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Our expert in-house capability provides accurate, up-to-date and incisive research to deliver swift, precise outcomes. Targeted individuals are engaged with care and professionalism and the client opportunity presented in a clear and well-prepared format.

Our News

Our expert in-house capability provides accurate, up-to-date and incisive research to deliver swift, precise outcomes. Targeted individuals are engaged with care and professionalism and the client opportunity presented in a clear and well-prepared format.

Lessons for the future of aviation

View out of aeroplane window

The aviation and travel sectors have faced a turbulent few years. Few would argue that the impact of the pandemic has been anything less than devastating, followed by a summer plagued with difficulties at airports around the world (and particularly in the UK).

Our travel and aviation lead Nick Irving sat down with our sector advisor Chris Browne to discuss the challenges facing the sector and key lessons for success in the future.

“The pandemic was a once-in-a-lifetime disruptor,” said Chris. “It was disastrous – but if there is an upside, it’s that it has reaffirmed the importance of running an operationally resilient flying programme and managing an airline business in a more robust way. We’re now seeing more airlines investing in resilience, proactive supply chain management and solid decision-making processes that enable them to react to emergency situations quickly.”

Basic infrastructure and systems are of the utmost importance – as many airlines and airports learned to their detriment. “‘Those who put people before profit will fare better as it pays off in the longer term,” said Chris.

Nick agrees: “To me, Ryanair is an example of an airline that emerged from the pandemic in good shape. Others, which played around with people and schedules, now face longer term challenges. Ryanair seemed to have a longer play in mind and an understanding that the pandemic would not be forever, though in reality no-one knew exactly how we’d come out of this – and that staff would continue to be needed in a post-pandemic world. They retained as many people as possible and that is clearly benefitting their operation today.”

Of course, as an Irish business, Ryanair was not subject to the many issues which impacted British businesses. “The UK Government was painfully slow to react and there was too much confusion among the public about what they could and could not do,” commented Nick. “Coupled with a lack of financial support, this made for an incredibly difficult backdrop for aviation businesses in the UK to operate effectively.”

What does the future hold?

“One thing this sector does very well is learn from mistakes, and learn from them quickly!” said Chris. “That said, things will only improve if we have the right people in place, from ground crew to cabin crew, pilots to air control, management to board members. There was an exodus of talent and it will prove difficult to replenish what has been lost.

“I hope to see more diversity in the people the sector recruits, and a better treatment of the supply chain. Baggage handling, for example, is not the bottom of the chain and should never be treated as such – it’s a vital part of the successful performance of an airline,” said Chris.

“Diversity and creativity in recruitment will be imperative,” agreed Nick. “There simply aren’t enough pilots coming through the training ranks to fulfil need, so recruitment policies will need to change.”

It is likely that this summer will deliver a better performance than 2022 – those who had their fingers burned will not let that happen again, Chris commented.

Embracing technology is another vital element of future success, says Nick. “Automation is vital for a smooth customer experience. As an example, those airlines that handled refunds well during the pandemic did so because they embraced automation and a commitment to high quality customer service.”

New threats to the sector

Talent supply aside, one of the most pressing threats to the sector is that of cyber crime. “I’ve been struck by how few know what good looks like when it comes to cyber defence,” said Nick. “The sector is constantly under threat and there is a continual and ever-evolving need to invest in cyber defence. We expect there to be a mandate that businesses have cyber leaders on boards, and the regulatory impact around the world will force a step-change.”

Chris agrees. “Plenty of businesses don’t know what they want or need. That’s not to say they’re not protected – they are – but the fundamental protection of the business will need to expand its remit. One day of grounded flights can cost millions, so it’s operationally imperative that this is a ‘never event’.”

“One thing is for sure: the sector will always find a way to adapt,” said Nick. “The strength of the aviation sector has always been in its excellent people; people who are determined to build incredible, boundary-breaking businesses and to excel at their work. I have no doubt that the airlines, airports and support businesses I work with every day will thrive thanks to their commitment and passion.”


The EMI Practice at Howgate Sable really took the time to understand our situation and find exceptional candidates who could fulfil challenging international leadership assignments for a truly global company with a history that spans well over 200 years.

It was a first class experience and positive outcome on many levels.


Barry McDonnell – Director of Manufacturing at De La Rue International

I have worked with the Howgate Sable team on several occasions whilst hiring mission-critical executives. Partnership is the byword for this organisation – they act as an extension of my team and work hard to support me not only in the technical solution, but in the sense of a deep understanding of my specific requirements. Delivery is the key measure of our talent partners and Howgate Sable have always achieved what was asked of them.

Jesper Berg – SVP HR, ABB

Having worked with Howgate Sable as a client and as a candidate I can confidently say their ability to deliver on complex searches is second to none. They not only have a detailed knowledge of the marketplace but also understand the importance of cultural fit. 

Bridget Lea – O2

I was particularly impressed with Howgate Sable’s knowledge and network in the aviation sector, the quality of the candidates provided at shortlist and the availability of Nick and the team to provide us with advice and guidance on candidates when required. Nick was particularly effective in understanding our needs as a Company and being flexible in adapting requirements and plans.

Paul Hutchings – Thomas Cook Group Airlines

I have recently worked with Nick from Howgate Sable to recruit a new Head of Aircraft Operations for Thomson Airways. I was particularly impressed by the wide-reaching search undertaken and the quality of the candidates put forward. The skills match to the brief was excellent and I am delighted with the individual we selected.

Dawn Wilson – Thomson Airways

From their initial call to me the Aviation practice team at Howgate Sable demonstrated a significant difference. Straightforward and to the point, the extent of their network and deep insight into the industry was immediately evident. The added value I have received as a candidate is tangible. An almost instant rapport quickly developed into a focused business relationship which is open, honest, respectful and above all trustworthy.

Carl Gissing