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Athar Husain Khan

First mover advantage

EBAA Secretary-General Athar Husain Khan speaks to Alison Chambers.


Were it not for this pandemic, many of us would be prepping for what would have been the 20th annual EBACE Convention. For EBAA, planning started many, many months ago. Resilient Aviation spoke with Secretary-General Athar Husain Khan about what has been preoccupying him and how business aviation is well positioned to lead the European recovery.

“We would typically have been back and forth to Geneva finalising the planning.” (EBACE, Europe’s biggest business aviation gathering, was due to start on May 26th). Instead, working from home, on Microsoft Teams, Athar and his team have been pre-occupied providing operational guidance to their membership and beyond. Its COVID-19 Resource Centre, which provides updates on operations curfews, is updated daily. There has been regular communication with the European Commission, media – trade and non-trade - and regular dialogue with national associations, including the UK’s BBGA, airport and industry associations, Eurocontrol, EASA and stakeholders, including airports.

There isn’t anything new about these conversations, but the over-riding topic now is what this pandemic has brought about, he said.

“I am very proud of our membership,” Athar says. They have been on the frontline of the crisis and will be on the front line, leading the European recovery. We are not asking for any exemptions, he adds. Rather he feels our actions these past few months speak for themselves, significantly elevating our place in the eco-system as a “must have.” (versus a nice to have).

As we slowly start to move out of this, we are well placed to showcase our capacity and capability in performing an ‘essential’ role, just as we have been delivering – through our repatriation flights, crucial patient transfer, emergency and medical cargo flights, as well as offering empty leg flights to governments. “We are ready to show how business aviation can be a catalyst and enabler for the industry.”

Athar concurs there will inevitably be some reshaping in the sector (many operators in Europe fly less than three aircraft). “It is hard to predict, as this industry is transforming, but I expect we should start seeing some shift in six months from now. The arrival of Covid will for sure too, shine a new light on our industry and influence how we conduct our business. The emphasis will be on innovation, sustainability and new aviation fuels. One good outcome, he hopes, will be a decrease in the number of illegal charter activity (with players existing). “That will be a good thing.”

Encouragingly, he says, EBAA has been invited to participate in a round table forum next week, called by the European Commission to discuss aviation’s recovery. We published two open letters to regulators in April, recommending the development of inclusive measures, adaptable to our uniqueness in the sector. The second outlined just what we have been doing, showing our value. It is pleasing they want to hear from us. The (Covid-19) exit strategy is really critical. However, we recover and move out of this whole pandemic, I firmly believe it must be co-ordinated at European and national level. There should be a responsible, prudent implementation of measures and this will be a key ask from our side.

“We are pushing for a non-discrimatory, harmonised approach. Our goal is to restore connectivity for the entire aviation sector and get the supply chain moving. In doing so, we want business aviation recognised as a key enabler, drawing on our strength - agility, adaptability, flexibility, speed. This positions us well to be a first mover. That is our strategy and it’s a big chess board we are playing on.”

Acknowledging that the access issue (at big airports) may have gone away for now, with the world’s airlines operating less that 10% of their schedules, Athar is pragmatic. “This is a material fact, yes, and Eurocontrol figures have shown these past months that business aviation movements have been more prolific. With commercial airlines grounded (and many not back fully until 2021) there will be more room and capacity. However, I’d certainly like to see a “major review of slots at institutional level and will be pushing for that.”

Another big concern is aviation jobs. We employ nearly 400,000 talented people in business aviation. One of our tasks, through our Expanding Horizons platform will be to help safeguard the well-being and the people working in our sector. EBAA has an excellent track record advocating the joy of a career in business aviation and helping to attract and retain new talent through our STARS programme. We will be very focused on that during this time. (See separate story)

In this ‘reset’ my wish is to see our sector emerge as a valued ‘partner’. We will explore an integrative approach – and our wish is to change the perception of our sector as merely a luxury solution for the rich. “We have shown our value during this crisis and have captured, and will continue to, take an increased share of traffic. We want our aviation providers to be viewed as a fully inclusive solution for business travel.

“The second half of this year will be very interesting, as we get to grips with this new world,” he concludes.




Alison Chambers Athar Husain Khan was speaking to Resilient Aviation Editor Alison Chambers.

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BlueSky Business Aviation News | 21st May 2020 | Issue #558



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