Airways - Making your world possible

Transformation through collaboration

EdSims web

This article was first published in the August issue of Q3 2016 issue of CANSO Airspace magazine.


When it comes to evaluating our achievements relative to those who have served before, a phrase from Isaac Newton comes to mind: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

Taking on the CANSO Chairmanship feels like a case in point. Given that we have had some great former Chairs, several of whom are still among our membership, one of the biggest challenges of the role is doing justice to their work. 

Anyone with a reasonable memory will know that things haven’t always been this stable. CANSO has had its financial challenges. We have suffered sudden and significant senior personnel changes. And we have struggled to have our voice heard among our longer-established partners at ICAO, IATA and ACI. 

But today, here is our confident trade associates, growing in membership and financial strength, extending its reach around the world and its influence across the aviation industry. 

We have a settled and experienced Excom team. We benefit from a well-respected and decisive Director General in Jeff Poole. We have a well-balanced association between full member ANSPs and related associations, bringing a blend of operational best practice infused with the commercial acumen of partners and suppliers. 

So the primary challenge for my role as Chair in 2016 is making the most of these opportunities: how to use the three pillars of Vision 2020 – being a strong partner, creating value for members and optimising our organisation – to create a safer and more sustainable environment for our industry. 


Vision 2020 and beyond 

Our vision to transform global ATM performance and deliver seamless global airspace still stands. But our vision will only be realised if States and industry partners continue to invest to improve connectivity and provide better access to markets and tourism – all of which contribute to GDP growth. 

While we prioritise Vision 2020, we also need to keep one eye firmly focused on the future. Our customers are currently investing heavily in capital with a 30-year lifecycle (often longer for airports, runways and terminals).  

With ambitious aviation developments happening now and into the future, it’s critical that ANSPs – and CANSO as the industry organisation continue to develop long term strategic thinking, even while we ensure effective execution of Vision 2020.


Value, partnerships and effective organisation 

If we want to be as effective in strategic thinking as we are in implementation, we need to be an association representing our industry, not just our members. CANSO needs to stand with conviction and clarity of purpose on issues, not simply our interests.  

We will need to be bold. We will need to think independently. And we will need to be progressive if we are to remain relevant. 

We must continue to build strong partnerships between CANSO and the rest of the industry, with a particular focus on creating a closer customer alignment. 

The creation of a Single European Sky, or a Seamless Asian Sky are still very appealing goals. But it is only possible if we can wholeheartedly commit to collaborating and planning with governments, regulators, ANSPs and airlines. 

Modernisation, productivity, safety; it has never been more critical to focus on the benefits our industry will gain from collaborative partnership. We know that if we fail to strike while the iron’s hot, we risk IATA’s predictions of airspace inefficiencies costing the global economy around US$400 million (plus millions of jobs) coming true. 

Despite these foresights, our industry is gradually moving towards a more cooperative, harmonised model. CANSO’s work to help ANSPs improve efficiency with performance-based navigation and air traffic flow management is globally notable.  The progress towards self-regulation in safety through the SEANS Safety Scheme has won plaudits from our colleagues in ICAO, even before its roll out. 

So the ability to identify and build partnerships is a critical element of CANSO’s value to our members.  The seat around the negotiating table, the networking chat at the coffee break is harder and a lot more expensive without us.


Owning and using assets: the way forward 

In preparing to speak at conferences, I will often reflect on the quality of speakers I have heard at our own CANSO conferences, and the influence they have had in shaping my own views and leadership.  

The futurist Rohit Talwar put it beautifully in Dublin in 2014 when he stated that new entrants into ATC ‘simply don’t understand when we tell them that they can’t’.  I often reflect on those words and look for other industry parallels. 

A few examples: the way the music industry matured away from physical formats. The speed with which telecommunications migrated from landline to digital. The readiness with which even former monopolistic power companies embraced competition and finally discovered customer service. 

All of these industries recognised the value of using assets effectively, not just the cost of owning them. And yet many in our industry cling to a belief that it couldn’t happen here. By waving our safety – our ‘essential service’ – flags, we tell ourselves that our ‘natural monopoly’ would be too dangerous to challenge. 

We can also find ourselves believing that FIR boundaries are actual lines, or that control zones are set in something more substantial then vapour.  The ‘new’ entrants to our industry – UAVs, high altitude balloons, satellites, rockets – don’t operate to the same parameters, and are radically challenging our right as an industry to hide behind them.  We must welcome this new generation of aviators and be fully prepared to learn from, and adapt to their new approaches. The alternative could be a lot more disruptive. 

Our global regulator ICAO has recently launched a compelling universal safety platform under the moniker ‘no country left behind’. While I admire the philosophy, I would love to see CANSO reflect an even more positive aspect of this belief, ensuring ‘every member gets ahead’. 

Every CANSO member should contribute actively to effective safety self-regulation, and commit to value creation for our customers before we are asked. All of us have an obligation to our people to ensure their future roles remain relevant, as well as rewarding. 

Looking to the future, the world beyond ATM looks increasingly volatile. Security threats, unstable environments, the politics of fear and isolationism – it would be easy to take a despondent view on the true value of membership to an association like CANSO in 2016. 

But, as Jim Collins once wrote: ‘If you can’t control the world, control your world’. 

We, of all players across our industry, should know the value of being in control. In such uncertain times, it is the responsibility of every member to ensure CANSO adds even greater value to our customers, our partners and our people. 

The final word of this introductory address should go to my very first role model and mentor, my grandfather Harry. He was the original navigator in our family; even before my father flew Faery Swordfish for the British Navy, Harry was a steam train driver and an ardent trade union member who drove munitions trucks during the war. A role for which not even the highest safety standards could prevent an alarmingly low average life expectancy.   (Thankfully for me he was an exception) 

His generation had to earn by their mid-teens but despite leaving school early he was determinedly self-educated. While Harry could recite impressive tracts of the greatest British poets and dramatists his favourite was always Shakespeare's Hamlet.   

As a child I remember him earnestly passing on to me the wise advice from Polonius to his son Laertes on how to survive the threats of the Danish court: ‘Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.’  

Now even in our challenging times, no one would suggest our ATM world is as dangerous a place as Hamlet’s. Nonetheless, aiming to be a Chair who will listen to everyone while ensuring personal views are both measured and representative might be a good place to start.


Ed Sims