According to you, what were the most important achievements of skeyes in the last 5 years?
Johan Decuyper :
“The basis of everything is our healthy financial situation. In 2013, Belgocontrol recorded a consolidated loss of € 60 million. We have completely eliminated these losses from the past. For the sixth year in a row, skeyes is profitable.
In terms of staff, we made up for lost time, which was long overdue. From around 750 employees in 2014, we will be exceeding 900 by the end of this year. We continue to strengthen the number of air traffic controllers, but we are also looking for other profiles: technicians, IT staff, administrative staff,… In 2018, in order to maximise recruitment and to continue to guarantee a high level of training, we entered into a joint venture with Entry Point North, a Scandinavian academy of aeronautical professions: air traffic controllers, engineers, meteorologists, aeronautical experts,… In our own training centre Entry Point North Belgium – among other things equipped with brand new simulators – (candidate) air traffic controllers and technicians follow basic training as well as refresher, conversion and development courses. We also train students from other countries.
We also started investing again. In recent years we have improved, adapted or newly purchased systems and technical installations at and around all our airports: communication, navigation and surveillance installations, landing systems, meteorological installations, networks… All this is mainly done by our own technical people. Between 2015 and 2019, we completed an investment programme of € 100 million. Investments are also planned for the coming years. We will continue to closely monitor developments in our sector.
All this is of course aimed at further improving the service we provide to our customers. It is not a magic word, far from it, but in recent years we have put a great deal of effort into cooperation within the aviation sector: joint ventures, spin-offs, preferential cooperation contracts,… The former stand-alone strategy was no longer possible and desirable and works less efficiently than when you have partnerships. skeyes comes a long way in that respect. We now have close and fruitful contacts with airports and airlines. We are working with them in the longer term. We want to be a high-performance, reliable partner for them with a good ratio between the quality and comprehensiveness of our service and its cost price. And we are on the right track: over the past few years, we have achieved excellent results in terms of safety and punctuality.
We were able to improve this punctuality, among other things, through cooperation with the Defence air traffic control service. Thanks to their arrival at the Steenokkerzeel site, military airspace can be used much more efficiently for commercial air traffic when it is not in use.
But the toughest exercise was that of adapting the internal structure and functioning, which were unsuited for the future and too voluntary. It took an enormous amount of change management to make an organisation that hadn’t changed for 20 years future proof. Habits and achievements were questioned and adapted to the new era in order to provide an even better service but also to achieve a better work-life balance for our employees.”
Renaud Lorand :
“We have reinvented and reorganised skeyes in recent years, opening up more to the outside world as well. A new vision and mission came into being and was systematically rolled out. A lot of organisational adjustments were made and the service was greatly improved. This gave us a lot of credit with our customers, which resulted in much better cooperation and mutual understanding. The foundations for a fruitful future have been laid.
We did this in a very planned, targeted and efficient way. We drew up the strategic five-year plan 2014-2019 and followed up its elaboration. We looked closely at the implementation of the third management contract with the federal government. And, of course, there were the objectives that we set and pursued together with our partners in European partnerships.
The most concrete was the strategy that was developed in cooperation with all skeyes employees: Partner with our Customers, Partner with our People and Build a future-proof company.
All skeyes’ efforts in recent years have been aimed at providing an even better service to our customers: airports and airlines. For them, our service provision is a crucial link in continuing to meet the challenges they face. The mindset at skeyes has completely changed: where we used to assume too easily that they could not do without us anyway, we are now thinking, together with our partners, about how we can keep aviation as strong as possible in our country. This is also in our own interest: the forthcoming liberalisation of air traffic control services will create competition within our own sector. The preservation and acquisition of airspace and the provision of related services beyond national borders will be a challenge for ANSPs in the future.
But also in other areas of our operations skeyes focused on partnerships. Our collaboration with Defence leads to a more efficient use of airspace and to essential operational synergies; our EPNB training centre already achieved the hoped-for successes in its first year of operation, thus confirming the Steenokkerzeel site as a strategic basis for our training courses, where we can continue to offer state-of-the-art training to our air traffic controllers, among others; we play a leading role within FABEC and at European level.
All these achievements would not have been possible without the dedication, professionalism and expertise of all employees at skeyes. Their input in setting up and realising many of these projects has been invaluable. It is therefore only right that the new strategy should pay more attention to personnel policy than in the past. The changes that the company underwent have, of course, also brought with them uncertainty. It is logical that this caused some doubts and even tensions, but thanks to an open dialogue, solutions were always found in the interests of the company and the employees.”
What do you think were the main achievements of skeyes in 2019?
Johan Decuyper :
“Over the past few years, we have modernised and professionalised the company’s operations in just about all areas. Financing was put in order, we invested and recruited again and all procedures and processes of the core business were reviewed and adjusted where necessary to improve operations. In 2019, all these efforts came together and the circle was – for the time being – complete.
An important trigger for the internal functioning was the social agreement on staff’s non-operational status in 2016. Since then, management and trade unions have succeeded in concluding several social agreements on difficult issues that have sometimes been dragging on for years and that have made it more difficult for the company to operate. Major steps forward were taken, certainly for the operational services, which improved the internal organisation and benefited customer service.
A final threshold was taken last year with the new planning mechanism for the operational services. The system that has been in place since February 2020 complies with all the legislation and regulations in force, including those concerning fatigue management, and ensures that management is always sure that a sufficient number of air traffic controllers is present to guarantee service provision. It means a better work-life balance for air traffic controllers: they know in advance when to start work and can better plan their agenda.
skeyes is fully aware of its social role and is ever-increasingly assuming it. We work together with other actors in and around airports to minimise the impact of our sector on our environment. We communicate very transparently about our operations with the residents around the airports and other bodies involved.
In our own company as well, we pay attention to the environment and developments in the world around us. Corporate Social Responsibility does not remain a dead letter at skeyes: according to a concrete action plan we take all kinds of initiatives to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”
Renaud Lorand :
In 2019 we continued to prepare the future of skeyes. We drew up the new five-year plan in which we outlined the strategic lines for the company. The value of such a plan should not be underestimated. It reflects the interests and expectations of all our stakeholders and our own commitments to governments and determines how we will meet them in the interests of all parties involved but, of course, also in the interests of the company itself.
We also submitted a timely proposal for the fourth management contract to the federal government. The successful completion of the third management contract not only laid a solid foundation for skeyes’ future, but is also an additional asset in the discussions of the fourth management contract with the political leaders.
Our expectations of the political world were also brought together in a Memorandum that was handed to all political parties.
In recent years, skeyes has shown that we take our social role very seriously. In 2019 that commitment took further shape. Air traffic control is a crucial link for aviation. Airports and airlines count on us to guarantee the safety of air traffic, but also to make optimal use of capacity at airports and in the airspace. This is important not only for their operations but also for the attractiveness of the whole sector in our country. With the advent of a Single European Sky, self-management of one’s own airspace is an asset that we must not relinquish. Aviation remains one of the most important economic pillars of our country and we must do everything we can together to ensure that this will continue to be the case even after the health crisis.
For skeyes, however, it is not only economic interests that count. We take into account the impact of our sector on our environment, both in the vicinity of airports and far beyond. We take all possible measures to minimise the impact of air traffic, together with our partners in the sector. Together with them, we discuss possible additional initiatives and, if necessary, elaborate them. And within skeyes we also pay attention to sustainability, in all areas. Under the heading of Corporate Social Responsibility we combine all projects that contribute to making skeyes a socially responsible company.”
And in 2019, the most tangible change was certainly the physical installation of Semmerzake’s military air traffic controllers in our CANAC operations room, another step in bringing our two organizations closer together.
How did you prepare skeyes for the future?
Johan Decuyper :
“Today skeyes is a healthy company, a modern and customer-oriented service provider. We are more than ever fulfilling our role as the focal point for the aviation sector: those who use the Belgian airspace call on our services. That is why we are working on an ever better and continuous service, in consultation with our customers. On the basis of their input and in joint consultation, we will discuss what can be done better and how we can tackle this together. Innovation and state-of-the-art technology play their part in this.
But of course the work is not finished, it never is. We have to constantly reinvent ourselves to remain a competitive player in an international and changing environment.
Various developments are coming our way. The liberalisation of air traffic control , the Single European Sky, the particularly rapidly evolving technology, the enormous potential for data management, the introduction of commercially operated drones, the digital towers that are in use everywhere: All this brings about a profoundly disruptive turn of events. For the time being, skeyes still has a monopoly on its activities, but it now has to find an effective response to these disruptive developments in aviation in the very short term. We see them as opportunities that we want and are able to fill.
The airspace above Belgium is limited but very complex. Thanks to our expertise and our staff, we succeed in managing the air traffic in our airspace very well. We make very efficient use of that airspace. But the international battle for airspace and air traffic control services is raging: several European air traffic controllers are already active in other countries. The imminent liberalisation of the market will speed up and strengthen that process. Europe is working on a Single European Sky, a unified European airspace that can be used as efficiently as possible. National air traffic controllers are doing everything they can to maintain and expand their place in that airspace. Managing one’s own airspace – or more airspace – is important not only for the survival of the company but also for the entire aviation sector of a country. Together with the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), Defence and EUROCONTROL MUAC, we want to keep Belgium’s airspace attractive and manage it domestically. The Air Space Vision 2030 – that is the name of the project – increases the capacity of our airspace, ensures the fluidity and safety of air traffic and gives us a head start in the international race for airspace.
We are continuing along the path of innovation. SkeyDrone, the subsidiary of skeyes that specialises in drones, will take up its role in the aviation landscape. We are truly a forerunner in this field, which is being taken into account internationally, for example, by the European Union when drawing up the new regulations.
skeyes itself invests heavily in the development of safe drone traffic. We are further professionalising our drone app, which collects all the information needed for drone flights.
Digital towers mark the future of air traffic control at airports and are already being built here and there in Europe. Digital control towers consist of a remote control centre and cameras at the airports (instead of the lookout point of the classic control towers). From digital towers, air traffic control services can be offered at various airports from a single control centre with even increased aviation safety thanks to augmented reality. We are working on the creation of digital towers for the six airports where we operate. A tender has been launched and, on the basis of the proposals that specialised firms will submit, we will consider which solutions are the best, both in terms of locations and technology.
We are continuing to focus on research. We have a number of collaborations with various institutions that carry out research into certain aspects of our operations, including Living Tomorrow but also various universities. They have already produced interesting results. This encourages us to continue these collaborations and to launch new investigations with other institutions specialising in certain subjects.”
Renaud Lorand :
“This Board of Directors took office at a difficult but extremely fascinating time for skeyes. The challenges we faced were unprecedented. In far from evident circumstances, we set out the strategic lines for the company for the coming years. That is the role we are expected to play.
I referred earlier to the strategic plans and projects that we were able to help shape. The financial challenges, investments, human resources, social agreements, etc., … The innovation policy as well, which has led to the creation of our subsidiary SkeyDrone and the launch of the digital control tower concept .
In hindsight and taking into account the health crisis linked to COVID-19 and its very heavy repercussions on our sector, I would say that the continued improvement of the company’s financial situation since 2014, with the commitment of all the company’s forces and the support of the shareholder, has undoubtedly better equipped skeyes to face the crisis.
skeyes is necessary because …?
Johan Decuyper :
“Our first task is always to guarantee the safety of air traffic. Secondly, we ensure that the airspace is used as efficiently as possible in order to offer maximum capacity to all its users. In both areas, we have been able to present excellent figures in recent years. These results are all the more remarkable because we work in a limited but very complex airspace. It is also a crucial airspace because it is right at the heart of European air traffic. The best guarantee of using the airspace optimally is and remains to have our own air traffic control.
One of the reasons why we perform our missions so well is because of our unique expertise and experience within all our services: ATS, AIM, technical services, meteo, … Our people are all specialists in their field, with safety ingrained in their DNA. The results in the field of safety in recent years speak for themselves. We put this knowledge at the service of our customers with whom we work very closely as good partners.”
Renaud Lorand :
“First and foremost to guarantee air traffic safety ! In addition, aviation is the second most important economic pillar of our country. Without skeyes, airports cannot work, there is no air traffic in the airspace above our country. The fact that we can continue to manage this air traffic ourselves is invaluable to Belgium. Our involvement in the sector is evident; another service provider has no connection with national interests. That is why we must continue to work together with airports to maintain our own national air navigation service provision. Our ambition is to remain the best possible air traffic control service provider, as we already are.”
What are you personally proud of at skeyes?
Johan Decuyper :
“In recent years, we have been able to straighten our backs. We have caught up in all areas: financial, technical, personnel, social, … We have grown enormously as a company. Our results are sufficient proof of this. And you feel it – and see it – when you walk around skeyes. The fact that I have been able to work on this together with almost 900 colleagues makes me want to do my utmost every day in the interests of skeyes, our employees and our customers.
We have already shown our resilience in difficult circumstances several times. This year, together with the whole aviation sector, we are unexpectedly faced with another major challenge. But I am convinced that we can overcome this once again.”
Renaud Lorand :
“I have seen this company evolve from a public company that thought itself to be indispensable to the modern service provider that we are supposed to be and that we want to be. It has been an impressive metamorphosis, which has not escaped our customers’ attention. They have recognised the importance of air traffic control and of skeyes as service provider. They appreciate us. I am sincerely pleased about that.”