Irish leaders key to aircraft leasing sector

Last Friday, 870 guests piled into a Dublin hotel to celebrate the Irish aviation industry.

The gathering, organised by the Irish Aviation Authority, illustrated the depth and breadth of commerce engaged in financing aircraft, operating airlines, and servicing this key transport infrastructure.

It also, once again, underlined the critical role Irish executives play in this growth industry.

During the evening, a key award was made to Dublin native Alan Joyce for his success in running the airlines JetStar and Qantas in Australia.

Aside from the actual leadership skills he displayed in running a company with more than 30,000 employees, it is Mr Joyce’s background that should inspire the next generation of Irish aviation entrepreneurs. 

Like others, including Tony Ryan, Mr Joyce was not born into privilege or power.

Instead, it was a combination of hard work, ambition, and a supportive family that gave him the means to achieve his success.

There are others in the sector of a similar hue.

The key message is that silver spoons, fee-paying schools, and a pampered upbringing are not attributes needed to deliver aviation leaders from Ireland.

The success of Irish aviation, from a business perspective, can be traced back to two threads that wove its tapestry.

Aer Lingus itself has been a pioneer in the sector since the 1930s. It took many high-risk decisions in that period, including the deployment of Super Constellations on the Atlantic, being an early adopter of the Boeing 747 Jumbo in the 1970s, and proving the Airbus A330 twin engine aircraft across the Atlantic in the 1980s.

Throughout this period a succession of managers were shaped and developed in the organisation who went on to lead important aviation companies around the world.

Their skills were forged within Aer Lingus, often at times of extreme adversity including the years after 9/11 when the company’s existence was threatened.

The second thread was Tony Ryan. His career brought the energy of a supernova to Irish aviation. In helping create an entirely new industry in aircraft leasing, he helped produce today’s world-leading group of companies.

There are now more than 30 aircraft lessors serving international markets from Ireland.

He also created Ryanair which, despite a tortured and painful birth, has gone on to exemplify how an airline business model can create growth and equity value over an extended period in the supposedly low-growth European marketplace.

Around the core engines of airlines and lessors, a plethora of other companies have developed. These range from service providers in the financial and legal markets to maintenance companies, airports, seat manufacturers and software suppliers.

This broad group of companies have proven themselves capable of competing at a global level.

Keeping the high energy levels needed to maintain this industry momentum is a critical task forthwith.

Aviation offers tremendous opportunities for ambitious entrepreneurs.

At its core is a structural rise in demand for air travel worldwide that has continued remorselessly for decades.

In recent years, the pace of growth in air travel demand has been weighted towards emerging economies and especially Asia. The next generation of aviation business men and women will have to fully understand and engage with these dynamics. 

They are helped by rampant advances in technology that allow instant communication which helps offset the geographical limits to working from Ireland.

When Mr Ryan was at his height, fax machines were the primary form of communication. Today, we exchange data and conduct business over the web at lightning speed.

Using these tools will be essential to those who plan to keep Ireland ahead of the pack and help a new breed of business leaders to ensure we continue to innovate and create new business from aviation.

* Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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