Institutionaizing Inspiration

April 10, 2014

The aviation industry is segmented into distinct categories: Commercial/Air Transport, General Aviation, and the Military.
All three segments are highly regulated by and subject to oversight by an extensive network of governmental entities such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Effectively conducting business in any one of the industry’s segments involves a steep learning curve…especially since aviation-related products must, by virtue of the environment in which they are operated, comply with extremely stringent design and fail-safe standards.

Because of these extraordinary requirements (and a continuous proliferation of new regulations and certification requirements), the industry relies on a fairly limited number of key manufacturers and suppliers who have met or are able to muster the resources to satisfy the government’s complex criteria. The high cost of entry has limited the field of competitors. In order to remain competitive and profitable in a very challenging environment, the companies that have survived vie not only for customers but for the most intelligent, talented, knowledgeable, and well-connected personnel to gain a competitive advantage in their respective market segments.

A significant number of the major aviation enterprises also serve customers in all of the industry’s segments, requiring their senior leadership teams to be well-versed in the unique regulations, operating environments, competitors and technological requirements of each one. The backgrounds, training, expertise, institutional knowledge and networks of the key leaders of the industry’s premier companies are considered extremely valuable and are the basis of spirited competitions among industry rivals.

Aviation’s history is actually built on a foundation of familiar and exceptional leaders. Many of the industry’s first generation of founders, inventors, and pioneers worked together during the early stages of their careers, gaining diverse insights and building long-standing relationships that they carried with them as the industry grew. That heritage is what continues to make the aviation community—even though it’s now worldwide—a familiar and closely knit one. It isn’t that far removed from those early trailblazers. Many of their protégés remained actively involved in the industry well into the latter half of the 20th century and mentored or influenced those who are currently heading its major firms and organizations. Relationships forged in this industry have endured. The roster of notable company leaders is remarkably short and their legacies have been passed to a group of successors who not only know of each other- in many cases, they know each other personally.

A significant percentage of the technological advances in aviation have come as the result of an underlying commitment by its leadership to share concepts and improvements in the interest of promoting and ensuring safety. It’s extremely interesting to research the history of major developments in aerodynamics, propulsion, control and communications in aviation. Many of the concepts and features were invented by competitive entities, some even on opposite sides of geopolitical conflicts, but the bond of aviation in an inordinate number of instances, overcame and outlasted the political differences. It was because the common bond of aviation and long-standing relationships transcended nationality and diverse cultures, obscured political differences and ignored competitive barriers that many of the most important advances in safety have been integrated into virtually every current aircraft or regulatory standard.

Today, advancements in virtually every aspect of aviation from aircraft design to systems integration is moving at immeasurable speed. The industry is developing so rapidly that even those who have been a part of it for a long time are having trouble keeping pace with the changes. New talent is imperative, but the “spool up” time required to become even mildly conversant with a very narrow portion of the extremely complex organism that is aviation, is growing. The companies that will succeed and grow in the coming decade will be the ones who not only attract the brightest and most creative talent, but those that also retain the priceless institutional knowledge, expertise, experience and, especially, the relationships among their leaders that make cooperation, creative collaboration, and mutually supported advancements in technology, infrastructure and communication possible.