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  • Chidozie Uzoezie

World Aviation Festival 2023 Kicks Off: Takeaways From Day 1

The World Aviation Festival kicked off on September 27th with Summits giving insights from a range of industry leaders, along with a start-up competition. The Summits covered: cyber security, irregular operations (IROPS), indirect sales, airport operations, talent and diversity and innovation.

Day One highlights included:

• IBM, Lufthansa Group, British Airways and easyJet discussing the risks of cyber security and how the industry can conquer them.

• Airlines and ground services coming together to discuss incorporating AI into IROPS.

• The GBTA praising the resilience of the global business travel industry and forecasting its full recovery.

• Teresa Perales, paralympic champion delivering an inspirational keynote speech.  

• Five start-ups battling it out for an exhibitor spot at next year’s World Aviation Festival.

Cyber Security

A panel discussing the challenges of an increasingly regulated cyber security market involved Dinesh Nagarajan at IBM, Martin Sckopke at Lufthansa Group, Paul Midian at easyJet, and Nicole Keeley at British Airways.

Paul touched on a misalignment of regulation but stressed that overall regulation is a good thing. The best version of this looks at outcomes and what you have to achieve not what you have to do. Nicole added that compliance is important but worries that people get fixated on this and turns it into a tick box experience not the outcome as Paul notes.

Martin touched on the challenges of having different regulations in different countries. Future challenges will be applying this to all countries and to ultimately maintain this. As Dinesh said, the biggest challenge is the cost in preparing, maintaining and delivering.

One of the issues of compliance is the cost. Dinesh stated that security is changing every day, particularly with the advancements in AI, which adds to the cost issue because initial investment will give you varied returns. However, the panel agreed that if you do security well, compliance will follow, therefore reducing the cost burden you associate with compliance. It can also be reduced with a strong compliance team who can understand auditors as they increase efficiency.  


The newly launched IROPS summit discussed how to choose optimal solutions in an increasingly dynamic environment. The panel consisted of Marina Bottelli, Swissport CEO, Lufthansa AG Senior Director Christian Most, TAP Portugal Senior Director Duarte Afonso, CCO of API Ramzi Kamel, and Steven Boliek, United Airlines Senior Manager.

The panel was aligned on the view that understanding when IROPS is bubbling up is key. Technology must be capable of identifying weather patterns and data that can affect flight paths. Steven Boliek stated that forecasting the impact of the disruption is as important as its probability. As a result, the industry must nurture and use vigorous data collection to tackle the operational issues effectively and efficiently. In the evolving and dynamic landscape, AI is the way forward, the panel agreed.

Communication is the most practical tool, for employees and passengers. AI can help bring different communication channels together whilst filtering out the disruptive noise that can hinder practical application. An all-in-one provider is the best solution for IROPS instead of manually finding and compiling various solutions. This manual activity is not time and energy efficient, and it hinders the development of the IROPS systems. Stephen Boliek and Duarte Afonso discussed how AI can change IROPS into an innovative technology that can solve elements of forecasting impact and probability whilst also not neglecting the safety of passengers and user experience.  

The panel agreed that the crew member experience is an important factor when considering IROPS solutions. Employees are the ones that directly experience and interact with the software, so companies need an end-to-end solution that is convenient, effective and reliable. Ensuring that IROPS processes can optimise what the frontline worker does by striking a balance between providing guidelines and giving leeway to the employee to allow them to carry out their role and deliver good customer service.

Concluding the summit, the panellists were asked what they would do better for the future of IROPS. Across the board, the panellists believed in employee empowerment, introducing processing technology to bridge the gap between passenger experience and services, and understanding IROPS capabilities and flexibility to tailor to other solutions were the key takeaways from the afternoon panel.

Indirect Sales

A panel on the Indirect Sales Summit included Pascal Burg at Dunn & Company, Paul van Alfen at up in the Air Keli Sanderman at Virgin Atlantic Airways and Michael Wirth at CWT. In this, they acknowledged that the airline and airport perspective have not always been aligned. The industry is now working to achieve this but there are lots of things to consider.

One reason for the misalignment which Pascal acknowledged is that there is a dichotomy between B2B and B2C payments, not just for aviation industry, and B2C has been quicker to adopt these. He suggests that this is because if you give consumers an incentive it is easier to embed new processes. However, there is change in B2B payments and innovation is coming.

Indeed, the panel noted that there is progress in the industry offering order management either direct or indirect. There were warnings that corporates can invest a lot in systems but if the settlement component is not executed properly the initial investment is not worth it.

Airport Operations

Kick starting the keynote interviews for the Airport Operations Summit, Suzanne Neufang from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) gave an overview of the state of global business travel, praising the resilience of the industry post-pandemic. In a recent report, the GBTA analysed the business travel index by looking at the economic impacts of its recovery from Covid-19.

In 2022, the report predicted that the business travel industry would reach 2019 levels by 2026, and recent findings reveal the industry would in fact reach these levels two years earlier, in 2024. Suzanne reveals that “revenge travel” has been a large contributor to this recovery as well as airlines increasing their international air capacity.

The increase in face-to-face meetings and events is also a factor in the business travel industry’s recovery. GBTA insights show that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are travelling more despite the rise of the hybrid working environment which hinders larger companies from travelling. SMEs tend to have more drive to grow their businesses and in-person meetings prove most effective, hence the desire to travel more and in turn, boosting global business travel recovery. In terms of region recovery, Suzanne revealed that Western Europe is growing faster than other regions despite having a slower recovery in 2021.

Talent and Diversity

Moving to the Talent and Diversity Summit, Adrian Binfield, Head of People and Culture at IAG gave a Fireside Chat discussing human capital and the challenges and opportunities the aviation industry faces. He noted that with the complexity of the aviation world at a new level, people are more important than ever. Within this narrative, the sense of belonging is critical and it’s important for employees to feel proud of the company they work for and that their identity is acknowledge. Adrian argued that supporting employees in this manner ultimately supports the company because to drive innovation and change, you need different ideas.

The balance of experience and diversity of thought is important, Adrian stated. However, this isn’t enough on its own. It is the combination of skills, experience, and perspective as well as agility and flexibility. These are imperative for an organization to be able to respond to what comes next.

Looking to the future, challenges Adrian said the industry will face are resourcing and skills. There are also structural challenges, whether its digital or engineering, and bringing fresh talent in to overcome these. Finally, the sustainability agenda was acknowledged to be transformational in the aviation sphere. For organization, it’s not just investing in skills for today but looking at what skills they need for tomorrow.

Teresa Perales, Paralympic swimmer and keynote speaker gave an inspirational speech on the ‘Strength of Attitude’. Her message to the aviation industry is clear with her opening statement urging airlines ‘to think of us’, receiving a round of applause from the audience. 

This year is Teresa’s 25th anniversary of swimming with the national team. Despite her success, she said her power is not represented in her medals but her defending the rights of those living with disabilities.


To close the day, start-ups had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to an expert panel to win a sponsorship package and exhibition booth at the World Aviation Festival 2024.

First up was Estuaire, a decarbonisation software that runs a diagnosis to simulate and optimise the best trajectory to find the best path to net zero for individual companies. The platform tracks flights globally, factoring in the weather and calculating the climate effects for that flight. Following this was Triend, a company that collects and analyses verified feedback, offering solutions to help companies evolve by streamlining operational efficiency. They utilise a digital ledger to ensure each piece of feedback remains authentic and high quality using zero-party data quality.

Next was EMMA, a business that aims to improve the overall efficiency of airport operations by optimising the use of resources and improving the predictability of events through their innovative AI technologies.

After this, Interlnkd presented their business whose mission is to close the ancillary gap by partnering with fashion and beauty brands to match products with each holiday booking made by customers. They can build airline and company marketplaces to present a wardrobe suggestion that customers can access post-holiday booking.

The competition ended with Swifty, an AI business travel assistant backed by Lufthansa Group, that can create a booking within 10 minutes. The software handles the booking and invoicing process business travelers experience. It is the first autonomous AI booking software.

After much deliberation, the judges revealed the winner of the 2023 World Aviation Festival Start-Up Pitch competition to be Interlnkd.

Days two and three of the Festival will feature key-note panels from the CEOs of major airlines. This includes Sir Tim Clark, President at Emirates, Willie Walsh Director General at IATA, Luis Gallego CEO of IAG and Eddie Wilson CEO of Ryanair and US Ambassador to Portugal, Randi Charno Levine.


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Comments (25)

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Aug 07, 2023
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