wage that would allow a ground handler to make a down payment on a new house or put his or her kid through university, and insurance for when your back goes out after loading heavy bags all night in the pouring rain, why would anyone want to come back?

Sexy for an airline CEO is his or her stock grants (not options mind you, but grants), his or her multi-million-dollar salary, free travel (First Class where still available on certain planes), and other similar perks.

Sexy for a ground handler or a flight attendant, is, as mentioned above, a salary that allows that employee to live a decent life, keep the car filled with fuel, the fridge filled with good food for a family and insurance for when they get COVID.

Automation is not sexy unless you’re a robot builder or a computer programmer. While every airport talks about biometrics, automation, etc., what they ’re really talking about is being able to use a machine or a computer to eliminate jobs. That’s not sexy.

That includes border patrol or immigration agents. Changi Airport is the best airport in the world, but it has managed to keep costs down by employing automation wherever it can. That’s great for the airport’s bottom line, but why would someone come back to work at the airport when a machine may take their job. That’s not sexy.

What aviation leaders need to do is put themselves in a ground handler’s steel-toed boots, work a 12-hour shift heaving heavy bags to and fro and try desperately to meet the turnaround times demanded by the airlines. That would be sexy.


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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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