After serving as operations director for the past four years, on 1 June Jim Niblock officially started in his new role as managing director of facilities services provider ABM’s aviation business in the UK, as well as head of Blackjack Promotions (a trading division of ABM) in the UK and Ireland. He lays out his current priorities and future plans
What will be your initial priorities as you settle into your new role?
The entire aviation industry will continue to face challenges through the various phases of the pandemic recovery. My initial focus is on guiding the business and supporting our teams as we navigate, find solutions and pivot our operations as needed right now.
For example, we are working to resolve the effects of the national labour and resource shortage through a dedicated recruitment unit we created to minimise, where possible, the length of the onboarding process required to work airside. As a result, we are steadily growing our teams towards or meeting head count targets across the business.
This strategy has a longer term view of course, as we strategically rebuild our team toward fuelling our growth in the coming years. Further strengthening our relationships with existing customers, while identifying key opportunities to grow our client portfolio, are key.
From a Blackjack Promotions perspective, we have never lost focus on the creative and engaging experience our team delivers for clients. We continue to focus on the retail offering, while continuing to develop the VIP ambassador product with airlines and airports which has been very successful coming out of the pandemic.
My transition into this role has been made easier by having an excellent team around me who work together and truly care about delivering for our customers, the success of their peers, and the business as a whole.
At ABM, our mission is to ‘make a difference’, and I am so proud to lead this incredible team who deliver on that mission every single day.
Has ABM’s aviation business undergone any restructuring as part of the rebranding from OmniServ?
When OmniServ joined the ABM family [in 2012, although OmniServ was not officially rebranded as ABM until 2020], our focus was to provide a seamless experience for our customers while we worked to integrate our practices and processes, including safety, compliance, customer service and quality control, while also aligning with the ABM culture. Through this, we have maintained consistent operational structure, with minimal to no changes for customers.
ABM is one of the world’s largest integrated facility services providers, with over 100,000 team members across the US and the UK, providing comprehensive services that includes janitorial, engineering, parking, electrical and lighting, energy solutions, HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-conditioning] and mechanical, landscape and turf, and mission-critical solutions across multiple industries – including corporate real estate, aviation, education, healthcare, manufacturing and distribution.
As part of ABM, we have stronger operations and resources, with greater scale and efficiencies to meet the evolving needs of clients.
As the aviation industry finally comes out of the profound downturn caused by the pandemic, do you think that ABM is well positioned to take advantage of the upturn in demand for flight services?
We are. During the pandemic we worked with our clients to retain as many staff as possible, keeping the experienced talent and expertise in our business, and we have been able to quickly adjust to the rebound in travel since. I believe that the biggest strength we have is our team, which has shown unbelievable resilience and dedication, and I cannot thank them enough for everything they have done and continue to deliver for our clients every day.
We are hearing of a lot of bottlenecks in the UK aviation sector at the moment, particularly in terms of handling. How is ABM Aviation dealing with any related issues?
Across the UK, we are experiencing a demand above pre-pandemic levels, which on one hand is very welcome news. We want people travelling. The crush is, however, placing a strain on the airport ecosystem. So, we are actively working with our teams, clients and partners to implement efforts to minimise the impact on passengers as we navigate this phase of the pandemic recovery.
The services offered by our teams are part of a larger network of airport services that continues to face challenges, including a national labour and resource shortage.
Specifically, relating to increasing team members on the ground I’ve already mentioned a dedicated recruitment unit that was created to minimise, where possible, the length of the onboarding process required to work airside. We are also working with customers on ensuring equipment is fit for purpose to deal with this increasing demand.
Do you think that air services provision has changed for good as a result of the pandemic?
While hygiene and cleaning standards were always high, the new normal in this respect has no doubt been elevated and that is here to stay. During the pandemic, ABM established an Expert Advisory Council, composed of internal and external leading experts in infectious disease and industrial hygiene, to advise on changing best practices, which led to the development of our proprietary EnhancedClean™ and EnhancedFacility™ programmes.
These practices are now a part of our standard offer as we continue to meet and exceed changing expectations on surface cleaning and indoor air quality. Robust auditing systems through which best practice is adopted will continue to ensure standards are industry leading.
How could or should aviation service providers in general and the aviation industry as a whole embrace change as we move out of the pandemic?
I think the key change for the industry, in terms of airlines, airports and handling companies, will lie in adopting a far more collaborative approach: working more closely together than ever before. Within the airport ecosystem, all these providers work together to deliver a seamless experience for passengers. Truly embracing positive and sustainable changes will rely on all the moving parts of our fantastic industry to continue finding ways to reduce obstacles, and increase open communication at all levels.