Chris Wild, the head of airfield operations at the UK’s Manchester Airport, has – with the help of a number of his colleagues in the aviation industry – set up a charity to help members of the sector who feel the need for some support, especially those who have found themselves out of work, very likely as a result of Covid-19-related cutbacks. Aviation Action, officially launched in late July, has a simple mission: to provide personal and professional help and support to the people who ‘really make aviation fly’
Can you tell us about your background in the aviation business, and about what you do now at Manchester Airport?
My love of aviation started, like many others, when I took a trial flying lesson at the age of 13. Since then I have obtained a degree in Aviation Management, obtained my Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) and worked for five different airports.
I started my career as a ground handling agent at London City Airport, and since then have worked my way through various airport operational leadership roles. I have now been at Manchester Airport, where I hold the position of head of airfield operations, for nearly five years.
I lead a team of approximately 70 colleagues active in four key areas: airfield operations, airfield capacity management, airfield planning/projects and airfield safety and compliance. Essentially, I ensure that the airfield operates efficiently and safely, and that we continue to deliver a strong service to our airline clients and airfield users.
Aviation Action was established this summer, but had you been thinking about it for some time before that?
Yes, I had the idea some six months ago when I first experienced a similar charity in the hospitality sector. I was shocked and surprised that aviation didn’t have such a cause. Covid-19 gave me the kick to launch it, and I haven’t stopped since!
So the thinking behind Aviation Action is not all to do with the pandemic; there are longer term issues that you also feel need addressing within the industry?
Pandemic aside, there is a need for Aviation Action. At a time when the industry desperately needs significant support, we found there is an evident lack of specific support available for the hundreds of thousands of people who work in aviation.
At the moment, we are heavily involved in supporting colleagues through the pandemic, mainly relating to mental health and employment matters. As a leader, but more importantly as a husband and a dad, I am acutely aware of the challenges our aviation colleagues have to overcome in everyday life, both personally and professionally.
Aviation is an industry where you can experience feelings of euphoria and negativity in the space of any one shift. Aviation Action will provide longer term support to colleagues going through a challenging life event and will also be there to support when positive life events come along, such as helping with preparation for an interview, promotion or by providing training.
How many people have approached Aviation Action for your help?
Within an hour [of establishing the charity] I had a pilot who was under threat of redundancy approach us for help. Within the day, we had paired him with a fellow pilot who had experienced a similar event. We then provided some further professional support a few days later. We are now helping numerous people daily with the help of our amazing peer and professional supporters.
What sort of help are people looking for, and from what sorts of areas of the aviation sector are they coming?
The range is really broad; it ranges from some simple signposting for jobs, to a CV review and rewrite, to arranging psychological support and career ‘reset’ coaching. These people come from right across the spectrum: we have had pilots, cabin crew, engineers, airport workers and aviation graduates, many of whom are now peer supporters supporting others.
What sorts of professional and personal support can you offer to those who ask for help?
We have been so lucky with the support we have received so far. I have been inundated with offers of help, which is so heartwarming. Within a few weeks we had around 50 peer supporters with diverse experience and knowledge and approximately 30 professional supporters from HR [human resources], legal, hypnotherapists, coaches, mental health practitioners, and many others.
Did you get help from the outset in establishing the charity?
Yes, very much so, from my industry peers. Much like what the charity is trying to achieve, I reached out to some of my close industry peers for support and to ask a few favours. They quickly obliged and gave me the confidence to launch.
And what sort of resources have you been able to devote to Aviation Action on an ongoing basis?
Those that helped me to launch Aviation Action continue to provide help and support today, for which I am so thankful.
In fact, the support from the industry and companies linked with aviation has been nothing short of incredible. Early supporters and donors have included Bristol Airport, Lincs Lining Limited, British Aviation Group, Osprey Consulting Services, AIRDAT and Dedrone, to name just a few.
I get asked all the time ‘what can we do to help?’ and I think they expect me to say ‘make a donation’. But as it stands we just need access to resources, expertise and services which we can promote, share and signpost our clients to in order for them to get the right, targeted and appropriate support for their need.
In terms of the charity sector, I have gained some really valuable support from Mark Lewis, CEO at Hospitality Action; he has been amazing.
What forms is this assistance taking?
It really varies, but at the moment we don’t talk money – that’s for later. Funding and donations are firmly on our road map to ensure we can continue to provide services but at the moment it is simply free access to their resources, expertise and services. This could range from using their Zoom account to running a webinar to agreeing to undertake six coaching sessions.
Everyone has something to offer: it is our job to facilitate and make arrangements to allow our aviation colleagues who are in need, to benefit.
There is a job vacancies element to the website. How are you getting the information regarding those vacancies?
We have close links with aviation-specific recruitment companies who help promote Aviation Action to their network of contacts as well as providing resources like CV reviews or CV/interview webinars. As part of that agreement we host their roles on our site and introduce them to potential candidates.
Do you have plans for the further development of Aviation Action? Will you continue to grow the charity once the aviation industry returns to normality, whenever that might be?
Absolutely, this is just the start. There is a degree of fire-fighting at the moment as we navigate ourselves out of this crisis, but we do have a three-horizon strategic plan taking us through to 2022 [this strategic plan takes in the ‘stepped changes’ towards being a ‘world-class charity’, Aviation Action’s expanding roles and how it will build its profile, resources and ability to help those who need its assistance].
As we move forward we would love to offer hardship grants, training grants, young people/women in aviation schemes, support aviation apprenticeships, and military-to-civil conversions to name a few. This will be undertaken alongside the services we currently offer but we are committed to continually improving these services.
In a subsequent statement, Wild commented on just how valuable donations will be. He said: “Donations from aviation companies are paramount of course, to help support more people in the wider aviation community.
“The services our team are offering are all free, so the donations we receive are going towards securing support for the people that really need it, whether that is mentor support to obtain new employment following a Covid-19 redundancy, or tackling an ongoing mental health issue.”
He continued: “The impact of Covid-19 across the globe has seen thousands of redundancies, lay-offs, collapses, withdrawal of services, fear and anxiety across the aviation world, which in turn has impacted so many others.
“Livelihoods have been lost and whole businesses have been forced to either be put on hold forcing a cash-flow crisis, or wound down completely. In my own sector, the devastating effect on airport operations has left airfields looking like ghost towns, as operators either shut down, leaving their airliners parked in eerie rows, or fly them off to designated airfields where they can be stored awaiting redeployment, retirement from service or the scrapyard.
“We encourage our industry to come together during this turbulent period to support the wider community,” Wild concluded.
The Aviation Action website can be found at: www.aviationaction.org