Mike Stones

When the clocks strike 13

“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking 13.” The opening words of British writer George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 capture something of the dystopian mood in business aviation.

The clocks may not be striking 13 – yet. But business aviation is experiencing rapid changes – seemingly by the day. This shifting terrain is well captured by the phrase “the Now Normal”, as a replacement for the more usual ‘the New Normal’.

Steve McManus, GE Aviation sales director, used the term, coined by his wife, in this week’s Town Hall online meeting. It was useful, he said, in persuading people who don’t like change to come to terms with its implications. “We are going to be in a state of dynamic flux in a changing world for the next 18 months,” he told the Town Hall‘s 300-plus delegates.

Change is afoot almost everywhere in private and commercial aviation – much like the rest of life. McManus even pondered the merits of renaming business jets as family jets to reflect the growing number of owners choosing to fly with their families on vacation or to relocate relatives. This was leading to even more emphasis on safety, with the latest GE Engines equipped with nearly 90 sensors to transmit continuous information about power plant health and performance.

James Hardie, Collins Aerospace’s head of regional marketing, EMEA, Information Management Services, also likes the term. He told the opening session of Corporate Jet Investor’s recent Middle East & Africa 2020 online conference: “Thinking of this as the now-normal, not the new-normal, is a telling way of looking at the situation.”

He continued: “Covid-19 has advanced what would have taken five years [to accomplish] in just five minutes.”

A year ago, who would have thought that Zoom calls would dominate our working lives? (Other web-based video conferencing systems are widely available). Or that pre-purchase aircraft inspections could be completed by video link? Or aircraft deals could be closed without the new owner ever touching the metal or smelling the leather? Or that business jet flights would depend on even bigger teams of planners to establish what airspace is currently open to which aircraft? And whether the aircrew can remain overnight and what certification they and their passengers need to assure their Covid-19 free status?

While much is unfamiliar, frustrating and, yes, damaging (but hopefully limited to the short term) about this new Covid-19 landscape, change appears to be accelerating the pace of innovation amid the adversity. And with adversity for travellers and innovation comes fresh business opportunities in the shape of first-time flyers and catering for the changing needs of long-established clients.

Best of all, while the clocks are set to change before too long as Daylight Saving Time ends in the Northern Hemisphere, at least there is no sign of them striking 13 any time soon.

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